School is Always in Session for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

With back-to-school underway, parents and students aren’t the only people with elevated anxiety levels. Brick-and-mortar retailers, who have seen online rivals like Amazon encroach on their territory, are sure to be concerned about generating sales amid increased competition during this important time of the year.

While the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts shoppers will spend a whopping $83.6 billion on back-to-school and back-to-college items, retailers may be doing themselves a great disservice if they are only focusing on these consumers in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. They cannot confidently know they are engaging with the right people and with the right message if they haven’t already been interacting with them and learning about their interests, recent life events, and browsing and purchase behavior.

It’s not too late. Marketers can use the back-to-school season to kick start their efforts to build and maintain ongoing conversations with customers, and use that positive momentum to help carry them through the school year and beyond. Here are three key things every marketer needs to keep in mind in order to do so:

Start with who you know. The most successful brand engagements are driven by talking to the right individual with the right message at the right time. Brick-and-mortar retailers have an advantage over online-only retailers in this regard, as they can utilize historic offline purchase data to communicate with the customers they know and have seen in stores. This is an effective approach all year round, particularly during the 2017 back-to-school season when more than half of consumers plan to shop in-stores. By combining consumer online engagements with their offline data, retailers can identify past customers and highly qualified prospects, and deliver personalized messages based on their channel preference and previous purchases. Marketers can use this data to proactively engage them well before the mad rush to the stores.

Stay engaged with these valuable consumers throughout the year. Back-to-school is an annual ritual, but shopping doesn’t start and end there; consumers are buying products and supplies for school all year long. Marketers can leverage the fact that customers have engaged with their brand during back-to-school season to reach them and stay top-of-mind for inevitable “surprise” purchase moments later in the year – like when it’s time to buy a replacement backpack for one that gets lost or when a laptop inevitably glitches. The same audiences can also be leveraged during other shopping events like the holidays. For example, an apparel brand that knows a customer purchased a particular t-shirt in August can deliver an ad for a cardigan that pairs perfectly with that t-shirt as the seasons change and temperatures drop.

Boost your marketing efforts through co-op advertising. Brick-and-mortar retailers can work with manufacturing partners to create quality engagement through co-op initiatives. Let’s say you’re an office supply retailer; you might consider partnering with a specialty backpack maker that’s popular with younger college students. In these programs, the manufacturer typically funds the initiative and gets exposure in front of the retailer’s audience, while the retailer benefits from creating high quality engagements that keep their brand in the consideration set. Combining data assets and brand presences into one experience can be a win-win for both the retailer and the manufacturer, and more often than not, it’s an approach many fail to lock in.

Ultimately, brick-and-mortar retailers have a unique opportunity to win at back-to-school – and all other retail events on the calendar – if they can make the shift away from having one-off interactions to maintaining ongoing conversations with customers all year long.

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