Who's Winning the Back-to-School Buzz?


Many are under the assumption that the younger generation is greatly influenced by the digital world. However, retailers catering to the teen market aren't drumming up the amount of buzz one would expect online. According to Engagement Labs TotalSocial® rankings on the top performing teen retailer brands in the U.S., consumers are talking more about teen retailers in offline (face-to-face) conversations than online (social media).

The analysis, which combines offline and online consumer conversations, is based on Engagement Labs' proprietary TotalSocial data that continuously measures the most important drivers of brand performance in terms of social media and word of mouth conversations.

According to Engagement Labs' data, when looking at the apparel retail sector as a whole, traditional retailers such as Walmart and Target performed better in terms of volume — which measures how much conversation a particular brand is getting online and offline — compared to the teen retail brands. However, teen retailers outdo the others in the category with strong offline sentiment scores, which demonstrates that while consumers may be talking about other retailers more, they are talking about teen retailers more positively. Offline sentiment is a powerful driver of business outcomes, according to predictive analytics from Engagement Labs.

"Interestingly, while many marketers assume that the younger generation tends to spend most of their time online, we found that retailers geared toward teenage consumers perform better in offline conversations than on social media," said Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs. "By having a holistic view and identifying the areas that need improvement, brands will be able to connect with consumers and remain part of their conversations, both online and offline. These teen retailers have an opportunity to increase sales and improve its online performance by developing strategies and campaigns that encourage social media conversations."

As the leader of the category, Old Navy boasts the number-one ranking among teen retailers on TotalSocial due to its strong offline brand sharing scores, which is the amount of face-to-face conversations in which people are talking about a brand's marketing or advertising. The retailer, which markets itself as providing fashion for the whole family, also has above-average offline sentiment scores, demonstrating that consumers are talking positively about the company's marketing efforts. This could be attributed to some of its marketing efforts that appeal to younger shoppers — such as its bold move away from the celebrity-focused advertisements of its past as part of its "Hi, Fashion" campaign.

Meanwhile, ranked at number three, Forever 21 leads the category when it comes to both offline and online volume, but falls behind with below-average sentiment scores -- demonstrating that the retailer is able to generate a lot of conversations, but they aren't all positive. On the other hand, when it comes to sentiment, H&M leads the pack with a strong offline sentiment score. The brand's recent shift to focus its marketing efforts on sustainability and ethical apparel is one that is clearly resonating with the younger demographic, resulting in positive face-to-face conversations. Engagement Labs categorizes both H&M and Forever 21 as 'Conversation Commanders,' which are brands that have above average scores both offline and online.

In contrast, Abercrombie & Fitch falls behind with its below-average scores across almost every measure, bringing it down to the number 8 ranking in the category. The retailer, which recently shifted from marketing to teenagers to focus on a somewhat older crowd of college students and 20-somethings, has come under pressure given the rapid growth of fast-fashion, off-price and online retailers in the space. With the introduction of its new brand position, consumers have not been responding well -- Abercrombie & Fitch has the lowest offline sentiment score in the category, demonstrating that the brand's repositioning was met with negative face-to-face conversations among its consumers.

Learn more about Conversation Commander brands that go against the grain, such as H&M and Forever 21, in Engagement Labs' latest e-book, Lessons from the Leaders of Social Influence, here.

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