As the sun-filled days begin to shorten in August, many small business owners are winding down their summer promotions. Tempted as you may be to catch up on other priorities or take a week off to spend time with your family before school starts, don’t head to the great outdoors without doing some fall planning first.
Here are four ideas to breathe energy into your marketing well into fall:
Participate in local festivals
Many towns and neighborhoods host summer festivals in August or fall harvest celebrations in September and October. Becoming an event sponsor or partner is the best way to join in the fun and capitalize on the additional foot traffic to your neighborhood, town or county. For example, Red Wing is a town in Minnesota that hosts an annual River City Days celebration, co-sponsored by the City of Red Wing & Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce with opportunities for local businesses to participate. And many stores and restaurants did so last weekend in exhibits, celebrations and events.
If it’s too late for your business to participate in such an event in an official capacity, you can still put up signs, offer specials, update displays, and set out sandwich boards to welcome visitors and entice customers inside with special offers during the festival. Better yet, start conversations now to get involved in planning these kinds of local events before next year. Doing so strengthens your relationship with the local chamber of commerce, gives you a chance to advocate for activities and events that highlight your business, and keeps you aware of plans early on so you can build sponsorships, events, booths and marketing materials into your annual advertising and marketing budget. Best of all, these kinds of collaborations create excellent opportunities to network with other local retail and professional services businesses that you might not normally be engaged with. And if your area doesn’t have an annual festival, these partners and resources will be invaluable if you decide to start a celebration of your own.
Offer educational events
When September rolls around, even those of us who’ve been out of school for many years get a hankering for the sense of excitement, promise and wonder of going back to school. We don’t have new classes, new friends, new supplies, new clothes, and a new grade, but it’s hard for adults to shake that feeling of opportunity and the potential to start fresh and take on something new. So why not lean into that fall ritual with educational classes and events for adults, parents or families?
Not sure what to offer? Take a cue from other businesses in your category (but in different geographic locations), or chat with customers about the challenges they’re facing. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, as long as it relates back to your business somehow. A local bakery could offer cupcake-making classes for kids to maximize family time together and build parents’ skills for all those bake sales. Similarly, a hardware store might offer a customer clinic for all the DIY projects that got put on hold in warmer months but need to be finished before the holidays, or work with a local interior designer to offer a class on choosing paint colors. Think about these events as a way to thank your customers for their continued business, and offer a special promotion, coupon or display for attendees to leverage the increased traffic.
Plan for seasonal preferences
Starbucks got it right back in 2003 with the Pumpkin Spice Latte: by offering a unique flavor at a specific time of year, they capitalized on two key factors. One, the nostalgia of fall via the smells and tastes that remind us of cozy sweaters, falling leaves and Thanksgiving feasts. Two, the ultimate marketing tactic: a limited-time offer, since it’s only available in the autumn. Whatever your personal opinion of the PSL, as the drink is known, you have to admit that it’s a cultural phenomenon when you see the flavor still being replicated all these years later. In fact, there were already shelf reports of pumpkin spice lip balm and Milano cookies this week.
Is there a way to capitalize on fall the same way, by offering a special edition of your product or celebrating the return of a certain line when it’s seasonally appropriate? I’m not saying that you need to create pumpkin-spice beef jerky if you’re the local butcher, but a shoe store could certainly celebrate the return of fall weather with a boot celebration featuring a special display, email promotion, editorial content and influencer outreach campaign. Think about the seasonal aspects of your sales, inquiries, and customer comments. What insights could you glean, and how might that affect your marketing and promotions plan for the fall? Brainstorming with your team or even asking your regulars what they’re looking forward to can be a great way to get into your customers’ frame of mind and meet them in September with the perfect solution to their needs and desires.
Shamelessly capitalize on BTS spending
Ultimately, what’s going to make a difference in your August and September numbers is an increase in sales volume. Back-to-school (BTS) sales and spending are well underway, so don’t be afraid to lean into the trend and offer solutions to consumer needs, wants and desires. What that means really depends on your category—a BTS promotion for a bookstore is not going to work for a restaurant, but both can tap into fall spending. Start by defining your target audience, talking to your team and your customers, and brainstorming different ways that your business can satisfy the need to start something new or solve a seasonal problem when September rolls around.
Back-to-school is the most prevalent form of fall spending, but it’s by no means your only option for marketing messaging and promotions. Fall is a time of reinvention, fresh starts, re-evaluations, self-improvement and investing in the future—and the way consumers define those activities can be very fluid, from replacing worn-out sweaters to buying a new wardrobe, and from taking a watercolor class to setting up a home painting studio. You can capitalize on consumer behavior now by tapping into those desires and needs, helping them envision a new future with your products and services paving the way.