How Businesses Are Navigating Back-to-School Season with Digital Marketing

How Businesses Are Navigating Back-to-School Season with Digital Marketing

Advertising

Back-to-school season is complicated this year. On the one hand, the proliferation of vaccines has created a certain sense of Covid-19 being sometime we can live with. But for kids, there isn’t necessarily a clear-cut “back to normal.” Although teens can be vaccinated, there is no vaccine ready for kids under 12, and the Delta variant is emerging as a real threat. Brands find themselves in a situation awkwardly similar to what they faced in 2020: welcoming kids back to school during an uncertain year. Read on to learn how some brands are navigating this delicate situation in their back-to-school digital marketing.

Embracing the Positive

The American Eagle campaign Future Together. Jeans Forever underlines the brand’s established mission of positivity. In a 30-second spot featuring singer Addison Rae and actors Caleb McLaughlin, Jenna Ortega, Chase Stokes, and Madison Bailey, the message is clear: this fall, students can at least look forward to the joy of being in the same room with their friends at school. And with the return to in-person learning, American Eagle is leaning in to the denim category. The implicit message? Now that students are back in the classroom, those go-to sweatpants that have dominated for the last 18 months of Covid and remote learning might just get kicked to the curb in favor of fun new styles—denim in particular.

The Joy of Creativity and Personal Expression

As reported in Ad Age, last year Dick’s Sporting Goods found success partnering with TikTok, and the retailer is returning to the platform as they double down on back-to-school messaging for 2021. This time around, the focus is on a “Lock In” TikTok challenge that underlines creativity: e.g., creators spend an evening in a Dick’s store and put together their own styles and content. As Ed Plummer, Dick’s chief marketing officer, explains, “We basically give them the keys to the store to see what they can come up with from a style perspective and share that with their followers.” The campaign’s energy and optimism not only reaches young consumers where they like to hang out (TikTok), but it underlines a simple message: joy in personal expression is a constant, no matter the uncertainty of the times.

Pop Art

Pop-Tarts also have personal expression on the brain. In a collaborative first for the Kellogg brand, Pop-Tarts partnered with Lyrical Lemonade to co-host a pop-up experience in Los Angeles. On August 13, select visitors were invited to decorate traditional back-to-school gear—from backpacks to notebooks and sneakers—with Pop-Tart-inspired art. The partnership gives Pop-Tarts greater access to the Gen Z demographic, as Lyrical Lemonade enjoys a wide social following. Case in point: the announcement of a limited-run Pop-Tarts x Lyrical Lemonade Toaster Pastry—the flavor is Lemon Creme Pie—generated more than 115,000 likes within 24 hours. And the benefits appear to go both ways. As Lyrical Lemonade founder Cole Bennett said in a press statement, “It’s been a while since everyone has been back together in school, and we loved the idea of collaborating with Pop-Tarts to get creative and make that first day back amazing.”

Meet the Parents

Meanwhile, Kohl’s recognizes that it’s not just students embarking on a new chapter: parents used to having their kids at home may be making their own transitions right now. As part of a campaign meant to run earlier and longer than past initiatives, a 30-second Kohl’s spot depicts a father dropping his son off at school. As the dad sits in the car singing along to a Zombies song, the son circles back to wish him a “great first day.” Greg Revelle, chief marketing officer of Kohl’s, notes, “It’s not just about your kid going back to school but all the changes going on for parents and loved ones as well.”

Lessons Learned

What can we learn from these brands?

  • For starters, make no mistake: even during uncertain times, it’s okay to be upbeat. By now people are accustomed to living with uncertainty. And as Ad Age points out, consumers are “craving optimistic, forward-looking marketing.” By focusing on the positive aspects of this new school year, American Eagle generates excitement—and hope.
  • That said, be careful not to promise “back to normal.” Celebrating rekindled friendships recognizes that one aspect of school is coming back for many kids via in-person learning. But ads that promise a complete return to the way things were before the pandemic risk coming across as tone deaf. Consider the Pop-Tarts campaign that celebrates fun—in the Now.
  • Use digital wisely to appeal to the digital generation. As Dick’s Sporting Goods shows, relying on TikTok is a smart play that will reach teens and inject a sense of fun that we don’t always associate with back-to-school.
  • Finally, even as you reach out to Gen Z for back-to-school, don’t neglect other demographics. Kohl’s wisely gives a tip of the hat to the parents who are helping to keep things stable during Covid—and beyond.

Contact True Interactive

Trying to figure out how to navigate this not-quite-post-Covid era in digital? Contact us. We can help.

The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

Retail

The holiday shopping season is in full swing now. Granted, it’s a looking a lot different than it did in years past, with the pandemic influencing consumers’ moods and their shopping habits. But already, some important lessons are emerging that may affect retailing all year-round:

  • Online retailing is bigger than ever. During Thanksgiving Weekend, shoppers broke records for online purchases, with Cyber Monday 2020 becoming the biggest online shopping event ever in the United States. In addition, Black Friday broke a record for most online sales. Although e-commerce was already booming in 2020, it was not certain that Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be this big. Retailers such as Walmart, had been spreading out Black Friday sales online going back to early November, which raised the question of whether those sales might cannibalize the “real” Black Friday occurring November 27 this year. There was no need for worry.
  • Thanksgiving Day is turning into a huge shopping event. According to Adobe Analytics, Thanksgiving Day spending online rose by nearly 22 percent year over year to $5.1 billion, hitting a new record. Businesses that advertised Thanksgiving Day deals online probably benefitted from the fact that many big retailers closed on Thanksgiving Day, reversing a growing practice of launching Black Friday deals in stores on a day when families normally would be gathering to eat turkey and watch football. But Thanksgiving Day 2020 was different. People visited less with families and friends given the safety risks of in-person gatherings. Apparently, they had more time on their hands to go online. And they shopped.
  • Brick-and-mortar stores still matter. Even amid the pandemic, 124 million Americans shopped in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). But offline stores got less foot traffic – down 52 percent from 2019. Stores offering curbside pickup saw traffic increase by 52 percent, according to Adobe. The lesson for brands is to ensure that your digital advertising and organic content plays up the availability of options such as curbside pickup, as well as clear instructions for how to use curbside.
  • Mobile keeps growing. Shopping on smartphones rose 25 percent to $3.6 billion, making up 40 percent of total online spending on Black Friday. But people are using mobile in different ways now – searching and purchasing online but also booking curbside pick-up services offline. All told, cross-channel shoppers – those who visited websites and brick-and-mortar stores — spent an average $366.79 over the holiday weekend, which exceeded by 25 percent the spend generated by people who shopped in a single channel, according to the NRF. Stores that integrate a complete cross-channel mobile experience are in the driver’s seat.

What Businesses Should Do

Retailers need to be nimble. They need to plan ahead for the holiday season as they’ve done in the past, but they also need to be ready to adapt to changing consumer behavior. For example, it’s clear now that Thanksgiving has arrived, but only retailers that paid attention to shopping trends and adapted their online advertising strategies benefitted from that shift. In addition, consumers have shown a remarkable penchant for suddenly wanting to buy products ranging from chess sets to puzzles in 2020, as they manage the realities of social distancing. But how many retailers adapted? Fortunately, tools such as Google Insights help advertisers monitor changes in consumer behavior and adjust their advertising strategies accordingly.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash

No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

Retail

Black Friday is changing radically in 2020.

A Google-commissioned Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of U.S. shoppers said they plan to shop online more than they have done in previous seasons. And people who shop in stores will rely on services such as curbside pickup to limit their contact with other people. In response, retailers are taking a hard look at their Black Friday experience.

Retailers Reinvent Black Friday

Consider what some of the heavy hitters are doing to re-imagine what Black Friday means during a year when many people simply don’t want to go into stores.

As noted in RetailWire, “Walmart has long been one of the retailers noted for performing at a high level when facing down natural disasters and economic tumult.” The retail monolith’s response to Black Friday is no exception. As reported by CNBC.com, Walmart is taking an innovative approach, staggering three holiday sales events through the month of November. Each sales event will begin on the Walmart website. Brick-and-mortar stores will continue the sales a few days later, after some demand has presumably been satisfied online (thus mitigating crowds). On the holiday sales days, stores will open at 5:00 a.m. local time. Shoppers will encounter COVID-era precautions: single-file lines; limits on the number of shoppers inside at any given time; sanitized shopping carts; and store “health ambassadors,” who will greet shoppers and remind them to wear a mask. Bargain hunters who prefer to bypass in-store shopping can shop online, or take advantage of Walmart’s curbside pickup.

As Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., shared in a news release, “By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”

Walmart’s not the only one to re-think what Black Friday looks like this year. Many other retailers have announced that they are redefining the traditional in-store Black Friday sales as a digital experience that occurs over days, weeks, or even months. Home Depot set the tone early, announcing in September that Black Friday prices would be available throughout the entire holiday season, both online and in-store. Though a few “unique deals” are planned to launch later in the season, the store is orchestrating a campaign that consciously sidesteps that single day of crowded, feverish shopping.

Retailers are also capitalizing on opportunities like Amazon Prime Day to generate a surge in sales that businesses often associate with Black Friday. This year’s event ran for two days, October 13 and 14, during which marketplace sellers netted $3.5 billion+. Third-party merchants on Amazon generally reported good results. As noted in practicalecommerce.com, along with the increased sales came increased advertising costs. At the same time, the results speak for themselves: for one of our clients, we secured 44 percent more revenue and a 33 percent increase in return on ad spend on Prime Day — with only an 8 percent increase in advertising costs. We were happy with the outcome, as our client was.

Shipping during the 2020 Holiday Season

As retailers respond to a changing retail landscape, they must also face the reality that with a surge in online ordering throughout November comes the potential for shipping delays as businesses send more packages. More packages being delivered puts more of a strain on shipping services – and possibly a strain on retailers’ fulfillment capability. On the other hand, FedEx has said it is hiring 70,000 seasonal workers to manage an expected surge, and bellwether retailers such as Target are hiring aggressively to ensure they can handle the increased volume in online orders.

What Should You Do?

How do you plan to stay competitive during an unprecedented year? We recommend:

  • Don’t wait for Black Friday to promote your holiday deals. Activate your display advertising, search marketing, and paid social media programs now.
  • Consider creating events of your own. Don’t worry about creating a blowout on the scale of Amazon’s Prime Day. Instead, take a page from Walmart’s book and ask yourself how you might create your own “Black Friday” digital events. Learn from the bellwether brands!
  • It goes without saying, on the operational side, prepare yourself for the expected uptick in orders. Assuming you have done so, promote any deals you’re offering on shipping (something we’ve blogged about here). In addition, set expectations with your customers. Let them know that waiting until the last minute to order and ship may incur additional delays this holiday season in particular.
  • Be mindful of tone in everything you do. People want to shop, yes—but as we’ve blogged here, they are also under stress. Many shoppers will be ordering gifts for loved ones from whom they will be socially distanced this holiday—and feeling a sense of loss as they do so. Others may be overwhelmed by COVID-19 news: fearful of a spike in the virus, or a lockdown of stores and businesses. Be sensitive to these anxieties in your messaging.

Contact True Interactive

In a year like 2020, even traditions like Black Friday are going to look different. We can help you maximize digital and rise to the occasion. Contact us.

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

Advertising Google

Black Friday is coming in hot! We’re already seeing an explosion of deals. For instance, Walmart has gone live with a wave of reductions and early Black Friday deals. Amazon’s Black Friday “preview” features a smart home device bundle deal. And not to be outdone, on November 8, Target celebrated “HoliDeals” with a two-day Black Friday preview sale.

As we discussed in our recent blog post, “3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season,” Black Friday is more than a day. It’s more like a season unto itself. And as the examples above illustrate, more retailers are responding by not only extending Black Friday hours, but actual deals, beyond the day. As a consequence, advertising begins early, too, and carries over into Cyber Monday.

Don’t want to get left behind? Here are some ways to stay competitive with your Black Friday offerings:

1 Put Google to Work for You

Maximize the value of Google’s many advertising tools to showcase your Black Friday sales and your merchandise. These tools include Black Friday promotion extensions, which allow advertisers to get granular with specifics in their text ad promotions, without cutting into established character counts. And note that Google’s Black Friday-specific ad units, as distinguished from the typical promotion extension, will drive your ad to prime placement so that it shows up at the top of the SERP under “Black Friday Deals.”

2 Be Visual

It should go without saying that Black Friday means turning it up a notch with visual storytelling. This is a time to make your merchandise pop. Fortunately tools exist to make it easier on platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Instagram.

As we’ve noted, Google’s Showcase Shopping Ads take a common-sense approach to advertising. Using Showcase Shopping Ads, brands can visually group related products, and in the process merchandise them more effectively. Google recently blogged about how retailers such as Urban Outfitters are benefitting from Showcase Shopping Ads. According to Google:

Urban Outfitters is one example of a retailer using Showcase Shopping ads to get into the consideration set and inspire those new to their brand. Urban Outfitters expanded their Showcase Shopping ads to 50 key categories across apparel, home decor, and beauty. Overall, they saw a 241 percent CTR lift across campaigns running Showcase Shopping ads, with 52 percent of those customers being new. Moreover, Urban Outfitters saw a 186 percent increase in sales from new customers via Showcase Shopping ads (compared to reactivated customers).

In addition, Google recently announced it has improved Showcase Shopping Ads by expanding them into Google Images. Moreover, Google also announced it is making YouTube more shoppable. You get the idea: Google wants advertisers to rely on Google to reach customers.

Meanwhile, Instagram and Facebook Stories are a brilliant way for advertisers to draw potential customers with appealing content that incorporates a narrative and interactive elements. In a survey by research firm Ipsos, 62 percent of respondents reported becoming interested in a product after discovering it via Stories, and more than half indicated they make more purchases online due to Stories.

Finally, Amazon, now the third-largest online ad platform behind Google and Facebook, offers tools like Sponsored Products (which promotes products to shoppers who are using certain keywords, or viewing similar products on Amazon) and Sponsored Brands Display Ads (through which advertisers can upload a customized creative). Amazon provides more insight into these products here.

3 Go Mobile

As we recently blogged, the 2018 holiday season marked the first time smart phones accounted for more than half of all visits to websites during the holidays. Brands are wise to embrace mobile—and deliver a great experience on their site, regardless of where consumers are accessing it from. You don’t want to lose customers to an online experience that reliably delivers from a PC or laptop, but not a smart phone. A failed purchase from a smart phone may result in . . . no purchase at all.

Contact True Interactive

Need help making the most of the opportunities Black Friday affords? Contact us.

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season

3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season

Retail

The holidays are always in season for retailers. Even though holiday shopping traditionally does not begin until the week of Black Friday, advertisers need to constantly anticipate and respond to shifts in consumer behavior and any factors that affect how people shop during the holidays. Here are three ways retailers can succeed in the 2019 holiday shopping season, based on our experience:

1 Be Mobile

According to Adobe, the 2018 holiday season marked the first time that smart phones accounted for more than half of all visits to websites during the holidays. With 51 percent of shoppers using their phones to address shopping needs, retailers better have a strong mobile advertising presence.

To be mobile, brands need to first and foremost capitalize on tools that maximize the value of the mobile format. For example, Google Gallery Ads, available in beta, consist of swipeable images that display on multiple pages on a user’s mobile phones. Shoppers can swipe through the images or click one to expand the gallery into a vertical view that users can then swipe down. At the end of the gallery, a call to action to visit the advertiser’s site appears. A company such as ours that has access to Google can fast track you into using tools such as this one.

In addition, Google has launched tools that make it easier for brands to make your inventory sparkle, such as Google Showcase Shopping Ads. These types of tools are especially useful for making inventory more attractive (and literally shoppable) as people are using their mobile phones to browse for holiday ideas before the season officially kicks off.

Being mobile also means providing a great follow-through experience on your site, whether that site is accessed from a laptop, a PC—or from a smart phone. As I blogged last year, a number of businesses encountered turbulence because their online experience didn’t deliver well after shoppers clicked through on ads to buy things.

Be ready – across the entire mobile journey. (Note: check out this case study about our work with Snapfish for more insight into how we’ve helped a business succeed with mobile advertising.)

2 Prepare for Black Friday Week

Black Friday not just a day anymore. It’s a shopping state of mind.

Black Friday remains the single most important shopping event of the year. But winning retailers understand that Black Friday has become, in fact, an entire week. As the popularity of Cyber Monday shows—four hours on that day were, in 2018, the busiest period of the entire year. People are in Black Friday shopping mode hunting for deals during Thanksgiving Week and immediately afterwards. That shopping rush includes Thanksgiving Day, which incidentally shows buyers relying more on smart phones than they do on Cyber Monday or even Black Friday itself.

To maximize the opportunities afforded by an expanded Black Friday phenomenon, online retailers need to be ready with advertising strategies—paid search and display, for example—that attract customers to buy during the entire week.

3 Compete with Shipping

One of the major stories of the 2018 holiday season was the rise of shipping as a competitive tool: Amazon, Target, and Walmart all tried to outdo each other with attractive shipping offers. Amazon, for example, famously extended free shipping, with no minimum purchase required, for a limited time starting November 5.

Shipping will be a big story for the 2019 season, too. With Thanksgiving taking place later in November, the official holiday season will be shorter. And a shorter season usually means a sense of urgency, as consumers try to make up for lost time by having products shipped to them faster. While smaller retailers may have a harder time matching the efforts made by behemoths like Amazon, it’s important to stay competitive by having your act together and your shipping strategy sorted. Achieving more efficient product fulfillment and shipping may involve hiring more labor. It might also demand tweaks to your online advertising.

Contact True Interactive

Bottom line: brands want to stay abreast of the trends in order to maximize the holiday shopping experience they provide for customers. If you need help, contact us.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-shopping-lifestyle-beautiful-3040029/

Online Holiday Shopping Season Hits $126 Billion

Online Holiday Shopping Season Hits $126 Billion

Retail

Winning the hearts and minds of consumers during the holidays increasingly means having a digital strategy to attract and convert them. According to Adobe Analytics, consumers spent $126 billion online during the 2018 holiday season, an increase of 16.5 percent year over year. For the first time ever, smart phones drove half the traffic, amounting 31 percent of revenue (34 percent growth year over year).

The numbers do not surprise me. By early December, the holiday season was already well on its way to achieving strong results. The final numbers suggest a number of lessons for retailers:

1 Start Early to Win Online

Our own clients were working with us to start raising awareness online for their holiday sales long before the holiday shopping season began. Businesses that began building awareness for their holiday inventory via online advertising were best positioned to attract the surging traffic from shoppers going online looking for deals.

2 Respect the Power of Thanksgiving Weekend

Reports of Black Friday’s demise are exaggerated. Black Friday achieved a 23.6 percent increase in online traffic. But Black Friday is now part of a bigger five-day Thanksgiving weekend shopping extravaganza. The period between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday generated 19.2 percent of all online holiday spend. In particular, Cyber Monday saw a surge of buying. A four-hour time block on Cyber Monday (7:00 pm to 11 p.m. PST) was the most active period of the year. These four hours recorded more than $2 billion in sales. Conversion rose sharply through the evening, as consumers rushed to take advantage of deals. Businesses that invested in a strong Thanksgiving Weekend digital media spend were in the driver’s seat to win, especially if they capitalized on Cyber Monday by spending on ads with strong calls to action during the waning moments of Cyber Monday.

Go Mobile

The increase in smartphone traffic clearly shows that businesses need strong mobile-centric advertising strategies, including investments across mobile display networks. But going mobile means more than having a mobile presence. Going mobile means:

  • Promoting your app effectively. Mobile apps are now driving more revenue than ever. Having a strategy to promote your app is more important than ever.
  • Formatting content for mobile viewing and including an easy conversion path on mobile.

At the same time, it’s important to ensure that your messaging on mobile is consistent with your messaging on other channels.

Start Succeeding Now

You don’t need to wait another year to apply these lessons. They hold true with other major events that attract a surge of shopping and advertising, such as Presidents Day and Memorial Day. True Interactive can help you prepare. Contact us.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/holiday-shopping-smartphone-phone-1921658/

Advertiser Q&A: Google Showcase Shopping Ads

Advertiser Q&A: Google Showcase Shopping Ads

Google Uncategorized

Google has been beefing up its showcase shopping ads product to help retailers spice up their holiday advertisements. Showcase shopping ads make it possible for businesses to group together related products to merchandise them more effectively. The format is tailored for mobile viewing. Recently Google added new features such as video to make these ads more powerful. At True Interactive, we’ve been applying showcase shopping ads with favorable results. One of our clients running showcase shopping ads has seen an 80-percent higher click-through rate over standard shopping ads. This blog post explains showcase shopping ads based on questions we’ve received.

What exactly are showcase shopping ads?

Showcase shopping ads appear as a collection of shoppable images displaying different products offered by an advertiser. The ads are built to capitalize on broad keyword searches such as “winter sweaters.” The showcase shopping ads work this way:

  • Someone making a non-brand search for, say, winter sweaters will see in their search results display ads from different retailers with winter sweaters and promotional ad copy.
  • When the shopper clicks on the ad, they are taken to a landing page with a merchant’s line of winter sweaters. The shopping ad display, or showcase, resembles a brand page to the user, consisting of products the advertiser wants the user to see.

A shopper may click on an inventory and complete a purchase.

A business can create multiple showcase shopping ads. The header image can be different based on what is uploaded into each showcase shopping ad. In the above example of winter sweaters, a retailer could run a header image that focuses on sweaters but have another header image that focuses on outerwear for a “winter coat” search. The Google algorithm chooses which products appear based on variables such as the product titles, description, and type.

Who is this a good fit for?

It is highly recommended that you have at least 1,000 products in your inventory. There is no minimum budget. The format is effective for anyone who wants to get their products in front of a large audience because it’s based on broad keywords. It’s not for people competing for specific keywords. For bigger advertisers, showcase shopping ads are a good way to display multiple products for broad keywords. You can create an engaging photo and additional messaging that smaller businesses may not be able to afford.

Why is Google beefing up showcase ads?

The main reason Google is pushing showcase ads is that they are optimized for mobile. Salesforce recently predicted that mobile devices would dominate both traffic and orders for the entire 2018 holiday shopping season (68 percent of traffic and 46 percent of orders). On Black Friday alone, retailers saw $2.1 billion in sales from smartphones, accounting for 33.5 percent of Black Friday sales. The rise of mobile reflects broader shopping trends, and Google wants to capture a share of ad revenue associated with mobile shopping by offering a shoppable ad format.

What is the pay model?

The pay format is cost per engagement, not cost per click. The user has to be on the ad for 10 seconds or more, at which time the advertiser is charged. This approach can be a drawback. A click is a specific action. But having a page open for 10 seconds is a passive way to measure user intent. A person may not be really engaged with a product while a screen is open.

Any tips for getting the most out of Google showcase shopping ads?

Yes. Advertisers need to do two things:

  • Ensure all your products are grouped together in an easily findable way.
  • Have your products accurately labeled in each ad group.

Bottom line: Google showcase shopping ads give multiple advertisers a way to showcase multiple products for generic keywords that can otherwise be very expensive. If you compete for generic keywords in a mobile centric world – and who isn’t? – then you should consider Google showcase shopping ads. If you need help getting started or if you are running Google showcase shopping ads and want to take your game to the next level, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.