by Thom Forbes, Featured Columnist, (July 08, 2016)
In advance of the peak of the second-largest retail season early next month, the PMX Agency recently released its sixth annual Back to School Trend Report with a wide variety of insights into both the K-12 and college markets. Among its top-line findings:
- Online behavior has become mobile-dominant, particularly with Millennials — a generation spanning college students to parents of small children;
- Free shipping is an expectation;
- Search, both paid and organic, remains at the heart of back-to-school strategy;
- Social media continue to influence marketing messages;
- Pinterest and Blogger have larger organic click share for “back to school” phrases than most retailers.
We asked Toni Box, senior director of social media & content at PMX, to delve into some of the agency’s observations about social media in particular.
Tell us about the rising use of pictures versus text and what this means for what brands should be doing.
Mobile is now a quintessential piece of the shopping experience, which has created a shift in the way consumers want to interact with brands and shop online. High-impact visual experiences have proven to become much more valuable, more so than product descriptions or even price differentiation.
We’ve seen formats like Google’s Rich Cards come to life, in addition to the increased emphasis on Google Shopping Ads (PLAs) in search. We’ve also seen a substantial rise in both users and active brands on visual social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. It’s a trend in consumer behavior that we just can’t ignore, and that might mean re-allocating budgets, and forming a stronger alignment between creative, search and content efforts.
You say marketers should initiate relationships with key bloggers. By doing what?
Blogger and influencer outreach is a key component for back-to-school marketing. The earlier brands can secure partnerships, the better, particularly for the mommy and relevant style bloggers that have a high readership during the back-to-school retail season.
Marketers will want to identify bloggers with a high follower count, but even more importantly, they’ll want to find natural ways to align with content bloggers already work on — like style or buying guides. The storytelling element is also key to building valuable relationships with bloggers and influencers. For a time like back-to-school, and especially for parents with young children, there’s a unique opportunity to leverage story-based content that isn’t product-focused. We’ve seen this emotional-based approach help to build brand affinity and loyalty.
Exclusive offers also tend to do really well with bloggers. It gives them the chance to offer their readers a special deal or promotion that they perhaps couldn’t access elsewhere.
You find that paid social ad types are proliferating. Can you point to some stellar executions?
We’ve seen an explosion of video and image-based ad strategies on social, as more and more consumers show affinity for visual experiences. Ad types like video or image carousel ads offer marketers a unique way to tell a story with products — they can even create category-specific product guides like the “Top 5 Pair of Shoes Your Kindergartner Needs This Season.” The ability to scroll through content offers a more engaging experience to the shopper, and stylistically, for the marketer, there’s potential to get really creative with how they’re displaying the offers and the products.
What can brands do to capitalize on the high organic click shares on Pinterest and Blogger?
We’ve certainly seen more consumers flocking to Pinterest for search, exploration and discovery of products and ideas. In fact, mommy bloggers are often likely to bypass Google altogether during their back-to-school searches, and instead go to Pinterest for the visual style and product-guide experiences. With the enhanced capabilities of Pinterest guided search, the platform has really become a key piece of the customer journey, from brand awareness to purchase, which makes it incredibly important for marketers to effectively optimize their content [on Pinterest].
Elements to keep in mind like text overlays, keywords, compelling imagery and rich pins — they’re all important for having a strong presence. There’s also a lot of insight about consumer behavior to be gained through Pinterest, which ultimately helps marketers to develop smarter targeting and more relevant offers to different niche audiences.
How can brands use social media to compete with Amazon?
While it’s often difficult to compete with Amazon from a price perspective, what it really comes down to is the experience that brands can offer their customers — specifically, something more engaging and unique than what they’d be able to get from a shopping venture on Amazon.com or in the Amazon app. That’s where social media’s role comes in. Social gives marketers the opportunity to tell stories and connect with customers on a more personal and emotional level.
Leveraging user-generated content is a great example. By sharing customer stories or promoting customer content, brands can connect to niche social audiences, and can really tap into that feeling of community. I don’t think customers can necessarily get that experience in Amazon.
Social is, of course, another venue to spread the word about special sales, free shipping and other offers. Marketers can even make them exclusive to social media, which would entice customers to engage with brands on social during the back-to-school season, laying the groundwork for future brand loyalty.