Back-to-School Starts Early for Marketers

September 6, 2017 — by Laura Carrier    

This article originally appears on MarTech Advisor. 

Back-to-school is just around the corner, and spending is projected to go up by 9.4 percent from last year. To help ensure advertisers are targeting and reaching back-to-school shoppers this summer, MediaMath put together tips and trends to help them optimize for their campaigns before school’s back in session. Laura Carrier, VP, Vertical Strategy, Measurement at MediaMath explores these tips and provides the best ways to fully optimize a campaign through an audience based, omnichannel, brand safe approach. 

Back-to-school shopping is the second largest online retail season in the US, after the winter holidays. It serves as an essential revenue generating period that can help retailers get ahead of their revenue targets before Q4. The National Retail Federation projects that back-to-school spend will go up by 9.4 percent from last year and 54.8 percent more than a decade ago.

We looked for patterns in the way that our best brands made the most of this fruitful season, including the way they think about timing, budget, media, targeting, data and more. Here are a few of the best practices that our advertisers use to get the most out of the back-to-school season:

Know your Audiences

It has always been the case that marketers need to understand who they are targeting to inform creative and targeting decisions. And the digitization of retailing has allowed unprecedented understanding of who your marketing audience is, where they are and what their interests are. There are two cohorts of back-to-school shoppers, each of whom exhibit very different shopping behavior. Parents of K-12 students are the biggest spenders of the season, responsible for a projected $75.8 billion total spend in 2017. They are volume shoppers that focus on clothing and shoes. The other cohort of back-to-school shoppers are the parents of college students, who are responsible for less overall spend at $45.8B, but have larger budgets for electronics. The average college student parent spends approximately $899.19/person, more than $200/person –  higher than the average K-12 student parent budget.

Marketers should understand which audience, or percentage of each audience, to target based on their product category and industry. It will inform your media and data strategy to find the right way to reach them, and should be essential in the creative that you use to reach the audience. Remember that you are advertising to very different sets of parents, even for the same products!

It’s Still Not Too Late to Start

The main back-to-school shopping season kicks off after the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but conversions do not begin peaking until around July 22nd, and they remain at their highest volume through the end of August. Marketers should plan to have their campaigns launched and at full force from the last week of July through the end of August.

How marketers time these strategies will also depend on which cohort they target – college parents complete their shopping by the Labor Day holiday, while K-12 parents continue making last minute school purchases all the way through October.

Summer is For On-The-Go Shoppers

The last place that anyone wants to be in the hot summer months is in front of their desktop, at home or in the office. During most of the year, desktop site traffic is significantly higher than mobile traffic. But during the summer period between July 10 – August 28, site traffic is just as likely to come from cellular devices as it is desktop site visitors, a major shift that’s sustained for almost the entire summer holidays.

If marketers are not taking an omnichannel approach to their back-to-school strategy, they are leaving even more money on the table than usual. Optimize across channels so that you reach people who are even more on the move than usual.

Understand the Importance of Digital Influence

Back-to-school shoppers overwhelmingly purchase in stores, however the influence of online marketing and research on offline purchases is continuing to increase. This is important for marketers to understand with respect to the ensuring continuity of conversation: if you are not speaking to your customers online, then you are missing more than half of the conversation they are looking to have with you, and you are missing the start of the customer journey. Not only do most customer journeys start in a digital channel, but digitally influenced offline store sales are much greater than all of e-commerce sales. Brands must understand this in laying out their digital strategies, such that they are building up their online and offline presences to act in concert together, not as wholly separate strategies. Creating relevance for back-to-school shoppers is about understanding that a retailer’s physical presence drives online conversions, and additionally their online presence drives offline conversions – customer journeys flow across the entire “phygital” world.

Quality Counts

Brand safety concerns should be especially important when running a campaign targeting parents who are shopping for their children, and marketers are becoming more aware than ever of where their brand appears. In looking at back-to-school campaigns, however, we also saw that ads served on premium, curated media had a 2X response rate compared to all media during back-to-school campaigns in 2016. Marketers should test some strategies on whitelists or premium media marketplaces to see if overall engagement and performance works for their audiences – those higher CPMs are certainly worthwhile if they are justified with higher quality brand experiences that drive conversions!

The second largest shopping season is nothing to sneer at – summertime is a perfect period for retailers to get ahead of their revenue targets ahead of Q4. Also, since the holiday season is just around the corner, it’s a great opportunity to implement new technologies and sharpen best practices.

Laura Carrier

Laura Carrier is VP, Data & Measurement Strategy at MediaMath. She is a retail guru with 10+ years of industry experience. Laura’s diverse retail experience spans into merchandising, omnichannel strategy, CRM, and marketing. Before joining MediaMath, she was most recently at Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, and has also worked with diverse retailers of all sizes in mass, mid-tier, luxury and drug. At MediaMath, Laura provides new insights and solutions to meet clients’ needs while focusing on measurement within the marketing space.