Getting the Most Out of “Back-to-School” Marketing

As summer hits its peak, shoppers have begun to think about heading back to school and retailers are attempting to redefine the back-to-school season.

As summer hits its peak, shoppers have begun to think about heading back to school and retailers are attempting to redefine the back-to-school season. For example, Staples recently declared that the “official” back-to-school season starts on July 14. However, this time of year is less about defining specific dates and more about redefining ways to reach the right audience at the right connection points.

Earlier this month, Google reported that “back-to-school” queries increased 15 percent compared to the same period in 2008, and that searches on back-to-school shopping usually uptick in June with search activity lasting through late September. The expanse of the back-to-school shopping season can be attributed in part to the 49 percent of back-to-school shoppers planning to spread out their purchases in order to distribute the cost over a longer period of time, according to a survey by PriceGrabber.com.

So, how should marketers redefine their back-to-school efforts to capitalize on this time of year? To capture peoples’ interests during the active summer season, marketers must incorporate multichannel efforts to facilitate on- and offline engagement. Search continues to be a proven marketing channel, while implementing social and mobile marketing efforts has shown extensive promise, particularly for back-to-school retailers offering special deals and promotions.

In “S-Net (The Impact of Social Media),” a recent report from ROI Research, sponsored by Performics (my firm), when asked which types of content they’d be interested in receiving from companies on social networks, 49 percent of respondents said they look for printable coupons on Facebook while 50 percent of those on Twitter seek notification of sales or special deals. With these findings in mind, marketers should consider using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to promote special offers on back-to-school items to drive people to their stores.

Mobile marketing is another effective channel for back-to-school offers. It provides a more direct way to ensure purchase consideration through the use of text alerts or mobile coupons, in addition to complementary efforts in search and social marketing.

Performics helps clients prepare their back-to-school multichannel marketing efforts on a variety of levels. We recently teamed with one leading technology company to roll out its back-to-school marketing in early June, and turned to some innovative tactics to capture audiences. For the first time, we implemented vanity display URLs and Google sitelinks in search campaigns to draw shoppers to its back-to-school offerings. Our team also built a list of seasonal keywords around coupons, deals and discounts, supplemented by heavy social marketing campaigns promoting back-to-school products.

Another client, a popular apparel retailer, launched its back-to-school promotions in early July in anticipation of sales peaking at the end of this month. The retailer’s promotion offers the chance to receive a free smartphone when you purchase online or try on featured clothes in-store. Advertising online through Facebook campaigns and paid search during back-to-school season, the retailer is coordinating on- and offline efforts by also offering free shipping and 30 percent off back-to-school items.

Overall, marketers that successfully integrate multichannel efforts stand the best chance of getting the most bang for their back-to-school buck. Marketers should look to engage with back-to-school shoppers throughout the season, not just at the end of August, and through various touchpoints. Most importantly, manage expectations accordingly and measure marketing efforts often to reap the most reward.

Determining how shoppers respond to back-to-school campaigns and following trends throughout the season can also help brands set successful strategies for the upcoming winter holiday season.

Special thanks to contributing authors Andrea Vannucci and Maren Wesley.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: How to Spark a Conversation Revolution!

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. it should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. It should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

For many marketers, that includes the biggest “what if” of all: What if someone talks badly about your brand? The simple fact is consumers are already talking. Therefore, learning how to spark and manage conversations isn’t only essential on today’s social internet, but it might just save your job or, better yet, get you promoted.

To do it right, marketers must abandon their comfort zone of hiding behind their marketing efforts, including crafting and delivering messages, measuring sales, and then hitting the rinse and repeat button. Instead, they must be open, transparent, adventurous and unafraid. So what’s the formula for sparking and facilitating a great conversation? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Focus on relationships, not technologies. Take the time to understand what your customers want and do online, then determine the kind of relationship you want to have with them.

2. Start with a clear and simple goal. Is your goal about improving customer service (like @comcastcares) or sharing a passion for a topic or issue (e.g., sports, fashion or music)? Have a specific goal in mind at the beginning and add to it over time as you learn.

3. Monitor and survey. Use social monitoring tools to understand what kinds of conversations are already taking place. Investigate your customers’ interests. You may find vastly different interests and engagement levels across certain demographics and customer segments — this often gives you some direction on where to start and who to target first.

4. Start small and experiment.
Most of us have limited resources, so start small. Go narrow, but deep. Then take some chances and do something unique to create value. For example, one of my clients hired a photographer to take exclusive photos at sporting events in order to share those photos with its fans and followers. Needless to say, it generated huge interest and continues to spark conversations around the communities’ shared passion for sports.

5. Try focusing on an industry development or event rather than your product or brand. Leverage big events and share your unique perspective. People will likely jump in as you build trust and establish credibility.

6. Feed the conversation with integrated marketing efforts.
Don’t forget to support your community efforts by using existing tools and resources. Socialize traditional channels such as email to grow awareness, interest and engagement.

7. Don’t forget the “social” in social media. Listen and respond quickly; be conversational, authentic and transparent. Recognize and support contributors by sharing their content with others and thanking them.

8. Measure everything.
What kinds of communications are resonating? Measure each effort’s impact against your objective. Look at quantitative and qualitative metrics. For @comcastcares, that might mean looking at how much customer service has improved and how it’s impacted the perceptions of consumers and the media.

9. Be flexible and willing to change direction. Go with the flow. If an approach isn’t resonating, try something new. Let your customers guide the conversation. In fact, the most successful communities are the ones in which the hosting brands eventually get to a place where they post the least. Over time these brands have been able to earn the trust of the community. They simply spark and facilitate the conversation rather than dominate it. Remember, trust = money.

10. Stick to it. Engaging visitors and customers in conversation doesn’t happen overnight. Stick to it. With a little practice and patience — and lots of listening and flexibility — you’ll find your way.

Building successful conversations is really about listening, relinquishing control and being willing to fail. While this is new thinking for many marketers, it can and is being done well among brands that focus on their relationships, not campaigns.

Finally, success also requires practice. This was best said in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”: “Practice isn’t something you do until you’re good. It is something that makes you good.”

‘Til next time.

Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed – An Insider’s Look at Mint.com

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

Pretty shocking, considering the economic environment we’re in and the increased pressures placed on marketers to deliver results. On the other hand, email’s ROI has been analyzed to death and remains the most efficient marketing medium used today.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these two communication and marketing powerhouses join forces to drive success and efficiency for today’s leading brands. The only questions that remain now are: “How?” and “Who’s doing it well?” One brand that’s been successful doing it to acquire new customers is Mint.com.

Launched in 2007, Mint.com has quickly become America’s No. 1 online personal finance service. Mint’s intelligent and easy-to-use approach to money management has quickly attracted more than 1.5 million users to date. Given its online audience and technologically savvy user base, Mint.com recently turned to the power of email marketing and socialized it to further drive new customer acquisition.

Building a successful social email marketing campaign
Taking the time to understand user motivations is key, and Mint.com did an impressive job in a recent campaign that tested a series of offers appealing to a diverse spectrum of user needs.

The winning campaign, analyzed below, appealed to Mint.com users’ desire to achieve “insider status” – or access to beta features and products prior to their rollouts to the general user base. In return, users were encouraged to tell friends. If three of those friends became Mint.com users, they would be granted exclusive access. The campaign also helped Mint.com identify key influencers – those who self-identified by indicating their desires to know more and demonstrating the ability to drive new users. In the end, the results were impressive – the effort drove one new user for every 2.6 invite clicks.

Looks like Mint.com is well on its way to making a mint thanks to some great planning and testing, and by combining two incredibly powerful and relevant mediums – email and social media. However, like all campaigns, Mint.com has a great opportunity to take it a step further by considering the following:

Testing personalization. Mint.com could strengthen its relationship with users by making it more personal and conversational. Using the subscriber’s/user’s name, such as “Dear Michael,” and signing the communication with an actual Mint.com employee (i.e., “Bob Smith, director of new product development”) may improve performance even further.

Add additional response mechanisms. The email might benefit from including a text link, in addition to the “Tell Your Friends About Mint.com” button, in case images are blocked.

Flagging responders for future marketing efforts. Given these users’ desire to know more and ability to drive new users, Mint.com should consider building an influencer communication program around these users to further leverage their knowledge and reach.

Great program with lots of learnings. Congratulations, Mint.com.

Note: Michael Della Penna currently sits on the board of directors at StrongMail Systems, Mint.com’s social marketing technology provider.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.