When it comes to seasonal content, I tend to be a bit of a scrooge.
That’s because every time a holiday approaches, the web is flooded with lame attempts at capturing the spirit of a season and riding them out for corporate gain, hoping the fact that the content mentions Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Great Pumpkin will propel it to instant seasonal success. There’s also “seasonal” content tied to an event or observance—the Olympics, Black Friday and so on.
It seems to me that brands are missing the point of seasonal content and aiming off course in their attempts to make it work for their content marketing.
But I’m here to help, not complain. So come, climb aboard my sleigh made of sarcasm and wishes, and let’s unwrap the gift of seasonal content that doesn’t feel nearly as painful as this sentence does.
Most brands approach seasonal content by asking: “How can we fit the season into what we do?”
This immediately throws the focus on the physical symbols and clichés of the season. Instead of the customer, marketers are honed in on trying to find the best metaphor or parallel between what they offer and some completely unrelated but popular part of the holiday.
That’s how you wind up with posts like “4 Ways Inbound Marketing is Like a Thanksgiving Meal” or “What Christmas Morning Teaches Us About Link building.”
Outside of the digital marketing niches, I’ve even seen things like “10 Reasons a Crane Rental is the Perfect Gift,” which I think we can all agree makes absolutely no sense.
All of the above content ties into the season, but it’s awfully forced.
If we’re brutally honest, is there anything unique or compelling about either of those titles? As a prospective customer, do I read those pieces and think, “Wow, that’s really something I can relate to and want to know more about!”
They’re just your average posts with a bit of “seasonal flare” tacked on, and come across as eye-rolling inauthentic. There is an incredibly fine balance between channeling trending topics to your benefit and flat out sledgehammering a season into your content.
It’s not that you shouldn’t incorporate seasonal symbols in themes. It’s all in how you communicate them. If you’re hoping to create seasonal content that readers will benefit from, then it starts with a very simple shift in mentality.
What brands ought to be asking instead is, “How do we fit into this season?”
When you look beyond the glaringly obvious symbols of a season, you can start to dig into the real human factors and get a brighter picture of how whatever it is you offer plays into the lives of people experiencing the season.
- How does what you offer help people experience or express the season?
- Do their needs, pain points or attitudes toward what you offer change?
- Do customers expect you to have a stance on the season? (Is it natural for you to be contributing?)
Better seasonal content begins with the customer and the way they expect to interact with your brand through the season.
Seasonal Changes in Needs =Timely offers & information
Changes in season can create or suppress a need; demand for specific products or types of information fluctuate in the same way.
So far we’ve talked like seasonal content is only about holidays, but the truth is that seasonality can be completely different for niches and products. People need more snow shovels in the winter, marketers rethink their budgets as Q4 comes around and parents buy the most new clothes for their kids when a new school year is on the horizon.
Part of a seasonal content marketing strategy is honing in on how the needs of your customers will fluctuate throughout the year, then arming yourself to serve up timely intel as they come into that season.
Some examples to illustrate:
- Marketing firms might publish posts about where and how to allocate your budget, making a case for their offering as the end of Q4 approaches.
- Disaster restoration companies have published articles about preparing for flooding and disasters as the harsh winter season approaches.
- Gyms may offer special New Year’s deals knowing that many see a yearly rollover as a time to set new goals.
- Freshbooks published 10 legal tips for wrapping up the year, knowing many freelancers and small businesses will have taxes to deal with and legal reporting to handle.
- Divorce consultants might ramp up publication or offer introductory materials on getting a divorce over the course of the Christmas holidays (or in the case of Calgary, Alberta, right after Stampede!).
In all of these cases, the content is addressed to an underlying change in consumer needs instead of a cheesy theme. Start with identifying “What new or emphasized needs to our customers have right now?”
An oft-overlooked part of a seasonal content marketing strategy is adjusting your existing content (including headlines and calls to action) to reflect the shift in needs during that time of year.
For example, as Christmas approaches and last-minute gift givers struggle to find presents, an online retailer emphasizing that their product will be shipped and arrive in time might fare better than one solely emphasizing cost or convenience.
Seasonal Changes in Emotions & Emphasized Values =Empathy & human interaction
If the needs of your customers don’t change through a season, there remains an opportunity to tie into the shifting emotions, intensified pain points and altogether sentiment that rises during a season.
From skyrocketing stress to feelings of warmth and togetherness, different seasons tend to bring out different emotions in different audiences. Instead of painting everyone with a universal blanket (“Halloween is about fun and candy!”), dig into the circumstantial shifts in emotion that take place in your specific market:
- Accountants are at their most stressed during audit season.
- Worry levels in young parents tend to increase over Halloween (“Will my kids be safe out there?”).
- Families tend to emphasize togetherness around Christmas.
- Couples focus on romance over Valentines’s Day, while singles can feel at their loneliest.
- Insecurity about body image trends upwards in summer months.
- Price-consciousness spikes on Black Friday.
And so on.
Instead of looking at the season as a theme, treat it like a context that colors your messaging.
How can you champion the sentiment of the season by doing something that demonstrates you’re a participant, or showing that you empathize with the customer’s changing emotions.
What stories could you share or actions could you take to make your audience feel as though you understand exactly what they’re going through? An appeal to an emotion can be a powerful thing.
Look no further than the wildly popular Christmas ad for John Lewis:
It doesn’t focus on alleviating the stress of shopping, or even the selection of the store. The message here is different: “We know how you want to feel, we relate, and we can help make you feel that way.”
There needn’t be a sales pitch for your service or product. Sometimes all it takes to win customer approval is showing them you understand them on a human level.
You Need more than keywords
If your goal is to create something human beings connect with over the season, it doesn’t make much sense to make your only point of research to be a keyword planning tool.
Keywords are clues and glimpses into what customers find important or wonder about; you can use keywords to see when demand for certain items increases or to bookmark changes in sentiment, pain points and needs.
Isolated as a list, keywords are like a GPS system without batteries. It’s the research into the human factors: the “Why” that gives them any usefulness at all.
- Why do search levels spike for that phrase during the holiday?
- Is the change in demand driven by an emotional or practical need?
- What are the values that underpin or accompany that search for the customer?
- What is the intent of the searcher? Are they looking for empathy, or information?
While there’s always a temptation to go SEO-first with this stuff, unless the heart of your content is something the customer can relate to, no amount of SEO is going to make your seasonal content work.
My final point on all of this is simply to plan ahead.
If you find yourself planning your seasonal content when the season has already arrived (or mere days before), chances are you’re not going to be able to give it the time, space and research needed to validate your ideas and avoid relying on tired symbolism to make your content work.
Ideate, execute and prepare your content well ahead of time so that you can test it, validate it and tweak it so that when the season comes, all that’s left to do is launch and promote.
Let’s do away with forced metaphors.
It’s time to put strategy back into seasonal content and make it not only fun and entertaining, but genuinely useful. Don’t just slap a theme on your content—tailor it to the things your specific customers will want, need and feel.