Back-to-school shopping is the second-largest annual shopping event, accounting for up to 21% of all non-holiday spending. In 2023, back-to-school shoppers expect more than just savings from brands and retailers. Convenience and ethics are also high on their list of must-haves, so one needs a cohesive omnichannel strategy to guarantee a share of their wallets. Small and medium-sized companies can attend to their customers by actually taking advantage of marketing automation. Marketing automation is often seen as complicated – a web of platforms and channels that needs to be integrated into a single, humming machine. However, bringing value to your back-to-school campaign does not have to be a complex undertaking.
Businesses can move in an agile way, adopting automation and shifting models quickly without large-scale operational challenges. At times, marketers can find the prospect of setting up their own automation program daunting. However, the best approach to creating an omnichannel marketing automation program is starting small and remaining hyperfocused. Tackle the most valuable areas of opportunity and expand over time.
Let’s dig into the whys and hows of automation.
Looking at the Benefits of Marketing Automation
Companies turn to marketing automation to nurture customer relationships and reduce marketing expenses. Here’s how it can help your business achieve its back-to-school goals.
Marketing automation sends communications triggered by specific customer behaviors like visiting a site, interacting with customer service, or abandoning a cart.
Any messages sent through digital and physical channels such as direct mail can be tailored to a potential customer or audience segment, providing better interaction. Ninety-one percent of back-to-school shoppers expect some element of their shopping experience to be personally tailored.
Once you have set up and implemented a campaign, automation gets the job done, allowing a marketer to save precious hours and dollars that would have been spent manually running a campaign.
Companies across B2B and B2C industries have used automation to drive key business strategies. The United States Postal Service, for example, has launched marketing automation campaigns across direct mail and digital platforms that have significantly increased the desired audience behaviors. One e-commerce company saw an astounding 500% increase in ROI, with order volume rising 140% as the result of an integrated marketing automation campaign.
Identifying the Common Roadblocks
- 49% of marketers say improving quality lead generation is a critical challenge with marketing automation.
- 44% of marketers consider not delivering personalized content to be the biggest barrier to success.
Before focusing on the most optimal strategies for tackling marketing automation, it’s important to identify the most common challenges back-to-school marketers face.
Going Too Big
As mentioned before, marketers often bite off more than they can chew when they first tackle automation. However, in order to be successful, all channels should work together in perfect harmony. In fact, the process should be seen as a ripple, starting with a small center and growing over time.
Many marketers also aren’t sure how to properly deploy personalized messages. Yet customized content has been proven to have a demonstrated lift on marketing effectiveness. Personalization can boost revenues. For example, retargeted direct mail, an automated form of the physical channel, combines digital triggers with personalized mail to deploy a postcard or other type of mailpiece to the right customer at the right time.
Dealing with Complexity
Though marketers know that integrating digital and physical channels in a marketing automation campaign can yield greater engagement, conversion, and retention, setting up campaigns can be difficult. Creating quality automation is a primary concern marketers face when using automation.
Focusing on Supportive Solutions
Marketers can create focused campaigns, determining insights from each one and using those results to sharpen the strategy of the next campaign. There can be different ways to leverage marketing automation. Repetition and consistency are important methods to acheive results.
It’s important to strip an omnichannel strategy down to fundamentals and iterate as new campaigns are run. Set benchmarks around the most important goals and always take customer segments into account. Though marketers want to target every potential customer, it’s important to divide your audience based on critical differences in demographics, interests, business verticals, and beyond. Remember, the more tailored the messaging, the better the response.
Prioritize customer needs
Think through the key customer problems before they embark on back-to-school shopping and choose topics that you want to build momentum around. Starting small could mean a direct mail campaign that deploys a postcard when a potential customer doesn’t complete a purchase online. It could also mean focusing on lead nurturing with automated email targeting, or even improving conversion rates with automated search marketing.
Merge physical with digital
The combination of direct mail with digital channels offers a critical integration opportunity in a multichannel automation strategy for next back-to-school season. Digital provides the primary foundation; it’s where information can be most easily captured. Collect data through these channels and leverage it to personalize messages or set important behavioral triggers during back-to-school season. Direct mail can be a cornerstone of omnichannel automation. Often, once a relationship is already established online, marketers integrate a periodic mailpiece into their customer journey to seamlessly target potential customers.
When developing a marketing automation strategy for back-to-school shopping season, choosing what not to do is as important as choosing what to do. Rather than trying to build a complex network of campaigns and channels all at once, marketers should identify their major goals and focus early tests on what will bring their company the most value. Do less to achieve more.
Remember that everything won’t work perfectly, especially not in the beginning. Inherently, there are inefficiencies in marketing, but with automation there’s always room to find value.
- Chad Warren, VP, Relationship Marketing & Analytics, and Mike Wallgren, Senior Director of Relationship Marketing (March 10, 2021). Personal communication [personal interview].
- "Back-to-School Commerce Report," Inmar intelligence, 2023.
- "Back-to-School Commerce Report," Inmar intelligence, 2023.
- "Ecommerce Direct Mail Case Study, Postalytics 2021."
- "Strategies, Tactics and Trends for Marketing Automation Integration,” Ascend2, July 2019.
- "Optimizing Marketing Automation Survey Summary Report,” Ascend2, June 2018.