We live in an era when advertising hits us everywhere and all the time: on television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, while we’re waiting at the check-out, sitting on a park bench and, of course, online. When a big season for shopping begins, the ads ramp up to a fever pitch across every one of these channels.

Photo courtesy of CNN

With a $70 billion price tag on the line, the back-to-school season is one of the most important times of the year for retail marketers, and the constantly changing landscape is keeping them on their toes. Marketers must keep current with new back-to-school trends and schedules, or risk losing their piece of the third-highest revenue period of the retail year. While it’s worth noting that some forecasters believe that number may be shrinking, there are still plenty who think otherwise.

One of the most critical developments for marketers to follow is increased buzz from students (and even parents) on digital channels. According to an article at Mashable, online school shopping conversations start in early spring – when college acceptance letters hit mailboxes – and run all the way until students head off to campus in September.

Social media discussion is so powerful that it has fundamentally changed the back-to-schedule schedule into a “staggered,” or multi-phase, retail season where:

  • Accepted college students ramp up spending in April and May
  • Parents of school age kids face (and respond to) back-to-school pitches throughout the summer
  • College students jump back in sometime in early August
  • Parents of school age kids rush to purchase (what’s left of) supplies and clothing in mid-August through early September

What can marketers learn from the back-to-school developments? Here are my three main takeaways:

  • Be aware of the shifts created by social media. The conversations around college acceptances happened offline in years past, limiting the scope of the “peer pressure” (and impulse) shopping that’s becoming more and more common as pre-Frosh make plans for the fall. Is your business dependent on (or responsive to) seasonal shifts? If so, keep an eye on how these shifts are evolving to create new marketing and advertising opportunities based on the way people now interact online.
  • Use big data analytics to tap in to opportunities. If you want to increase sales by appealing to a particular audience or by focusing your messages around a certain event, big data analytics are essential. Use big data analytics to understand target market behavior. Remember: The clearer picture you have of your customers, the more easily you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and offer relevant messaging.
  • Plans are good… but agility is good, too. Your marketing plan gives you a solid foundation for your budgeting, your tactics and your messaging from day-to-day and month-to-month. However, consumer behaviors are bound to change, and building some flex into your plans enables you to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

As always, the more information you have to work with in creating (and adjusting!) plans, the better.

Have you seen shifts in your market’s behavior because of social media? Are the traditional “boom” periods changing for your business?