Back-To-School (BTS) is here and most retailers are taking a deep breath before they find their way into the dark recesses of the lead-up to the holiday season. But BTS itself is too important to gloss over. And it’s too important to leave to global promotions, generic sweepstakes, and one core product to drive business. BTS is the second largest shopping season of the year, accounting for $27 billion in sales last year. As marketers, our campaigns need to be complex, targeted, and nuanced by data to perform in today’s competitive market.
Building effective campaigns starts with the ability to recognize the range of customers that make up our audiences. Carefully finding the balance between appealing to students and their parents is essential for success.
No Two Customers are the Same
Customers are becoming increasingly diverse and raising expectations every year. Relying on one-size-fits-all or last year’s campaign is one of the biggest mistakes a business can make. The customer base is made up of kids and parents that vary in age, interests, education level, and purchasing behavior. We have to go further than just demographics to understand what resonates with them.
The most useful customer insights can be found using data. We can utilize data and customer analytics to generate personalized campaigns to reach customers with meaningful and relevant offers. Every action a customer takes provides valuable and actionable insights in transactional behavior. We can use customer history to identify previous purchase patterns during BTS and to identify product affinity. Those data points help us to create strategies to ensure purchases and product conversion. Personalized messaging and offers give us a better baseline of what forecasting can be expected during such a critical season.
Previous purchase behavior isn’t only for current customers. We can combine data with demographics to target lookalikes and provide personalized offers to first-time buyers, which increases our acquisition rates and boosts revenue expectations.
Achieving personalization during BTS is easier than it sounds. For instance, Target applies a simple segmentation of customers on its homepage. There are two sections shown as soon as you visit labeled, “Back to School,” and “On to College.” From the click of a button, Target has narrowed down its customer base for different products and the company can use those data points to message through email and remarketing to ensure conversion.
Sell a Story
Each year, the BTS season brings new trends that influence purchases amongst a wide variety of customers across the country. Many brands fall into the trap of using last year’s strategies and messaging since they worked previously. But as the retail space has proven, last year’s ideas are not good enough. With increasing competition, deeper discounts and category-level promotions aren’t enough. The message matters. Using brand-focused storytelling is the key to standing out to the variety of customers that make up your audience.
Storytelling is not a new concept when it comes to marketing. It is the perfect opportunity for brands to not only let their personalities shine through, but it also allows the customer to find pieces of his or her own personality within the brand, as well. This connection is critical for any success. Think of your favorite brands. Why do you like them? Do you see yourself in some of their brand DNA? It’s not just that they’re cheap, or that the products have quality; there are more nuanced reasons why we like brands.
BTS is an emotional time for both kids and their parents, and it’s filled with excitement and anxiety. Students look at going back to school as their fresh starts, while parents view it as their children growing up. Our goal is to start the story by aligning products to the customers’ mindsets and then letting the customers finish the story in their own imaginations. The fact is, emotional drivers are simply more powerful than prices long-term—but it requires a deeper understanding of your customer, great data, and consistent execution.
Target’s BTS campaign for college students employs a perfect combination of product, brand identity, and imagination. The brand provides a 360-degree virtual reality of a variety of dorm rooms. Each room design has its own persona that fits different styles and personalities. Students can imagine what their first days of college will be like and how their purchases will comprise the foundation for the next year of their lives.
Best Buy had similar success by using a comedic approach to storytelling in its 2016 BTS campaign, “How to College with Adam Devine.” The well-known actor used Best Buy products to guide himself through various awkward and humorous experiences that all college students face. The campaign was a unique and fun way to reach the older audience that Best Buy targets during the season.
Parents Hold the Power
While it is important to align with kids, it’s often the parents who ultimately hold purchasing power. In 2017, the average spending amount was $501.00 per child.
Just as no two customers are the same, no two parents are either. Parents are driven by multiple facets. While they want to shop with brands their children like, price is often paramount. They search for brands with price points that match their budgets. Just last year, more than half of consumers researched products online before making purchases.
Promotions are going to happen—in fact, they need to happen. But there are additional ways marketers can help to distance their brands from competitors.
If your brand has a loyalty program, BTS is an opportunity to retain repeat buyers through special loyalty offers, as well as a chance to acquire new customers with enticing loyalty sign-up promotions. If you’re going to offer discounts, get more in return by earning data or the chance to communicate through email or SMS.
BTS is one of the most profitable seasons for businesses. Spending for the 2018 season is projected to hit $27.6 billion. As marketers, it is crucial for us to realize the importance of recognizing the individual needs of customers while maintaining scale. We must leverage data and analytics to develop messaging that connects to each customer’s sense of emotion, product affinity, and behavior to drive strategies that will maximize revenue and build brand loyalty year-over-year.