How CPG marketers can optimize strategies this back-to-school season

At the end of the last school year, 60% of kids were going to school at least part of the week, and it’s likely that number rises heading into next year. As in-person schooling crawls back towards normalcy, so too does in-store grocery shopping – 85% of shoppers are back in the aisles. Does your digital marketing distinguish between parents of in-person and remote learning students? What about in-person vs online shoppers? This school season, your students AND your digital marketing can get a little smarter. 

Back-to-school season is a critical time for many CPG brands looking to reach relevant customers. From backpacks and pens to after-school snacks, those buying school supplies are part of a niche group that—when reached—have huge buying power.

During these busy times, it’s even more challenging for digital marketers to drive high sales lift and prove performance with campaigns. Getting your message to break through and resonate requires understanding and reaching granular audiences at scale, having more relevance with customers who are most likely to buy, and improving the efficiency of your media activation. All of that will drive more sales lift, give you considerable brand consideration and most importantly deliver an A+ marketing strategy in a highly competitive season.

As in-person schooling crawls back towards normalcy, so too does in-store grocery shopping – 85% of shoppers are back in the aisles.

Reach the most relevant audiences at scale

CPG brands know the struggle when it comes to marketing campaigns—especially during busy times. Everyone is targeting the same people at the same time, resulting in increased media costs and reduced campaign performance. Limited access to first-party consumer data makes it difficult to speak to shoppers as individuals, meaning you’re not reaching the right people with the right messages at the point they’re most likely to buy.

Back-to-school shoppers—like all consumers—are incentivized to purchase a product when it speaks to them on a personal level. So how do brands stand out amidst the noise?

Any good marketing strategy needs to have a strong solution that gives them a view into their holistic customer. These identity solutions allow brands to see granular audiences with a person-level understanding and reach, meaning you can deliver creative and promotions that resonate with your audience directly. The challenge for most CPGs, however, is that narrowing your audience enough for personalized messaging can cripple the ability to launch a program at scale. Target too granularly and you can’t reach enough people.

The strongest identity solutions will help you reach more unique customers within niche audiences with the same—or sometimes smaller—media budgets, driving higher ROAS.

Epsilon’s CORE ID is the industry’s most accurate, stable and scalable identity solution. With 200 million transaction-verified profiles founded on people-based IDs (not devices or cookies) you can connect with 2-3x more verified consumers online and offline – including those from 3rd-party data sets.

With a deeper understanding, you can speak each consumer’s language

The next step in this process is understanding the individuals you’re trying to reach, and those you’ve reached in the past. Epsilon CORE ID uses Real Time Profile Management that looks at privacy-protected profiles made from 7,000 demographic and lifestyle data points like purchase data, browsing data and digital consumption. This data helps us develop 360-degree profiles that can power personalization.

When you overlay that data with other partners, such as IRI’s purchase-based verified audiences, you can connect each individual’s brand and category purchases to their broader on and offline behaviors, and stay connected for years. This allows brands to deliver impactful marketing to their customers year-round—not just during the back-to-school sprint.

But having that data isn’t enough. The key differentiator is having a partner who knows how to take that information, activate it at scale and use it to drive performance.

Let’s say, for example, you have three potential customers in your target demographic: all female, age 35 with two kids between the ages of 6 and 10. Their household incomes are about $120,000 and they all live in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It may be tempting to broadly target this group with a single piece of creative, but your program will drive more sales lift if you can identify exactly which individuals are most likely to buy your product, and send them a more personalized message.

When you have a best-in-class ID, you can build more robust profiles to segment more granularly, yet still have the scale to serve enough media for successful and measurable campaigns.

In our example, it might play out like this:

  • Woman One: She increased spend in school supplies and lunch items in Q1 ’21, indicating that her family was ramping up to get back in-person. Knowing that she’s more likely than the average family to need new in-person supplies, we serve her an ad for a product bundle that includes staples like a backpack.


  • Woman Two: She is a frequent Walmart shopper (based on our Marketview data set), and she’s in the IRI Proscores audience of vaccinated individuals. We know to target her with ads promoting sales at Walmart, and because vaccinated individuals are more likely to shop in-person than unvaccinated individuals, the creative should drive in-store sales. A Walmart audience of unvaccinated individuals may perform better leveraging creative with an “add to cart” or “shop online” CTA.


  • Woman Three: She recently watched a video on her iPhone about healthy school lunches, which puts her in our Epsilon audience for “interest in back-to-school content”. Plus, she’s in IRI’s verified Returning to Brands audience because she’s been decreasing her spend on private label products, which spiked during out-of-stock panic buying. Now is the right time to remind her about your values and drive brand consideration with inspiring craft ideas on your site.


By finding higher-value, more granular audiences and delivering them more relevant messages, you’ll focus your dollars on individuals most likely to drive sales lift.

Continually learning to drive results and avoid waste

Back-to-school shopping means customers are stocking up on the necessary tools for scholarly success—and marketing strategies are no different.

Understanding your customer is just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to data-driven marketing strategies. Having the tools to take that data and optimize it creates a constant feedback loop that is continuously learning from itself.

At Epsilon, our CORE AI optimizes media delivery to determine who we need to reach, when we need to reach them and what message to send. This continuously-learning model considers inputs such as brand intel, consumer intel, and contextual awareness in order to adjust campaign performance and pacing—then evaluates the individuals engagement after receiving a message to update both the model and the person’s profile. The model is updated more than two billion times every minute from consumer actions across millions of profiles.

Each time we see an ID and the AI considers all these inputs, it either serves and ad or it doesn’t, all within 7 milliseconds. We see each CORE ID online an average of 178 times a day, and 99.9% of the time we hold back from delivering media to avoid the waste you would incur from partners with cookie or device-based IDs, and without CORE AI.

So as consumers gear up for a school year they’re hoping will be ordinary, make sure your digital marketing is anything but. By maximizing your reach and relevance with granular audiences and minimizing waste, your campaign will drive higher sales lift and A+ results.