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Founder and CEO of Sway Group, an agency that specializes in influencer marketing, branded content, and digital media planning and buying.
Back-to-school shopping typically marks an uptick in consumer spending, and it starts earlier than you think: Many shoppers start as early as two months before school starts.
Of course, the last year and change have been anything but typical. However, as pandemic restrictions ease around the country and many schools announce plans to return to full-time in-person learning in the fall, it’s critical for brands to reconnect with back-to-school consumers — in a way that reflects current realities and resonates with a variety of audiences.
Traditional Ads Fall Flat
Old-school advertising has become increasingly irrelevant during recent years, thanks in no small part to shifts in the ways we consume media. Businesses should be focused on reaching consumers in the digital environments where they spend most of their time, but not with yesterday’s brand-building tactics.
Today’s consumers are far more drawn to brands that are in tune with their needs; in fact, 70% of surveyed consumers say they will shop exclusively with brands that show they understand them. Instead of relying on yesterday’s spray-and-pray techniques, it’s time for brands to embrace the new and proven methods of outreach and engagement.
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This Year’s Unique Challenges
For the 2021-2022 school year, the landscape has changed from what was once a familiar process. Online shopping surged dramatically during the pandemic, and e-commerce trends indicate that the accelerated adoption of online shopping is here to stay.
Altered purchasing habits aside, it’s important for brands to recognize that the people in their target markets likely aren’t sharing a unified experience this season. We’re over a year into a global pandemic that’s had a disproportionate impact on people of color, working mothers and less affluent communities, and consumers have been affected in a variety of ways and have greatly differing perspectives.
Some parents and kids may be feeling a lot of trepidation about the upcoming school year, while others are eagerly looking forward to being back in the classroom. For some, there’s likely an added level of excitement about buying new clothes and school accessories after being so long without a social educational setting; for others, there may be anxiety about changes to the classroom and new requirements. Some are dealing with unprecedented financial concerns, while others are not.
In other words, one back-to-school message cannot possibly fit all this year.
Influencer Marketing Brings The Personalization
Who better to connect with back-to-school shoppers than actual parents with actual back-to-school shopping needs? Today’s online creators often have the authenticity consumers (especially younger generations like Gen Z and millennials) are looking for, along with credibility in topic niches of all kinds.
With influencer marketing, back-to-school campaigns can be presented through a variety of perspectives:
• Affordable supplies for those under financial strain.
• Easy but impactful teacher gifts.
• Online shopping options and contactless delivery.
• The shift from home learning supplies back to traditional.
• The importance of personal supplies for schools that will no longer provide them.
• The best hand sanitizers and masks for kids/college students.
• Specialized products like antimicrobial backpacks and lunchboxes.
• The latest clothing and accessory trends.
Brands have the opportunity to drive the right kind of engagement in an incredibly targeted way by simply allowing influencers to tell their own authentic and diverse stories.
Finding the right influencers for the job can be done internally, using influencer platform discovery tools or by manually searching social media platforms (hashtags can often help in this process — look for tags like #parenting, #momblogger, #family, etc.). It can be useful to focus on identifying micro-influencers, who often have a more personal and influential connection with their audience.
To save time and resources, you also can consider working with a professional agency. Agencies often have their own influencer networks and can offer expertise and guidance every step of the way.
Reaching Back-To-School Audiences At Volume
Influencer marketing’s advantages don’t have to be limited to the influencer’s followers; you can leverage top-performing influencer posts for paid media campaigns that reach highly targeted audiences at scale.
Paid media — social, programmatic, app-based, search, etc. — all relies on the same element for success: content. If you have influencer content that’s been tested and proven effective with target audiences, you can take that same content and turn it into a programmatic ad display that reaches thousands or millions more targeted audiences. These kinds of ad displays are different from branded content ads that appear on social networks. In this case, businesses can use the influencer’s content as the creative for a programmatic ad buy (note that usage rights must be secured ahead of time) across any number of publishers. It’s even possible to create ads that display the original post’s comments and likes in real time, making even more use of that valuable social capital.
Last year, many brands may have pulled back on back-to-school outreach because of uncertainty around virtual learning and hybrid school schedules. As the 2021-2022 school year approaches and families around the U.S. gear up for the next normal, the time for reaching target audiences with influential creators is now.
Don’t miss the mark this season by using yesterday’s tactics when there are so many new and effective options for delivering the right message, to the right audience, at the right time.
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Author: Danielle Wiley, Forbes Councils Member