Summer vacation may be just around the corner, but the battle for consumers’ back-to-school dollars is well under way. Last year – for the first time in history – Amazon beat Walmart in overall share of wallet for back-to-school retail sales. It’s significant for a number of reasons, including that the National Retail Federation reported back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers spent a total of $75.8 billion last year, with an average of $674 per household – making it the biggest shopping season next to the holidays.

In order to increase top-of-mind awareness this 2017 back-to-school season and importantly, market share, you not only need a strategy designed to keep pace with consumers’ evolving mobile shopping habits, but one that also embraces a longer, nuanced shopping period. Below we share the key trends impacting the 2017 back-to-school shopping season, and how you can leverage micro-influencer marketing to strategically impact back-to-school shoppers in the key micro-moments leading to the point of purchase.

2017 Back-To-School Trends Forecast

Back-to-school shoppers are starting their research earlier and shopping later, increasing by a full month on either side of the back-to-school peak shopping period over the last four years. To illustrate this trend, in 2012, searches for “best backpack for school” began increasing July 29th; in 2016, searches for the same term began increasing in early June.

This year? It’s already starting in some key categories.

best-backpack-for-school-US-SEARCH

The percentage of consumers’ shopping online is also expected to rise in 2017, as the convenience of mobile and digital continue to drive buying behavior. According to Deloitte, 60% of total sales (e-comm and in-store) were influenced by a digital experience in 2016, and 3 out of 5 back-to-school searches happened on a mobile device.While the majority, only 56% of purchases were made in-store. If the example above is any indication, the steady increase in search volume indicates that 2017 could be the tipping point between online / offline purchase preferences.

Keeping pace with back-to-school shoppers’ evolving mobile and online shopping preferences requires a significant shift in focus. Before, it was relatively straightforward: you maximized one big idea, for one big campaign, on one big channel (usually TV). But the fractured fairytale that is today’s modern customer journey is complex. Winning over back-to-school shoppers requires you to engage consumers across any number of touchpoints with highly contextual, personalized content that is more actionable than ever.

What Influences Back-to-School Shoppers?

Despite this complexity, the types of content consumers increasingly seeking out in the moments they are investigating and deciding what to purchase are product recommendations. From unboxing videos on Youtube to ratings & reviews on Amazon, 90% of consumers engage with at least one form of consumer-generated product review or recommendation along their buyer journey.

what-influences-back-to-school-purchases

In fact, four out of the five factors that influence back-to-school shoppers are some form of review or recommendation from existing customers: teachers and PTA parents that determine the school supplies list; existing customers who have shared ratings and reviews about your brand and products; back-to-school shoppers’ kids; and other parents. They are those among a back-to-school shopper’s trusted circle of influence. But as we’ve learned in previous studies, not all consumers (or influencers) are created equal when it comes to creating high-performing brand content at scale.

As a result, more marketers are turning to and building relationships with micro-influencers among their existing customer base to help navigate shifting consumer behaviors by bringing to life authentic, dynamic content in the moments consumers express interest in your brand.

How To Influence Back-to-School Shoppers Using Micro-Influencers

Today, the holy grail of advertising – ‘right place, right time, right person, right message’ – exists not in a singular moment, but in the many micro-moments the right person experiences to come to a purchase decision. As such, impacting this process requires not one creative execution – but several; on not one platform – but omni-channel; through not one mega-influencer – but through hundreds of micro-influencers who create content for that specific channel or creative use case:

1. Map Your Micro-Influencer Marketing Strategy to Your Back-to-School Shoppers’ Circle of Influence 

As you’ve seen from the above trends, today’s customer journey has done a full 180.The content that consumers trust today is content that is created by consumers. While price remains a strong motivator of purchase behavior, this study indicates that back-to-school shoppers are more likely to act on that information when it’s shared by your existing customers: teachers, consumers, and other parents, as well as any wholesale retail partners.

Which means if you want the competitive advantage, you first need to start with your existing customers and mapping the touch points they impact along the back-to-school shopper customer journey, in order to identify the core segments of micro-influencers whose relationships you need to cultivate and engage.

2. Discover Relevant Micro-Influencers Within Your Existing Customer Base

Prioritizing micro-influencers who already know, use and love your brand is both time efficient and cost-effective, especially when it comes to generating authentic recommendations and reviews. Your micro-influencer marketing mix may include a number of different categories of micro-influencers based on their interests, life stage, occupation, purchase history, and location – depending on your own product priorities and buyer journey. For instance, if the majority of your sales or market share during back-to-school season are driven by school supply lists – such as Crayola (crayons) or Fiskars (scissors) – you may want to develop specific micro-influencer segments for teachers and another for parents.

Here’s how to get started developing a micro-influencer campaign, and how to scale if you already have (which you can do manually using the templates provided, or using a platform like Mavrck). If you don’t have access to your customer database or are launching an entirely new product, you can start recruiting from your existing digital touchpoints you do have access to (social profiles, brand.com, product inserts, apps) based on the defining characteristics mentioned above.

3. Prioritize Key Micro-Influencer Segments to Create, Amplify, and/or Submit Product Reviews:

Treat your micro-influencer segments as a target audience. As mentioned, 75% of the content that influences back-to-school purchase decisions are product recommendations – ratings and reviews from other customers, school supply lists, other parents, and most cases, the content that’s informing their children’s preferences (i.e. recommendations from friends, Instagram, YouTube reviews – depending on the demographic).

If your back-to-school business is heavily impacted by product ratings and reviews, knowing that as few as 20 reviews has the potential to increase sales lift by 23% per product helps determine the volume and rate of content you need to create to get the results you want. Reverse-engineer your success by understanding the mechanics of which products drive your business forward, and how. This is to help ensure you’re prioritizing the right buyer journeys in critical moments during peak back-to-school season. For a backpack brand, for instance, you may plan for the following two flights, and optimize the best performing flight for the last third of the season:

  • Flight 1 – Ratings & Reviews, Videos: With back-to-school shoppers starting their research in early July, and teachers sending out their welcome packets in early August, prioritizing ratings and reviews content early positions your brand to maximize its impact when those pivotal back-to-school supply lists are being made. This is also the time to activate category micro-influencers in relevant topics/interests of your back-to-school shopper target and their children to create unboxing videos, DIY content, and previews of limited edition merchandise.
  • Flight 2 – User-Generated Content, Amplified Reviews & Brand Promotions: Consumers want to see your product in the context of consumers who are exactly like them. Emphasizing UGC and leveraging micro-influencers to amplify your brand promotions enables you to achieve geo-targeting, personalization, and relevance on the networks where your target back-to-school audience is most active.

4. Repurpose and Re-distribute Micro-Influencer Content at High-Volume, Mobile Optimized Touchpoints 

Increase scale and frequency by repurposing high-performing micro-influencer content at high volume, relevant touchpoints such as your brand.com, owned social channels, email, and/or mobile app.  We’ve found that repurposing high-engaging micro-influencer Instagram content on your brand.com can drive 7x higher on-page engagement and conversion rates for the products featured, while providing a more cohesive brand experience.

Think of micro-influencers and the first campaign flights you run as your own focus group of high-value, quality customers and content. Leverage their knowledge and insights to better inform your your back-to-school campaigns, and A/B test content to learn what will best engage your target back-to-school shoppers during peak shopping periods (last week of July through the first two weeks of August).

As you continue to optimize micro-influencer activation, you will start to discern by performance the best micro-influencers and content for your brand. For more on how to leverage micro-influencers in your marketing campaigns, including case studies and a step-by-step guide to activation, download our ‘How to Activate Micro-Influencers to Drive Ratings & Reviews’ ebook.

 

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