Back-to-school shopping season is the second-biggest retail event after the holiday season, and with sales results suggesting online shopping is more important than ever, brand marketers and retailers this year are embracing several emerging strategies to ensure they engage students and parents in digital channels, whether they convert online or in a store.
Mobile's role in back-to-school shopping continues to grow with major retailers like J.C. Penney, Walmart and others making it a key part of their strategy. This makes sense, as research from the National Retail Federation indicates 43% of shoppers will use their smartphones to do research, including price comparisons, for back-to-school shopping. At the same time, a report from A.T. Kearney, titled "Back-to-School Consumer Shopping Perspectives," points to a 4% increase in online-only shopping since last year, underscoring the need to engage digital consumers throughout the path to purchase.
With mobile now a widely used marketing tool, the savviest retailers and brands are looking for the next steps for boosting their digital strategies such as via real-time inventory, offering a progress bar during checkout and innovative content strategies. Below is a look at a few of the trends that have caught on this year and might futher influence how brands engage younger consumers heading into the crucial holiday shopping season:
ASMR is the interesting new kid in school
Back-to-school shopping is stressful for students and parents alike. To help alleviate the stress, some retailers have capitalized on autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, which refers to how repetitive sounds, such as whispering or the sound of pages being turned, can be soothing for some.
ASMR is a YouTube sensation as well. The site has more than five million videos relating to ASMR, with the most popular of these getting over 16 million views.
Marketing experts argue since people are so adoring of ASMR, there's potentially money to be made with it.
Many of the YouTube videos with the largest fan followings feature crinkling wrappers or drink cans opening. For marketers ready to bring ASMR into their campaigns, it's necessary to figure out which products have noticeable sound effects associated with them and how to make those noises prominent in a streaming video or television commercial.
Social influencers move to the front of the class
Influencer marketing is still relatively new on the digital ad scene, leaving many brands in the dark about what does and doesn't work. Despite several potential risks, marketers are giving influencer marketing a shot, hoping it will prove to be an effective way to reach young adults. EBags, the online luggage and backpack retailer that was bought this year by Samsonite for $105 million, is working with YouTube influencers on a campaign that showcases the most popular backpacks for the 2017 back-to-school season.
"Social creators and branded content are now the heartbeat of digital storytelling, as younger audiences lack interest in and attention for traditional disruptive advertising," Tim Sovay, COO at CreatorIQ, told Marketing Dive.
"Digital ad spend is at a point where it's surpassing traditional TV spend," he said. "Influencer marketing is playing a big part in this paradigm shift, and millennial and Gen Z audiences demand greater authenticity from the brands they connect with."
The challenges with leveraging social influencers include a growing fraud problem and making sure sponsored content is properly identified. Celebrities and brands alike have been warned by the FTC in the past for not properly disclosing sponsored content on their social media pages.
"Social media allows marketing to become a lot more personal," said Dellon Stefanus of Vista College. "Almost all of our students have social media accounts, so it's a great way to reach them. Influencer marketing is a whole different animal, though, and new regulations are coming out all the time which makes it challenging."
With these challenges in mind, it's crucial for brands to maintain transparency during any campaign that relies on the thoughts of and encouragement from social influencers. This means making sure influencers know to tag any sponsored post with #ad, like Instagram influencer Poppy Deyes does here in a post for Topshop. Similar hashtags like #sp or #partner do not count, according to the FTC.
Hollywood-style content joins the curriculum
Young consumers do not like intrusive ads and, with so many content options out there, they are increasingly willing to simply bypass platforms that interrupt their experiences or to adopt ad-blocking software. With this in mind, marketers are creating short films, TV-like programming and other original digital content that can be quickly consumed and shared from a mobile device.
GapKids partnered with film studio Lionsgate for back-to-school with a series of video shorts, each highlighting people who champion kids through positive reinforcement. The final short starred actor Jacob Tremblay and ties into Lionsgate's upcoming film adaptation of the book "Wonder," which he stars in.
Converse launched a campaign with Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven on Netflix's hit series "Stranger Things," in which she acts out 32 different emotions that teens feel as the first bell looms. Her expressions are captured in GIFs, which can be found on BuzzFeed and Teen Vogue in North America, the U.K. and France, as well on Converse's website and social media channels. A super cut of all of Brown's reactions is captured in video form on YouTube. On Sept. 5, Converse is also debuting an original video series for Twitter titled "Public Access" that targets the back-to-school market.
From the examples discussed above, it's clear that brands and retailers are trying to engage younger consumers on their terms, which means reaching them on their smartphones with content that provides value by informing, entertaining or solving a problem. Marketers should keep an eye on these trends, which have been building steam all year and are likely to only get hotter as we head into Q4.