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Why Marketers Should Care About Tax Refunds

  |  March 8, 2013   |  Comments

Think about your business and customers, ask how they're impacted by tax refunds, and then determine where tax season fits into promotional calendars.

Did you know about 84 percent of taxpayers filing Jan. 1 through Feb. 15 receive a refund, compared to only half of those who file in April? Or that it's estimated that Uncle Sam will pay out $230 billion in federal tax refunds to U.S. consumers this tax season? The average refund in 2012 was $2,700 per household; and your customers are receiving an influx of cash in a short, predictable timeframe. The bottom line is simple: tax season isn't just for accountants and tax software companies, it's for all marketers.

Think about incorporating tax refund season into your long-term editorial and promotional calendars just as any other seasonal event like Mother's Day.

Search Trends During the 2012 Tax Season: Two Peak Times

Bing Ads put together an analysis of search behavior during the 2012 tax season (PDF download) that shows two clear peaks in search activity. The peaks correspond to Jan. 30 when the IRS typically begins processing returns, and the filing deadline on April 15.


A study from American Tax and Financial Center at TurboTax gives us an interesting view into the households filing early and their motivations. They say 84 percent of taxpayers filing Jan. 1 through Feb. 15 receive a refund, and those who file prior to Feb. 15 mirror the profile of a paycheck-to-paycheck household. And they also claim refunds are the primary reason taxpayers file returns by mid-February.

In marketing, timing matters. What does all this mean during tax season? Well it means cash starts flowing into the pockets of our customers around Valentine's Day and well into May.

  • The IRS typically starts processing returns Jan. 30 (refunds are typically processed within 21 days).
  • If you file electronically it's 8 to 14 days, and it's estimated that nearly 62.5 percent of Americans will file electronically this year.
  • And the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates nearly 60 percent of Americans have filed their taxes by March 1.

How They Plan to Spend the Refund

Tax refunds provide one of the largest single paydays for average American families, and the NRF expects nearly 24 percent of families to use their tax refund to purchase a large household item or even take a well-deserved vacation.


Clearly, this is valuable information for car dealerships, electronics retailers, travel agents, and appliances sellers (to name a few).

Quick Search Marketing Application

Your customers are getting extra cash, they're spending it on your products, and now you have to reach them. In search marketing campaigns, you may see higher conversion rates or more click volume on big-ticket items. You can consider customizing your ad copy, site links, or landing pages to highlight your top suggestions of where customers should invest their refund check.

See these concepts in action at SES New York 2013: See the full agenda.

As usual, some networks will index higher for your target market than others. Sticking with tax and search marketing, Bing Ads sees a 50 percent+ increase in its share of clicks vs. Google for the tax-related searches this time according to a 2012 comScore study (going from 23 percent to 35 percent of tax-related clicks). This is because Bing Ads' audience skews to users who typically have higher incomes ($60,000+), and are older (25+). Whether it's search, display, or mobile ad networks, think about where you'll find your best return.

Think about your business and customers, ask how they're impacted by tax refunds, and then determine where tax season fits into promotional calendars. After you've figured that out, the next step is to determine what do to with your refund (if you get one).

Tax Refund image on home page via Shutterstock.

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John Gagnon

John Gagnon is a Bing Ads Evangelist (aka “search nerd”) at Microsoft. He has worked for both Bing Ads and Google AdWords, and is a frequent speaker at digital marketing conferences such as SES, SMX, and others. He has advised hundreds of clients ranging from Microsoft teams like Windows and Internet Explorer to small businesses like local garage door repair shops just getting started.

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