The Macro-Insights Needed to Earn an A at Back-to-School Marketing

Date: 2022-09-23 14:28:15
By: Cara Zimmerman
Date: 2022-09-23 14:28:15

Of all the seasons which retailers circle on their marketing calendars, back-to-school represents one which holds great potential for big-time rewards – if mastered properly.

A fairly compact shopping “season” which starts around Independence Day and escalates to a frenzy around Labor Day, back-to-school is perhaps the most universal – not tied to religion, geography, or climate, but influenced by all three.

It is also aimed at two distinct groups who don’t always see things eye-to-eye – the parents who are looking for practicality on a budget, and Gen Z-ers who want to embrace trends regardless of the cost.

Little girl showing something in the showcase to her mother Little children choosing school stationery in a store

Additionally, the back-to-school shopping season is perhaps the most vulnerable when it comes to economic pressures: We see people willing to trade down to generic and off-brand options when pressures at the gas pumps and food aisles are forcing people to pinch every penny.

With such little runway to accomplish sales objectives, and so many variables that factor into the equation, earning an A in back-to-school requires an agency approach that, too, is well above average.

At Zimmerman – a performance-based agency which has been cracking the code of retail for its clients for more than 40 years – the investment it has made in Precision Hyperlocal tools makes it well suited to navigate the competing forces of trends and financial realities.

This multimillion-dollar Hyperlocal tech stack – led by a platform called Z-Omni that aggregates the shopping habits of more than 250 million buyers — can calibrate a retailer’s approach to account for buying influences at the macro level. This takes us, and our clients, beyond the individual stores, and into the neighborhoods which surround them – sniffing out and targeting families with children, from pre-school, to college-bound, and college students, and sending the right message to the right families, at the right time.

“Zimmerman is unique because of how targeted our campaigns and strategies are,” said Vishal Chopra, Director, Programmatic Trading, at Zimmerman. “Z-Omni gives us access to an unparalleled scale of audiences. We can reach users in very unique environments, as well as whether they are on a desktop computer, mobile, tablet, or even a connected TV.”

education, elementary school, learning and people concept - group of school kids with pens and papers writing in classroom

The same capabilities that allow such macro-insights also fuel an always-on, dynamically-changing engine of insights. This allows Chopra and the fellow members of his Performance Media team to shift budgets on the fly – for example, from programmatic social media to search, if the team detects that one medium is showing superiority over another.

With many clients, Z-Omni ingests client sales data on a weekly basis – giving the Performance Media team real, current data to use as the basis to adjust targets.

“All of these [data points] don’t operate in a silo,” Chopra said. “They function together and allow us to be agile and to make shifts at a very fast pace.”

Such speed is of the essence when retailers have a short timeframe to achieve their objectives – such as the roughly 8- to 10-week back-to-school season. Given Zimmerman’s technology, its experience, and deep relationships with traditional and digital media providers, Chopra and his co-workers are able to achieve what, for many agencies, would be impossible.

As an example, Zimmerman is deeply integrated with multiple Google platforms, and constantly monitoring keyword search data for an uptick in relevant searches. For a cruise client, like Holland America, for example, if Chopra and his co-workers see an uptick in searches for people taking cruises or flights to a particularly hot destination, it can be presented as a strategy that should be activated immediately.

Photo of a little cute child standing on stool near blackboard and drawing on it.

For back-to-school, such data can be monitored for hot items – like a trendy pair of sneakers or a must-have backpack – and campaigns developed and activated for maximum sales impact.

“If a client reaches out on a Monday and wants to activate a campaign, there’s a high likelihood that by Wednesday, we can be in the market with that activation,” said Chopra. “So it’s speed, performance, data – all working together to drive results.”

An additional layer is a broad understanding of cultural and other trends that affect Gen Z and their parents in different ways. Using this information, Zimmerman develops strategies to target Gen Z through digital and social marketing with a focus on music, one of Gen Z’s biggest passion points. To reach young shoppers, Zimmerman will focus heavily on “in-real-life” marketing activations and content on TikTok.

The firm will also target parents by grabbing their attention through performance marketing channels including advertisements on Google, Facebook, and through email. It’s all about building upon that emotional connection Gen Z wants to see, while also appealing to price-conscious parents who are stressed by inflation.

The final piece is Zimmerman’s expertise in dynamic creative – essentially, “serving” different ads based upon these trends and understandings, but also by geography and even weather. An apparel retailer, for example, wouldn’t want ads for outerwear and corduroys to run in Miami; and no sooner would want to push short-sleeve polos to shoppers in Minnesota.

“We can leverage custom activations like these for high impact creative, at a very minimal cost,” Chopra says.

An agency can only make the grade at back-to-school mastery if it is able to move at the speed of retail. If Zimmerman can help you unlock your market data and apply it for greater impact, please reach out.