In Promotion, Timing Matters

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By Andrew Ballard

Guest Writer

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This post originally appeared on and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Properly timing your promotion is vitally important to producing a positive return on your marketing investment. Reaching the right market with the right message through the right media at the wrong moment won’t generate sales.

In this fourth and final installment of my four-part series detailing the four secrets to marketing success, I’ll cover the right moment. After you target the right market with the right message through the right media, you’ll schedule your promotion for the right moment.

The objective is to time your promotion to coincide with the purchasing patterns of your target market. For example, Hallmark knows that the bulk of their sales will occur based on holidays, so for Valentine’s Day their timing is obvious. But if your sales are spread out fairly evenly throughout the year, timing will require more thought. In that case, the things to consider are sales cycles, scheduling and competitor promotion.

Sales Cycles

Even if your sales are spread out, there are most likely peaks and valleys (busier and slower times). For busy periods (peaks) you follow the season; for slower periods (valleys) you fill in the gaps.

Time your promotion to coincide with the purchasing patterns of your target market

Following the season is the “make hay while the sun shines” approach. You allocate your promotional budget to hit the street just before the market peaks, so you can be top-of-mind when consumers start to think about purchasing in your product category. This involves both micro and macro cycles. A weekend is an example of a micro cycle. There are more new cars purchased on weekends, consequently you see more car dealer advertising at the end of the week. A period lasting for an entire season is an example of a macro cycle. In early spring, homeowners begin thinking about products in the lawn and garden category.

Filling in the gaps is the opposite of the follow-the-season approach. You schedule your promotion for slower sales periods, typically in micro cycles. Think about the last time you saw or used a coupon for a restaurant. The offer was most likely limited to certain days and times, such as Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. In other words, during slower periods.

Based on your sales cycles and capacity, consider which approach – follow the season or fill in the gaps – would generate the greatest return on investment.


There are four standard methods of scheduling promotions: continuity, concentration, flighting and pulsing.


Continuity means spreading your promotional budget evenly throughout the year (or the season), that is, you are promoting nonstop. GEICO, for example, is constantly advertising through a mix of media. Because this is a very costly method, it is not used by many small businesses.


Concentration involves allocating an entire promotion budget to one or a few promotional periods, most often associated with a sales promotion. Nordstrom concentrates on their half-yearly sale events, but they do not do much advertising otherwise.


Flighting is the choice of most small businesses because it stretches the budget while creating the illusion of nonstop advertising. You advertise on and off throughout the year (two weeks on, two weeks off or one week every month, for example). Wal-Mart appears to use flighting to promote their brand and product offerings. They are not constantly advertising like GEICO, but they seem to be. For flighting to be effective, consistency in schedule is important.


Pulsing is an approach used mostly by big brands with big advertising budgets. It combines the methods of continuity (at a lower spending level) and flighting (to deliver a stronger burst, usually timed seasonally or to a sales promotion). Budweiser advertises consistently throughout the year, but less frequently than GEICO. In addition to their continuity schedule, there are certain times of the year when Budweiser really ratchets up their spending level, e.g. during major sporting events like playoffs.

Competitor Promotion

Sometimes purposely advertising at different times than your competitors can pay off. If I were in a product category where all of my competitors were advertising a Memorial Day sale, I could promote a pre-Memorial Day sale to get a jump on the competition. When you promote during periods when your competitors are not, it delivers a greater share of voice, which can lead to a greater share of market.

In consideration of your promotion budget, choose the right moment and scheduling based on your sales cycles, capacity and competitor promotion.

This concludes my four-part series on the four secrets to marketing success. When you are more effective at targeting the right market with the right message through the right media at the right moment, odds are you will increase your return on marketing investment, which will decrease your cost of customer acquisition and thereby increase your margin – a very profitable combination. Good marketing!

About the Author

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Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a Seattle-area agency that develops research-based growth strategies. He has over three decades’ experience with specialties in marketing research, strategic planning, brand development and advertising, and has helped hundreds of organizations (from startups through Fortune 500 companies) achieve breakthrough growth.>

Andrew is a respected author, educator, keynote and TEDx speaker. His articles on marketing strategy have been published in business journals through all 50 states. His book, “Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter,” has been endorsed in both corporate and academic circles as innovative and insightful. Andrew is also a part-time faculty member at the University of Washington.

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