Holiday Outreach Survival Guide: An Online Marketer's Guide
The holidays are over. We made it! Did you?
The end of the year holiday stretch is without a doubt the hardest time of the year to run an outreach campaign.
You could argue the dog days of summer are rough, when everyone's out seeking adventure, and there's a case to be made about marketing difficulty in late spring when everyone and their mother’s dog is graduating or getting married. Those can be trying times to run a link campaign, but name a time when more people are checked out, physically gone, or busy with strategic planning for the upcoming year.
You can't - that’s the Thanksgiving through New Year stretch.
If your job is to market, promote, or earn publicity (we do all this in the name of links) and you don't have a plan for the holiday season, you're going to be in trouble. You're more likely to get an "out of the office" auto-response than any other time of the year....or worse, no reply at at all.
Because of the mania that seems to grip us every year from November through December, it can be rather difficult to conduct business as usual. So as someone who’s goal it is to reach out to people at businesses during the holidays you have to adjust course. You have to change your outreach strategy to adjust for the challenges that the holidays create for you and the businesses you are attempting to reach.
Success starts with awareness. You need to start planning for the holidays BEFORE they arrive. November 1st shouldn't be a source of anxiety - but it is a time to prepare for the days ahead when outreach goes cold.
Today I'm going to walk you through my strategy for staying productive through the holiday season, with a running example.
The Original Organization Device: The Calendar
The thing about developing a strategy for your outreach over the holidays is...the calendar kind of already does that for you.
You know the holidays are quickly approaching, and that there will be dead periods where it's difficult to get a response. The trick is plotting where those dead periods are for your specific niche, and more importantly recognizing how long and bleak they actually are (we’re not trying to be pessimists, just realists).
With enough foresight and awareness moving into the holidays, you can maximize your response rate by focusing your efforts on the windows of opportunity around these dead periods. You should also be cognizant to avoid piling up emails in a contact's inbox during the dead periods (and looking like spam in the process).
We tend to think of outreach campaigns in terms of months, but it is crucial to think of November and December as a integrated periods of time where success is found by leveraging the opportunities around dead zones.
An Example: A Student Planner App
Because everyone learns best with an example, I'm going to use a running example through this post.
That example will be the promotion of a student planner app, marketing to other Universities and their student body.
Scenario: Boise State’s Division of Student affairs creates a student planner app called “GoRodeo”. They are interested in marketing it to other universities as something they can provide to their student bodies.
- Summer has been groovy, and we have some great momentum going, but it’s September 1st. School is getting back across the country and you notice a drop off in responses.
- You suddenly realize...Winter is coming. But this year, you are going to be ready for it.
Columbus Day: Time to Plan.
Columbus Day (Mid October--October 10, 2016) serves as a great reminder that the holidays are nigh. It is time to start winterizing your outreach strategy.
Setting a hard date to begin planning your holiday outreach strategy is a great idea, because it is easy to be caught unawares amidst of all the festivities. One of the biggest problems during my first year of outreach was that I did not anticipate seasonal trends--so I fell victim to them.
We all know the different directions that life can pull us during the holiday season. So when you are working in an industry that relies heavily on human engagement and response, it is important to account for this before your response rate starts to dip.
If you are considering a Thanksgiving-themed promotion, you need to start well before Thanksgiving. With the number of coinciding promotions during the holidays you need to plan how to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes getting an early start is all it takes.
Columbus Day Timeline: Student Planner Example
Because of the increased activity on campus during September, it can be harder to get responses. You have accounted for this by increasing the volume of your outreach based on your previous conversion rate. But… you recognize the need for developing a plan that will carry you through the dead periods in the winter months.
So, you look at the calendar.
Tip: College calendars can often be found by searching [“College name” “year” calendar].
I used the aforementioned search string and found BSU's calendar here: http://registrar.boisestate.edu/boise-state-academic-calendars/. This tells me:
- School was off for Thanksgiving from November 23rd through the 27th.
- Classes end on December 11th, with exams till the 18th and grades due on the 22nd.
- Faculty returns on January 4th and classes resume on the 11th.
This will let me plan my promotion for the upcoming holidays.
Halloween: 0 Hour
People think about ghost and ghouls on Halloween. I think of it as the day of reckoning.
Halloween is the last moment to take stock of a project before entering the holiday season proper.
You should have a prospectus for the holiday season. Why? Because retail does. Because other traditional advertisers do. They know that on November 1st the Halloween displays come down and it is Christmas time (Thanksgiving, sure).
Everyone who has a day job in the Western world will soon be confronted by holiday advertising. A wise marketer has already taken a look at the calendar, because soon everyone will be looking at the calendar--counting down the days to this event or that holiday.
Make sure you’ve already taken a peek at a calendar so you can cater to the unique needs your industry experiences over the holidays.
Halloween Timeline: Student Planner Example
Having industry specific holiday dates are great to have, and you should know those ahead of the holidays if you are working in a seasonal niche.
Most businesses however follow some form of the federal holiday schedule: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/#url=201.
Using Boise State’s academic calendar as an example, we can make a safe bet that other schools are in a similar capacity (always good to check though). The calendar we looked at earlier in the month told us the hard dates for the rest of the year. Now it is time to figure out what those dates mean for the niche.
There are two ways to go about this:
- Sit down with your client at this juncture and ask them about the holidays for their business and industry.
This meeting will help you and your client understand what to expect in the coming months. It will also serve as a way for you to touch base and strengthen your relationship before the holidays hit and everyone is left in their wake. It is much easier to set expectations before the chaos than try to manage expectations in the midst of it.
- Plan based on your past experience.
There are some situations you can never be prepared for, only experienced with. I happened to work in a higher-ed office before making the leap to SEO. I already know how it goes.
Early November: The First to Thanksgiving
The beginning of November is your time to shine. This huge block of time is excellent for sending those important emails that serve as linchpins for an outreach campaign over the holidays.
Remember your training, and trust your instincts.
By making initial contact during this period with a prospect you have a better chance of not getting lost in the inbox. But..don’t be pushy or annoying. You’re not stressed because you have a plan. Everyone else will be stressed, varying by industry. It is important to remember that you get paid to deal with aggressive and rude emails, not write them. Patience for that type behavior will be at an all time low.
The important aspect to remember during this block of time is that there is a finish line. Because schools end for the holidays and the high rate of travel, the week of Thanksgiving is a poor day to continue with your big push. Time to call it a day and hit the cider.
Early November Timeline: Student Planner Example
School is out for Thanksgiving from November 23rd through the 27th.
Going into November, I know that I need to get the bulk of of my emails out before Thanksgiving holiday break hits. The real trick is figuring out when to stop. Many schools have classes on Monday and Tuesday of the Thanksgiving week. However, you should not be banking on that.
Students, faculty, and staff start leaving for break a few days early, meaning that 3rd party emails are likely to be ignored, even by the stragglers.
If there are indeed classes the week of Thanksgiving, then someone will be there to receive and respond to that email on Monday, but they are planning a vacation the next afternoon. If, like BSU, they have the entire next week off, then Friday afternoon probably won’t be the best time.
Know when to say, “Enough!”, and prepare for your next push.
Late November to Late December: Post Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve
This is your second best chance to build momentum with your outreach over the holidays. The problem is, everyone is trying to build momentum before Christmas. That is why it is important to be very deliberate with your outreach during this time.
It should also be noted that this period of time is when most people travel for Christmas: (http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/america_on_the_go/us_holiday_travel/html/entire.html). So get those emails out as soon as you can after Thanksgiving!
This is a time period where academic calendars affect businesses across the board. Because the entire workforce is not yet entirely made up of Baby Boomers and Millennials (I hate that word), there are many people who have children (imagine that!). In Boise, for example, K-12 schools release December 21st until January 4th.
The holiday effect on workplaces across the country is palpable.
Be mindful, and don’t bank on this time to send initial emails. If anything, this would be a great time to follow up on the emails you sent last week so you can keep up your momentum and stay poised for a conversion when your prospect has the time to address it.
Late December Timeline: Student Planner Example
The calendar tells me classes end on December 11th, with exams till the 18th and grades due on the 22nd.
Hypothetically I can send emails until the 22nd, right? Wrong.
When classes end on a campus, all non-essential personnel make for the hills, beaches, or wherever Grandma happens to reside. Furthemore, all faculty and staff that remain are working hard to finish the semester so they can join their brethren.
The week of the 11th is the last chance to follow up before you get lost in the deluge of student emails asking about grades.
The New Year: Christmas Monday to New Year's Eve
This period is perfect for following up on positive responses from before Christmas--because it's not good for much else.
Let's be real: no one wants to be in the office the week after Christmas and before New Year's Eve. Half the employees are out with their families, and the other half are jealous.
Play to that. Because of the nature of outreach, and the necessity of staying at the top of the inbox, you really are compelled to send something--no matter how tumultuous the timing. So take a moment to be the awesome email marketer that surprises your prospect by thanking them for just being there and working with you.
This year I thought often about how to be effective in outreach while appreciating the human factors the holiday’s bring, so I decided to include this line in my emails: “Thank you for your help, especially over this holiday season! (I know how it is...)”.
It was amazing to me often I received a positive response to that line. In fact, it helped my conversion rate.
Sometimes, a little human touch can help remind your prospect that you are not a robot; that we are all in this together. Just maybe they will take some time out of this holiday madness to read your email and see what they can do about it. It’s only human.
But don’t be that person sending outreach emails till 5PM on New Year’s Eve. You are wasting your time at best, and at worst you might upset a prospect. Better to rest on your laurels after a having a great holiday outreach season, and hit the ground running on all cylinders right out of the gate in January.
The New Year Period: Student Planner Example
Students and faculty alike are out this period - I wouldn't plan to send any emails during this timeframe, unless an email appeared in my inbox first.
Instead, it's time to plan the new year. Because after all, what have I done for my client lately?
The heart of this approach is humanizing your outreach efforts to the point of humility.
Know and appreciate that the same pressure you feel are being felt on the other line, and make sure you recognize it in every exchange. That doesn’t mean you have to be apologetic, but sensitivity is key.
The calendar and strategic planning is so vital. Certainly time can become the enemy as deadlines approach and KPIs seem to be faltering, but this shared experience can become a talking point within your outreach. Humanize your exchanges and create conversions where you otherwise would’ve been ignored.
The last thing people want during the holidays is another person trying to sell them something. What people really want is a little time: time to not think about work, time to stop pretending they’re a corporate demigod, time to talk with a real person about how they’re really feeling.
Your outreach can become that for them--it just takes a little bit of planning.