A Silver Lining to the Polar Vortex

On April 30th, Press Secretary Jay Carney reported the US economy grew 0.1% in the first quarter of 2014. Why only 0.1%? Well, it was negatively affected by 1.0%–1.5% by the drastic winter experienced across America. Sounds like the oldest “sales-tall-tale” ever told… “Hey Boss, I didn’t hit my quota, because the bad weather kept people indoors in a state of depression, and turned them away from our products.” Smells like a bridge is for sale in the five boroughs again!

Well, tall-tales aside, and sales-man-woman-ship excuses parked in the Harvard Yard, there may be a skosh of truth and wisdom evident. Take a look at these tiny tidbits of icicle dangling delight:

  • Yahoo, Smithsonian Magazine, and Geekquinox all recently noted days this winter where it was warmer on Mars than certain cities in the US (yikes).
  • Automotive News wrote, “Automakers reported on Monday sharp declines in United States sales in January as a harsh freeze and winter storms thwarted purchases across much of the country.” Autodata confirmed this saying, “Sales fell 3.1% January 2014 vs YAG, as the industry fell prey to harsh winter conditions. Most notably, GM, the nation’s largest carmaker dropped 12% vs January YAG.”
  • National Retail Federation President, Matthew Shay said, “Following a solid holiday season, it seems as if consumers took a break from shopping malls and stores this January to avoid the harsh winter weather. January retail sales recently released by the US Census dropped 0.4% seasonally adjusted.”

Sometimes “us” researchers, do what we are classically trained to do: we do research to test a hypothesis, or prove a theory. In this month’s Ipsos Public Affairs Thought Starter, Weathering the American Winter, Americans cited Snow/Blizzards (45%), Extreme Cold (42%), and Rain/Thunderstorms (21%), as problematic conditions for their families this winter. So problematic they stayed indoors, changed buying, shopping, traveling, and work commute routines.

When I was a kid, my nickname was “No School All Schools”. I used to run around the neighborhood letting everyone know school was canceled. Remember this was the early 70s, before cell phones, pagers, emails, and twitter-blog-a-tachi’s existed. What was the secret of my success? I was the nephew of the town’s fire chief. He called my mother 30 minutes before they blew the fire horn at 6am to signal no school all schools, so I jumped on this inside information, and looked like a genius zipping around the neighborhood.

So when we asked Americans if any of these situations have happened to their families in the past six months, lo and behold “No Schools All Schools” raised its head above them all as (28%) were affected by school cancellation, (28%) couldn’t get to work, and (25%) experienced car/travel delays. As a parent, I now know why my mother cried when she heard the fire horn blow at 6am in the dead of winter.

As marketers we look at the glass as half-full every time we are confronted with a challenge, even when it’s bestowed upon us from Mother Nature.

So what could we learn from this past winter, aside from investing heavily in shovels, snow rakes for house roofs, and driveway salt? When you get hit with snow, cold, and drastic conditions, look for a silver lining, and re-think how you move your products and services to customers.

Thoughts for 2015, in case the Polar Vortex returns…

Welcome to the first annual “Polar Vortex” sales-a-thon!

  • Increase your stay at home “one-day-online-retail sales” by receiving 10% off sales in January
  • Launch your Caribbean reduced airfare getaway sales after seven straight days of sub-zero temps in a region
  • Offer sit down restaurant home delivery
  • Institute a 0% financing, $5,000 dealer cash down, if the temperature hits (-20® F) in the month of January, as long as car is purchased before Feb 1st

These ideas are corny, not inventive, but the point I’m makingis simple… Be bold, take action, and reach out to customers. Don’t hide inside and let winter beat you down. After all, how often can you capitalize on “It’s colder in Minneapolis than Olympus Mons”!