A pumpkin spice latte, a McRib, Franken Berry cereal and Christmas Ale: Can you guess what all these things have in common? The correct answer is that these are all seasonal products.

Are You Hardwired for Seasonality?

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled "Seasonality in Human Cognitive Brain Responses," explored the possibility that humans are hardwired for seasonal cycles. The research team found that brain activity peaked in the summer on an attention task and in the autumn on a memory task.

These findings shouldn't be particularly surprising as the human body is, in many ways, a liquid electrical machine. About 60 percent of the human body is liquid, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and the entire body runs on a highly sophisticated electrical system. This means that all of us are influenced by the seasonal changes in weather and temperature. No matter how sophisticated we get or how much we alter our environment, the brain wants what the brain wants.

Seasonal offers are HOT HOT HOT because scarcity, urgency and the fear of missing out are some of the most powerful buyer behavior motivators on the planet. Our caveman brain (the amygdala) is wired to avoid and fear scarcity at all costs. This explains the cult-level jubilation that strikes whenever Starbucks announces the appearance of the pumpkin spice latte or when McDonald's decides to bring back the McRib sandwich.

Use These Simple Scarcity Tricks to Create Your Very Own Seasonality Profit Bump

There are actually two variations of seasonality: natural seasonality and acquired seasonality. Natural seasonality (winter, spring, summer and fall) is driven by climate and is therefore out of human control. We can prepare and anticipate for the obvious, but there's not much we can do to make these seasons happen or prevent them from happening. Then there is acquired seasonality. These are "man-made" seasons or holidays that are inspired by religious, ethnic and social events, or seasons that society has simply agreed to honor and celebrate.

The market is flooded with seasonal offers, and while it can create enthusiasm (such as the pumpkin spice craze), it can also create fatigue (such as when holiday music starts playing at the end of September).

But if you understand a few basic human hardwired tendencies, you can create fun, exciting and popular marketing programs in any industry that leverage our natural urge for variety and add a sense of anticipation and fun to any season.

Use Urgency to Trigger Sensitivity to Time

Seasons are time sensitive. If you live in Washington, D.C., the blooming of the cherry blossoms is a seasonal event. It's especially exciting because it has a level of unpredictability. The event lasts for a short time, and the rewards of being there during this season include festivals, parades and a variety of special events that only occur at this time. No amount of money can make the blossoms bloom sooner or later. And if you really want to see them, you will have to be flexible and get ready to pay up because the demand for hotels, restaurants and all the cherry blossom events is high, as is the price to participate.

Time is the only resource on the planet that is equally distributed to everyone: It's what you do with it that matters. This is what creates that special sense of urgency and excitement. You can create a sense of urgency around anything, even if it's not tied to a specific, naturally occurring event. Here are a few strategies for building in urgency to your product or service:

Add a Countdown Timer to Create Urgency

This is an especially easy and low-cost way to convert website visitors to customers. If you are primarily selling online, you can set up a countdown timer for fixed date campaigns that begin and end on a specific date. You can also have the dates be flexible and customized to each individual site visitor.

If you're a brick and mortar business, you can do something similar. Back in the 70s, Kmart was well-known for their "Blue Light Special." As you were shopping, a voice would come on over the loudspeaker and announce that there was a blue light special in some area of the store, describing the product and the savings you would receive if you ran over there in the next five minutes. This was a wonderful urgency building strategy 40 years ago, and it's still a great strategy today.

Limit Access and Insert Difficulty to Create Scarcity

Scarcity is the law of supply and demand in action. By simply limiting access to something, you suddenly increase its level of desirability. Limiting choice or access makes humans crave something more because there is a fear of missing out or not having enough of something.

The easiest way to do this is to simply slap a "scarcity word" on your product or service. Here is a short list you can start with:

  • Limited time
  • Only
  • Today
  • Hurry
  • Act now
  • Rush
  • Last chance
  • Deadline
  • Final close-out
  • Going out of business
  • One day only
  • Never again
  • Clearance
  • Don't delay
  • Now or never
  • Don't miss out
  • Offer expires
  • Once in a lifetime
  • Prices going up

Another way to create scarcity is to make it difficult for your audience to get access to something. It seems counterintuitive, but it's true. By creating an air of exclusivity and making potential customers work for the experience, you can increase the price and profitability of your offer. This process is part of "effort justification," which is the principle that people place more value on something they had to work hard to obtain. If you've ever waited in a line at the Apple store or at a restaurant, you have experienced effort justification.

Create Buying Habits By Triggering Seasonal Emotions

Buyer behaviors are not the same as buying habits. The latter are repeated behaviors that are triggered by a stimulus. Essentially, they are patterns of behavior that transform into spontaneous action every time the trigger is tripped. Habits are unique to every individual, while behavior patterns can be applied to a collective.

Using urgency, scarcity and limiting access, you can trigger patterns of behavior that will often evolve into individual buying habits. Black Friday is a great example of this concept. This holiday has evolved into a highly orchestrated confluence of engineered scarcity and urgency that some families have taken on as a tradition.

Creating buying habits is a long-term marketing strategy. It can take years and sometimes decades for a pattern of behavior to turn into a habit. But it can be done. Consider pumpkin orchards, restaurants and festivals.

Seasonality Equals Profitability

Perhaps the most overlooked element of marketing is the power of pricing. More than 80 percent of small businesses simply set their prices by looking at what their competitors are doing and pricing above or below them. Or, if they know their costs, they will simply add a profit margin on top of their costs. As the Harvard Business Review reports, a McKinsey study found that a mere 1 percent price increase can raise profits by 11 percent (assuming everything else remains the same).

Seasonality allows you to use time, scarcity and urgency in a way that reduces supply, increases demand, and allows you to raise your prices and profits. An additional benefit is that you're offering your customers an opportunity to bring joy, variety and a little spice to their life with your product or service.

Tags: Small Business. Big Influence Product Line Customer Relationships