Today’s back-to-school shopper is a constantly moving target. Promotions like Amazon Prime Day and “Black Friday in July” have created incentives for consumers to shop earlier in the year for everything from pencils to pullover sweaters to iPads. Even consumers who don’t buy during these events may consider making purchases and continue to shop or look for deals until the last minute. Successful marketers view this extended calendar as an opportunity to increase touchpoints and engage with customers in a timelier and more relevant fashion.
This is where data and AI can help marketers begin to outsmart the competition—starting with weather data.
Weather is a universal driver of consumer behavior. It can impact how people feel, and as a result, what they buy. By adjusting seasonal strategies according to fluctuations in the weather, and by selecting the right tools, brands and retailers can conduct personalized campaigns that address individual need states based on a shopper mindset—without infringing on the consumer’s personal data privacy—and deliver targeted and relevant messaging at optimal moments throughout the year.
Choose the right platforms and channels
When combined with powerful AI-driven technology platforms, weather data can benefit the marketer in several ways. Solutions like IBM WEATHERfx from IBM Watson Advertising use scientific analysis and multiple data sets to target locations where product sales are likely to spike based on weather-driven demand. An apparel retailer, for example, may deliver branded promotional messages in specific categories (e.g., rain gear or outerwear) to consumers in regions that are experiencing wetter-than-normal conditions. Such tactics give marketers a first-mover advantage and ensure that their messages are delivered specifically to affected audiences.
Back-to-school marketers can further take advantage of changing weather conditions by leveraging WEATHERfx “seasonal first” triggers, for example, when the weather first “feels” like fall. Transitional periods like these can make consumers feel renewed and energized, and in turn influence spending decisions. Brands are also using weather forecast models in combination with location data to drive channel strategy. Marketers can deploy data solutions like IBM JOURNEYfx, which uses one of the world’s largest continuous streams of first-party location data—The Weather Channel—to find and reach relevant audiences at family restaurants, town parks and other areas where families with kids with back-to-school needs are likely to be.
Mobile devices are playing an increasingly important role in back-to-school shopping. In 2018, 53 percent of consumers planned to use their mobile device to shop for their back-to-school needs, although the majority of spending (57 percent) was expected to take place in-store, according to Deloitte.
Weather and location patterns can help reveal when customers are more likely to shop in-store versus online, which allows marketers to conduct flexible digital/mobile campaigns with incentives like digital coupons and retailers to align the timing of displays to meet consumer demand.
Go deep on learning with AI
When it comes to understanding and implementing AI, marketers are making strides and trying to push ahead of the curve. Still, marketers are clamoring for more precise ad targeting and audience segmentation, citing this as a top priority in a recent eMarketer report.
AI tools such as those that leverage deep learning with neural networks (which solve complex problems faster by functioning like the neurons inside the human brain) allow marketers to more efficiently process unstructured data and unlock consumer behavior in an increasingly complicated shopper journey. Deep learning with neural networks enables brands to develop campaign-specific algorithms and create profiles of consumers who are like their target customers for optimal engagement. This in turn helps solve for challenges around scale, such as layering on too many signals. Machine learning and other AI capabilities are powerful insight generators, but it is essential that marketers be able to separate the true signals from the noise.
AI has the potential to transform the customer experience, but it also raises complex questions concerning data privacy. Thus it is vital for marketers who employ AI tools to seek out trusted partners whose data collection practices are transparent and secure. Tools like IBM Marketing Planner with Lucy can help simplify and automate labor-intensive tasks and unlock an organization's data to help quickly inform research, segmentation and planning. By deploying the right tools to synthesize data and identify key audience and performance insights, marketers can be freed up to be more strategic and creative with their campaigns.
Ultimately, finding the perfect balance of data, insights and creativity—and leveraging the moments that matter during the extended back-to-school shopping season—is exactly what marketers need to outclass the competition.
IBM Watson Advertising's suite of AI-infused media, data and technology solutions can help marketers reach their customers in the moments that matter. To download the company's most recent Back-to-School guide, click here.