The summer doldrums. That time of year when marketers are looking at their analytics reports and sales numbers and wondering what went wrong. The marketing campaign that was working so well in March is losing steam in May. When we think of seasonal trends, we often think of businesses in the retail space, but actually all industries experience ups and downs. There are many reasons for shifts and swings in business including: holidays, school sessions, traditional vacation times, fiscal year cycles, and other trends that may affect your particular industry. In any case, every month or quarter isn’t the same and getting a picture of repeating patterns will help you to adjust your marketing efforts and explain your results.
Is this a seasonal cycle?
If you’re experiencing a downturn in business, or a slowdown in new customers, you may be attributing those dips to the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, success of product releases, or some other kind of marketing or sales effort. But before you throw out your current campaign and start scrambling to create a new one, consider the possiblity that your slowdown could be the result of an industry-wide seasonal slump. If you’re not comparing your results year-over-year-over-year, you may not recognize a pattern of similar results. And although you may recognize that you’re in the same downward turn as you were last year, you’ll want to get an idea of how long this trend has been going on.
“One of the things we hear frequently from folks looking for an analytics platform is the notion that an individual didn’t work at that company a year ago, or two years ago, and doesn’t have the knowledge to fill in the historical gaps. Our answer is always that there are ways to go back and backfill your analytics. It’s a service we offer, and it’s something you can get from some other tools, that allows you to see trends and map them back a couple of years,” notes Erin O’Brien, COO.
While the numbers themselves may be different, the trend lines are what you’re really looking for in terms of rises and falls. When you’re identifying seasonal trends look for the following:
- A repeating pattern of peaks and valleys
- An increase or decrease that doesn’t vary more than 10% year to year
- A variation in revenue that takes into account business growth year to year
There are some common seasonal patterns that affect industries, and even brands within those industries, differently. A couple of common drops for B2B business are around the holidays, from Thanksgiving to the New Year. Conversely, the time from August through the middle of November can be really busy for B2B as new fiscal budgets become available. If fall is a busy time for you, start pushing out your marketing in June to ramp up. Knowing which times are slow and which are busy gives marketers a chance to put materials and plans together during the lull in anticipation of busier times ahead. Most retail businesses are already doing this as they look to early Q3 as a time to ramp up their efforts in anticipation of the holiday shopping rush. B2B brands can learn something from this behavior as they identify their own seasonal trends.
Marketing Through the Summer Doldrums
Don’t panic. A slowdown is usually followed by an uptick. There are a variety of reasons why B2B businesses typically endure a summer slide. During the summer, decision makers may not be as readily available and sales cycles may be drawn out, people may be at the end of their allocated budgets and waiting for the next financial cycle, or people are just holding off until their own business picks up again. Whatever the reason, there’s plenty marketers can do during the slump to get ready for the next upswing. If nothing else, use the time positively to recharge your batteries and take inventory of what you’ve already been doing. Here are a few other things marketers can be doing during a slow time:
- Create content in advance
- Write blog posts
- Create new landing pages
- Create slideshares
- Update old content
- Update landing pages
- Optimize content for SEO
- Conduct competitor comparisons
- Conduct messaging testing
“Look at your competitor trends charts and see how you’re really stacking up and then check out any new releases by the competition. Now that we’re almost halfway through the year, this is a great time to assess where things really are for you, and for your competitors, and to make sure the last half of the year kicks butt. Take time during this slowdown to refresh, revamp, do the research, and do the digging to get the information you need to accelerate your efforts when things get busy again,” advises Erin.
This is a great time to do a site and content audit to get a snapshot of what has worked so far this year and to start planning for budgeting next year. If your efforts haven’t been as successful as you’d hoped so far this year, a site and content audit can help you to course correct now and amp up your efforts toward the end of the year. This is a great way to get ahead and get everything in order. You still have six to seven months left in the year to make suggested corrections and see a swing back to the positive.
Setting Metrics and Goals to Match Seasonal Cycles
Knowing that your seasonal slowdown is a cycle and not a new trend will help you to manage the expectations of management and to set your own goals and expectations based on year to year patterns. Improving your marketing analytics will allow you to set goals to meet overall company goals. While many marketers are focused on maintaining a certain number of page views or clicks, corporate goals are typically centered around revenue.
Reset your own marketing goals to reflect the overall corporate goals and the seasonal sales cycles you’ve identified. Often, B2B marketers, in particular, are held to the same metrics all year long. By setting goals based on yearly averages and quarterly fluctuations, you’ll be able to show more success for your efforts while managing the management and influencing outside performance expectations.
“I don’t necessarily think that flat averages as general benchmarks or metrics are an appropriate thing,” asserts Erin. “While I think it’s good to have guidelines for X page views = X form fills = X sales calls = X closed sales, it’s best to compare your results year to year to set expectations and to adjust up for busy times and down for slower times. Your averages will still work out, they just won’t be the same month to month.”
The summer doldrums may hit marketing in a variety of ways. Not only will you possibly see less sales activity and less new visitors to your site, you may see things like out of office replies and unopened email rates rise. Take advantage of the slump and do some message testing on smaller audiences. Get your messages in line for the busier fall timeframe.
Stop and Take Inventory
So, the summer is here and besides getting out your sunglasses and sunscreen, you’ll want to take the time to conduct some preventative measures to help you out for the rest of the year and beyond. Now’s a great time to set up your analytics so you can easily present reports and insights that reflect your understanding of the cycles and trends your brand is susceptible to. You’ll want to include competitor discovery and competitor comparison data alongside your own campaign results. When the summer slump hits your brand, take these steps to prepare for the second half of the year:
- If you don’t have historical data for at least a year, go to your analytics provider and see if you can get it for your website and your content.
- Dive deeper into the spikes and valleys to identify specific marketing campaigns, promotions, holidays, and other factors.
- Make annotations to identify trends and set up the ability to track similar trends next year.
- Get an analytics platform that provides you with specific content-level traffic to determine which content is working and which is not.
- Take inventory of the medium (channel), method (what you distribute), and message (your subjects and topics) of your content. What works? What needs to change?
- Don’t forget to take the time to recharge your creative batteries – whatever that looks like for you and your team.