The New Seasonality

futurelab default header

by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

If you ever needed proof that the context of would-be purchasers’ lives is a far more important quality than any attribute of brand that you might promote, just look at the emerging utility "paycheck cycle" for packaged goods marketers.

It’s a reference to the periodicity of purchasing behavior inherent in the lives of salaried employees. With less money in the bank, people are tending to buy things — especially necessities of food and other household products — when they get paid.

While such observations are nothing new, the lengths to which marketers are incorporating the behavior into what would have once been sacrosanct branding and marketing plans is truly amazing:

  • Content: All the talk about promoting "value" is just marketingspeak codeword for relenting on the absolutes of brand, and finding messages that are relevant to consumer needs. At paycheck time, the fundamental need is to buy something, so messaging is far less about emotion, and far more about utility
  • Channels: Is a conversation via some social media tool the best way to get the message out to payday shoppers? Probably not. Key an eye out for a resurgence in drive-time media, like radio, and POP (like coupons). And lots more direct marketing. One of the primary benefits of being "a loyal member" of something should be getting access to payday purchase discounts
  • Distribution: Different packaging configurations depending on time of the month (larger at payday, vs. smaller units for when money is running out), and making sure the right products are available during the right periods are probably far more important than marketing an intangible emotional quality
  • Price: This is the simplest and perhaps most compelling tool for dealing with the new seasonality, only it might be counter-intuitive to standard practices: shouldn’t prices be lower when consumers are flush with paychecks, to encourage them to spend a lot and do so habitually? Prices can be higher later in the month, while package configurations can be smaller (so thereby bringing prices down)?

Big-name brands are aggressively exploring such approaches, like Frito-Lay, ConAgra and Heinz. I think it’s a grand idea, not only because it challenges marketers to get even more connected to the sales reality of the businesses, but it allows them to refocus their attention on prompting behaviors, not just intentions, conversation, or the happy thoughts of most branding.

And maybe it means that all marketers can start getting out of the habit of waiting for the holidays, or the other long-term seasonal certitudes of planning that aren’t so certain anymore…and embrace new definitions of periodicity in their marketplaces.

Original Post: