How to Kick it Into High Gear for Last Weeks of Back-to-School
The back-to-school (BTS) season kicked off for retailers as early as springtime, as brands developed fresh strategies and high-engagement campaigns to capture new customers for the second most important retail season of the year. While full-scale campaigns have long been executed, it’s not too late for retailers to kick it into high gear during the last month of summer before that fateful school bell rings again. By sharpening the focus on the needs of individual customer segments, brands can finish strong with fine-tuned, personalized campaigns that win consumer appeal. I’ve chosen these key themes that can help retailers identify strategic opportunities and optimize campaign performance before summer’s end.
Peak Season for Search
August is critical for search campaigns, as it's peak time for online searches on BTS. Search interest in “back to school” items was at its highest until Aug. 23, measured against other parts of the summer as well as the same weeks during previous years. This surge calls for strategies such as click-to-call for mobile, optimized store finders, in-store pickup and ship to campus where available. Now is the perfect time to get aggressive in mobile for programs like Google Shopping and nonbrand keywords as a way of testing the waters for the holiday mobile search growth that's expected. Shoot for position one on mobile to see if return-on-ad-spend goals can be met with higher conversion rates on mobile this year.
Proliferation of Location-Based Targeting
As the remaining days of summer melt away, retailers are looking for significant upswings in physical store foot traffic. A way to do this is through geo-location tactics, which allow retailers to better leverage a customer’s path to purchase. Using mobile data, brands can identify and target consumers in real time with ads reflective of individual intent, motivation or purchase needs. While mobile-to-store analytics is still a murky area, particularly in relation to measuring direct return on investment, a cohesion of geo-targeting and personalized mobile ad content can effectively engage BTS shoppers to seek products in-store.
Watching conversion rates online near store locations as well as away from store locations can give some indication of how search, on mobile in particular, is working with your business. PM Digital clients see varying results: some brands see higher conversion rates the further you go from store locations (where consumers have to buy online if they want to purchase from that merchant), while others see higher conversion rates by stores thanks to the brand knowledge.
Unified, Omnichannel Presence
Widespread adoption of omnichannel isn’t a new concept. However, the remaining weeks of summer represent an essential time for retailers to maintain a consistent presence/voice across channels in order to meet the consumer at every point of potential conversion. Now is the time to integrate natural and paid search campaigns, display, email marketing, and mobile, while ensuring that messages are succinct and compelling across all channels and devices.
Social media shouldn't be used solely for promotional or special sales messages; rather, social channels should reflect an extension of the entire BTS experience and a way to engage users with your brand. This means pushing interactive campaigns that reflect everyday consumer experiences, continuing photo or story contests, and sharing video content that appeals to the highly visual youth audience. Additionally, using last-minute messaging across social media and other digital channels can evoke the sense of urgency that influences a consumer to purchase before deals run out.
Mobile Enhances the Shopping Experience
Consumers view their smartphones as a tool for aiding them through purchase decisions — e.g., what backpacks will be durable enough to last the year, which store has the best sales on school supplies, what clothing brands are hot for the upcoming school year, etc. Consumers are searching for items, comparing quality across several brands, looking for peer guidance via social media and often looking for a physical store to make a purchase after they’ve done all that due diligence.
Mobile is an integral piece of the customer journey, and one that can directly influence in-store shopping significantly. Aside from providing geo-specific ads and messages, retailers can consider adding special components to their mobile apps that help shoppers to identify the products best suited for them. This keeps consumers engaged through multiple touchpoints, both online and offline, which is more important than ever during these last few weeks of the BTS shopping season.
Nicole Jennings is senior vice president, paid media, at PM Digital, a digital marketing agency.