Advertising Extends Seasonal Sales Cycles

Being in a seasonal business can mean one of three things:

  1. Your business is seasonal catering to a defined seasonal market. Summer amusement parks fall into this category.
  2. Your business is located in a seasonal market, but isn’t generally considered seasonal. Grocery stores that cater to local residents, but see an increase in sales during tourism seasons share this category.
  3. Your industry is considered seasonal.  Many retail businesses fall into this segment, with high holiday and back-to-school selling seasons.

carlegsRegardless of your category, great marketing helps you either broaden your season length, or create additional seasons. For instance, some category 1 B&Bs previously known only as for summer destinations have successfully positioned themselves as off-season resorts in addition to their regular high season. By advertising these new selling propositions to both standard clientele and new customers looking for different or more cost-effective vacation experiences, these B&Bs have effectively created a second sales season that didn’t exist several years ago.

When in a category 3 business with a seasonal selling cycle, it’s important to stay abreast of ever-changing consumer trends to ensure that what has traditionally been your key selling season hasn’t changed the game. The auto industry is a great example of how consumer shopping patterns have shifted just within a two-year time period.

Take a look at the table below from the US Census, which tracks retail sales by category every year. In 2010, two years after the recession hit high gear, auto sales by auto dealers were highest in December as consumers waited for late year models to go on sale.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
7.3%
7.2%
8.4%
8.3%
8.5%
8.4%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.4%
8.5%
8.1%
8.3%
8.6%
10.2%

Sales in December were 2-3 points higher than any other time of the year with January and February being the off season. Traditional car advertising followed this pattern, tending to run heavier during the holiday seasons and staying low during the early winter months.

But, buying patterns have changed and if a car dealer today is still buying advertising based on the 2010 model, they would be missing a significant amount of  2012 buyers, who are far more consistent in buying cars throughout the year. Check out the buying patterns for 2012 below.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
8.0%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.2%
8.4%
8.6%
8.4%
8.7%
8.8%

This new data set shows that consumers are actively buying cars all year long with December still being a key buying month, but no one group of months being significantly different from the others. What was once a semi-seasonal business has evened out.

What this means is advertisers not adjusting their media plans to attract consumers all year long are missing those consumers who are actively in the market at any point in time. The data is available from the government for most key industrial codes.

The Walk-away: Assumptions made about key selling times of the year can cause businesses to unnecessarily miss key selling opportunities. The recent past is not always a good indication of current or future buying trends.

SOURCE: Monthly Retail and Food Service Sales, 2012 Sales, census data, http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls

Put Benefits in Your Ad Headlines

Advertisers and marketers frequently make one huge blunder. They forget about benefits. They get so focused on WHAT they have to sell, they forget to tell consumers WHY they should buy. The Why’s can take many forms:

  • Why buy from you
  • Why the product/service will make life easier for them
  • Why now
  • Why something is different

In advertising, you don’t have to answer all “why’s” at one time. In fact, you shouldn’t. But, as a rule of thumb, every ad should address at least one “why” prominently somewhere in the ad, preferably the headline or in the lead.

This was highlighted recently in Scarborough research pulled for a local auto dealer. The data showed that the primary reasons consumers from Atlantic and Cape May counties bought a car from a dealer within the last year had less to do with model selections and price and more to do with service, warranty and a dealer’s reputation. For those who actually purchased cars within the last 12 months of the research, service indexed 265 while price/value indexed 100 and model selection surprisingly indexed 85. With 100 as the baseline, this means, that an adult in the market for new cars is 165% more likely to buy based on service and 15% less likely to buy based on model. Although price is a consideration, it doesn’t rate higher than a dealer’s reputation or concerns about  service and the warranty. Local consumers want cars that won’t cost them a fortune after they’ve driven off the lot!

Knowing this information, now take a look at most auto ads in newspapers and other media outlets. Almost every ad hypes make, model and price. This works for national manufacturer ads as the big three want to entice you to look at their latest models, none of which they sell directly to consumers. But, if you’re a dealer, the data shows that your local ads should promote your service record, warranties and reputation. Sadly, there are few examples of these to show.

The Walk-away: If you can’t answer at least one “why” question in your ad copy, it’s time to ask yourself a different question: “Why are you spending your money on advertising?” If it’s to gain customers, then at least address the question why someone should buy from you versus a competitor. Pick a  “why” question and  address it in your ad copy! Make sure your ad answers that question clearly and prominently so the right customers drive to your door.