Innovative marketing tactics allow brands like Old Navy to thrive during the back-to-school shopping season. These insights can help marketers cogently target consumers.

The back-to-school season is here and the National Retail Federation (NRF) says spending on related items is projected to top $24 billion - $68 billion if you include college. In terms of purchases made and money spent, only the winter holiday shopping season is bigger.

That said, consumers are cutting back this year. The NRF expects parents to spend less overall, and that means competition among retailers will be especially tough. Brands of all kinds are doing everything they can to attract buyers and make their message heard.

By now most back-to-school campaigns are already underway, but as is often the case with major retail events we can learn a lot by assessing the strategies brands are using to get ahead. What follows are three tactics to watch and apply come the winter holidays.

1. Personalize Your Messaging

In its recent back-to-school survey, which polled American consumers on their back-to-school shopping habits, video ad platform Eyeview found that shoppers don't just expect more targeted and personalized ads, but that these types of ads will most likely to grab their attention. 40 percent of students and 45 percent of parents notice personalization, while 66 percent of students and 74 percent of parents said geo-targeted ads promoting a nearby store are the most likely to incite a purchase.

"The big takeaway is that retailers should be smart about how they use data to move products off shelves this back-to-school shopping season," Oren Harnevo, CEO and co-founder at Eyeview explains. "Competition is heating up."

Brands that personalize and geo-target their mobile ads may stand an even better chance of engaging customers. As ClickZ reported last month, Deloitte predicts (Read more...) percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to use a digital device in the process, an increase of six percent over 2014. Most use their smartphones to conduct research, creating an opportunity for retailers to target their ads based on previous browsing behavior as well.

2. Build Brand Affinity Through Social and Corporate Goodwill

With back-to-school ads currently clogging the web, it's harder than ever for brands - and retailers in particular - to stand out. Old Navy's approach? Make shoppers feel good about their purchase by both demonstrating an appreciation for their state of mind and also aligning the brand with a good cause.

For the second year in a row, the retailer has embraced the concept of being "unlimited." In partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs across North America, Old Navy is highlighting all the ways that students plan to embrace their potential and make the upcoming school year a success. This year's effort sees the brand partner with media company and YouTube channel, AwesomenessTV, which, like Old Navy, counts preteens and teens among its target audience. They transformed the thoughts and feelings of these consumers into an inspirational music video.

Since launching in late June, the nearly four minute video has been viewed more than 6.3 million times online.

The video content is primarily meant to empower kids during the back-to-school season, Old Navy says, but it empowers consumers to support a worthy charity too. Proceeds from video downloads, along with a portion of #unlimited t-shirt sales, will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada.

3. Tell Stories That Sell

Brand storytelling and video-based content marketing aren't typically employed to generate sales. Don't tell that to Dell and Intel. In the documentary series The New Experts, which follows four accomplished students, the brands manage to inspire viewers, demonstrate the vital role that technology plays in fields like fashion design and video entertainment, and showcase the product. "Dell's actual mission was to sell their 2-in-1 (laptop and tablet) and various other computer products to the teen market," the brand's agency, Y&R New York, told Adweek.

Dell and Intel do brand storytelling remarkably well, primarily because their marketers know how to strike a balance between offering value to the viewer and promoting the product. Episodes like those featuring young physicist, Taylor Wilson, have consumers rooting for a hero they can identify with, but the videos also showcase Dell laptops in action. "Technology allows you to change the world," Wilson says. It's a message devised to motivate students not only to achieve their goals, but to call on Dell and Intel to help them do it."

When the need to buy is high and shoppers have no shortage of options, the time is right for brands to pull out all the stops. Whether it's because they view you as relevant or as the purveyor of inspiration, give potential customers a good reason to come to your door and you'll soon rise to the top of your class.

Homepage image via Shutterstock. 

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