The most challenging aspect of a tourist market is its seasonality. The seasonality is so great a fatal flaw can develop in your marketing plans. Like bugs drawn to a street light, marketing can focus overwhelming on the seasonal customer. This leads to busy season fatigue and the inevitable “off” season slowdown. Here at the beach, due to burn out, September cannot arrive soon enough. And October to May can seem an eternal cash flow drought.
Since marketing precedes sales, the thought of launching a new marketing campaign in the middle of the “busy” season usually draws skeptical frowns from many small business owners. So rather than doing a little creative planning, many businesses fall into the seasonal “no-brainer” marketing approach. Raise prices in the busy season and run discount deals in the shoulder and off season. Sound familiar? 80% of all new businesses fail in the first five years. Sound familiar too?
Vince Lombardi famously observed, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” In marketing, fatigue allows price to lead the off season campaigns. And this turns off your largest market, the year round customer. Ask the car companies.
So here are some marketing tips on how to turn on your off season. None of these fit everyone, yet most of them fit business struggling with profitability and service.
1) Identify your customers according to when and why they buy. In a summer tourist economy, you have 3 identifiable customers: locals – with year-round needs, seasonals– with time-specific needs, and off-seasonals who have different needs at different times. Each has different needs and reasons for buying your product or service.
2) Build a marketing plan that will work year-round. This means developing programs, products, and services which meet the needs of local customers first. You don’t have to be good to make money in the busy season, whereas year round profitability takes a customer focused plan.
3) Assign different people focus on each customer group. If you don’t have the staff, hire an independent contractor to implement shoulder season programs during busy seasons. Such planning rarely equals the discounts given from the no-plan, price-discount approach.
4) Build relationships during each customer’s non-buying season. Electronic and social media now provide cost effective means to stay involved with your customers. The real benefit comes when your customers become your best sales force. Relationships always trump price discounting. Look at where YOU shop, dine, and recreate and see if price is the number one reason.
5) Partner with other companies to provide unique experiences. Bundling a hot air balloon ride in October with a great meal and a concert may draw new customers and provide revenue for three separate businesses.
We’ll cover these ideas in detail and many more in our August 21st workshop. Our goal is to provide the proverbial light bulb for your business and turn your off season on.