Back-to-school is a pivotal and potentially nerve-wracking time of year for retailers and brand marketers.
And, sure, probably for students, too. While the revenue potential is massive — $84 billion by some estimates, second only to winter holiday shopping spree earnings — the competition is even fiercer.
While 94 percent of retail purchases still happen within brick-and-mortar stores, digitally savvy parents, teens and college students are making retailers work even harder to capture their attention and dollars across every channel.
As noted in The Wall Street Journal, experts predict a 3.6 percent increase in back-to-school spending in 2014, which is higher than the average (2.7 percent) over the past eight years. That’s good news for back-to-school retailers, but tempered by the possibility that spikes in food and fuel costs may cause families to spend less than they anticipated in the most relevant categories such as school supplies, technology and apparel.
So the question then becomes: How can retailers and brand marketers ace their digital marketing strategies this Back-to-School shopping season?
While many brands officially launch back-to-school campaigns in late July or August, the season starts as early as May and June. In fact, shoppers begin researching their back-to-school needs “long before stores notice an uptick in purchases,” according to a report from eMarketer. Last year, while only 17 percent of Back-to-School shoppers made purchases by mid-July, an impressive 43 percent had already begun researching their back-to-school wants and needs.
And while it’s true most shoppers complete back-to-school shopping by the first day of classes, the reality is that there is and will always be procrastinators in the bunch. To provide some context, 3 percent of consumers shop after school is back in session and 11 percent of parents plan to complete their shopping lists then as well. This consumer behavior should serve as a strong reminder to both office/school supply brands and retailers to not only be proactive in how they target Back-to-School shoppers, but also to integrate these behavioral patterns into the last-minute deals, promotions and ads they deploy to target these wait-till-the-last-minute shoppers.
Control the message.
More than ever, parents are investigators and researchers at heart – after all, the Internet allows them to find deals, promotions and prices that are highly personalized, targeted and relevant to their needs before they even set foot inside a physical store. According to the IAB, one in four “mobile moms” actively seek coupons and discounts with their smartphones, but only if presented with coherent messaging. What will all the early, budget-conscious shoppers discover when they research your brand? What kind of special deals and product offers will entice them?
“If retailers get in front of the consumer who is checking prices, product details or product reviews, they become part of the experience rather than disappearing into the clutter of Back-to-School advertising,” says Alison Paul, vice chairman at Deloitte LLP. Planning across multiple devices is essential for your campaign to succeed and your brand’s messaging should be consistent wherever your potential shoppers encounter it.
Think about long-term, repeat buyers.
You’re thinking too small if your Back-to-School marketing goals are driven by a flood of one-off transactions. The majority of this year’s Back-to-School shoppers will once again be ready to shop in the following season too. Rather than tackle your digital marketing piecemeal, think about and leverage the behaviors of this year’s shoppers to effectively connect, engage and convert them into long-term, repeat buyers in 2015 – across every device and channel.
One path some major brands are taking is cause marketing, which typically involves the efforts of both a business and a non-profit organization. In fact, Target’s multi-channel “Every Little Thing Is a Really Big Deal” campaign is a great example of a brand getting it right. From July 13 through August 2, Target plans to give one Up & Up brand school-supply product to a student in need for each one sold. The retail giant hopes to donate $25 million to the Kids in Need Foundation through this campaign and in the process, will foster long-lasting goodwill among shoppers and a reputation for corporate giving within the industry at large.
Don’t underestimate the efficacy of search and email marketing.
While launching an uber-cool and creative Snapchat campaign might – emphasis on might – score your brand ‘cool’ points and maybe even some media coverage — it just isn’t going to drive the type of impactful engagement to move the sales needle very far. I cannot stress enough the power and value search and email marketing have – and will continue to have – on the success of Back-to-School campaigns.
As tech savvy and always on as consumers have become, there is still something to be said for simplicity. Something as simple as optimizing and personalizing the subject line of an email campaign can deliver tremendous results for marketers. According to a recent report from Experian, this simple tweak resulted in a 44 percent increase in unique open rates. Additionally, think about the online interactions that may seem to be a loss – such as high shopping cart abandonment rates – and target emails specifically to those shoppers.
Keeping on top of the trends specific to your brand will also make an impact. For example, there is evidence suggesting apparel-related search keywords spike after school has started. (That is: After everyone has had a chance to see their friends’ new threads.) Yet, not every apparel company keeps their Back-to-School campaigns running through the fall season. Similarly around the conclusion of the holiday season, search frequency picks up in January as students return from their winter breaks. This trend is not an “event” on the scale of summer Back-to-School shopping season, but it does provide an opportunity for savvy marketers to reach customers who may have proven to be ‘hard-to-get’ in July and August.
The moral of the story here is simple. Marketers who approach their digital marketing for the Back-to-School season as thoughtfully and strategically as they do with the holiday shopping season will see massive gains for their businesses. These gains will include consistent increases in engagement, conversions and sales – from their websites to mobile sites/apps to local store sales.