Office supplies retailer Poppin—known for its modern, bold-colored designs—has an audience comprised of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) buyers. Come July, the retailer begins its annual nine-week push to target students as they start back-to-school shopping. Zachary Abbell, senior director of ecommerce and digital marketing at Poppin, spoke with eMarketer’s Tricia Carr about why this year’s focus is on user-generated content rather than advertising.
eMarketer: What is your back-to-school audience like?
Zachary Abbell: Our school shoppers tend to be mobile-driven—that’s different from the rest of our business, which is desktop-heavy. This audience is all about mobile and tablet. We assume it’s the result of discovery happening in stores [where Poppin is available]. They see something in Staples or Barnes & Noble College and they go online to see all the colors and products we have that the store doesn’t carry.
eMarketer: Do you consider students to be the primary decision-maker and your target audience rather than parents?
Abbell: We predominantly market to teens as well as consumers in their early 20s who are often college or grad school students—not parents. These consumers make their own decisions. Because we market to older students, our marketing tends to be more about individual expression. Even though high school students might not buy their own supplies, they tell their parents exactly what they like.
eMarketer: Can millennial and Gen Z students tell the difference between something that’s organic and something that’s an ad, and how does that impact your marketing strategy?
Abbell: These demographics are very savvy—they understand what’s organic and what’s staged. We don’t spend a large amount of marketing dollars on pushing our staged advertising to them. We tend to rely on user-generated content and influencers. The photos that our customers post are inspirational, and the quality of the imagery is often so good—it looks professionally shot. We’ll also send products to influencers so they can shoot them at their own desk, and it feels organic.
For us, the product often markets itself. It becomes less about marketing copy, positioning and targeting, and more about showing the lifestyle around the product—that’s what resonates with this consumer group.