Which audiences will be responsive to seasonal marketing?

Debbie Lawrenson
  • Debbie Lawrenson
  • Head of Digital

Autumn is one of the busiest times of year when it comes to seasonal marketing. It’s around us everywhere we look – in shops, magazines and on the internet, as well as bombarding our consciousness from posters and advertisements around our streets.

The changing season, back to school, Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and the biggest of them all – Christmas: all of these are used as opportunities for marketing by a huge range of businesses and organisations.

But how effective is seasonal marketing when it comes to the charitable sector? And which audiences will be responsive to it?

Tread carefully

Seasonal marketing has its pros and cons. It can be extremely effective, but it’s not always the wisest choice. Many people switch off from poorly carried out seasonal marketing because they’re flooded with it. Links between the season and what’s being marketed can seem forced and clumsy.

For businesses such as retail, entertainment or hospitality, seasonal marketing makes sense because it links the season to something that someone may well spend money on because of the season. Gifts, party clothes, a celebration meal or a show: these all benefit from seasonal marketing. Charities, on the other hand, are in a very different market.

Does this mean that seasonal marketing is a no-go for charities? Not necessarily.  There are opportunities to apply the same marketing formula to the third sector when a strong link between season and message is established.

Charities can employ seasonal marketing effectively by establishing a clear connection between the season and a specific promotion or initiative. For example, a homelessness charity may be working on an initiative for raising money to provide accommodation and food to rough sleepers over the holiday period.

On the cons side, we’ve all seen bad marketing that involves wild attempts to shoehorn seasonal links into somewhere they shouldn’t go. That might be an inappropriate graphic, a headline that’s out of whack with the core message or just a campaign that makes little sense. The fortnightly magazine, Private Eye, publishes a regular ‘Desperate Marketing’ column with examples of grotesque shoehorning used in marketing strategies. Here’s just one example:

“Bang! Whizz! It must be getting close to Firework Night. But that also means we’re getting closer to the due date for your tax return. Get in touch with the whizz accountants at Sacknail and Grimbage and we’ll get your return completed bang on time.”

Hmmmm.

Check your stats

Any form of marketing activity is an ongoing learning process and one of the most important parts of refining and improving your charity marketing strategy is to go through your analytics. By all means, try out new ideas for seasonal marketing, but always check your stats afterwards to see what the return has been.

For example, if you’re running a sponsored event with a seasonal theme, look at the number of entrants and the funds raised. Compare this with other sponsored events and you’ll be closer to understanding if the seasonal approach works for this activity. Use this information for maximising take up and fund raising for similar events in the future.

Think about your audience

Charities have multiple audiences that need to be considered. A range of marketing activities will be required to cover these different audiences and encourage them to take a particular action, whether it’s making a donation, getting involved in a partnership activity or volunteering.

Staff, volunteers, families, friends, service users, partner organisations – which of these will respond to seasonal marketing?

The chances are that the audience best placed to respond to seasonal messaging for charities is the general public, in the form of people who may volunteer for something, take part in a fundraising activity or make a donation.

Seasonal marketing for these audiences can work when there’s a clear seasonal link established as outlined above, and when storytelling involves familiar themes that strike a chord and build empathy. Use the topicality of the season as the basis of the story and build it from there.

Gently does it

Given the pitfalls of seasonal marketing, it sometimes can be most effective when used gently. Instead of creating an overt seasonal marketing campaign, think of ways in which subtle seasonal links can be made a part of a range of marketing activities such as blog writing, web content, social media and newsletter design, without being the central focus of the marketing communication.

Seasonal allusions, well used in this way, can build a relationship with your audience while bringing an immediacy and realism to your message.

Seasonal marketing can be an effective tool for charities, but the range of work carried out by the third sector means that what works well for one charity can be completely ineffective for another. So, think carefully before you carry out a seasonal marketing campaign. If you’re in doubt then focus your marketing activity elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you decide to go for it, remember to avoid cliché and be wary of making forced connections. With the right kind of creativity, it can be a useful part of the marketing mix.