Back-to-School Marketing Trends and Tips

When July rolls around, advertisers both large and small start preparing for the second biggest shopping period of the year. As parents gather their ever-expanding shopping lists and kids look forward to updating their wardrobes for the approaching session, this is a perfect opportunity for marketers to catch the attention of both generations.

The back-to-school shopping season offers a shopping window of about 12 weeks to consumers and businesses have to be ready with their marketing campaigns right about now. Here are 6 tips to stand out.

1. Target the decision makers:

There is no doubt that moms set the budget, are the major influencers and, many times, are the final decision makers in this shopping season. That is why gearing your messages to mothers makes good sense. A survey by & Co. shows that moms’ highest back-to-school priority is their children’s clothing, with nine out of ten moms agreeing they spend more money on their children’s fall wardrobes than on their own. Some of the top criteria for busy mothers are: budget, quality and ease of shopping. This message “More school for your money” by Walmart caters to one of the main concerns of the target audience.

back to school ad by Walmart

2. Follow buyers online:

As research prior to buying is increasing done online, it is mandatory to have an updated website. The growth in usage of social networking sites and mobile devices has significantly increased consumers buying clout. The internet is the constant companion to consumers and they are accessing it 24/7 to help them with their purchasing decisions. You can reach these customers with formats such as:

  • Creating interactive apps that become utilities for buyers’ shopping experiences.
  • Offering coupons and discounts for special needs or to encourage particular behavior.
  • Sharing and updating digital catalogs as people like to browse to check out latest trends.
  • Organizing your website by segregating items for different needs and age groups.

The Office Depot website is a great example as it has items organized by school grade with deals highlighted in each section.

OfficeDepot webpage for school supplies

3. Use email marketing for effective reach:

Emails are an excellent way to contact parents with kids of different age groups with custom messages for their distinct needs.

Experian Marketing Services provides some interesting trends and statistics from the 2012 back to school season:

  • Offers in subject lines were present on 37% of back to school emails and generated 57% of total email revenue.
  • Free shipping offers had the best transaction rates and the highest revenue per email.
  • Teen apparel interest continued into the school year, especially over Labor Day weekend. Click rates for apparel emails were highest in September, meaning that consumers still engaged with apparel emails well into the school year.

4. Explore new channels:

If you are targeting teens then you should definitely consider the high smartphone and internet penetration among this age group. According to a report from Pew Research Center:

  • 95% of teens use the internet.
  • 78% of teens have a cell phone and almost half (47%) of them own smartphones—that translates into 37% of all teens having smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011.
  • 23% of teens have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.

To connect with youth, it is essential to share products in a way that is creative and innovative. Good photography and fun product descriptions can make their experiences interactive and interesting. Some ideas for teens are:

  • Share product pictures, the latest promotions and ads on your Pinterest page.
  • Tweet about hottest school supplies and accessories, interesting deals or latest back to school news

Staples has introduced a cool contest in which their viewers have to submit captions for pictures to earn chances to win tablet computers and savings passes.

Staples back to school photo bomb

  • Run contests and ask social fans to upload their pictures to earn freebies.
  • Upload customer in-store videos and testimonials on your YouTube page and share links across all your social media platforms.

The picture shared by Dark Beauty magazine about their upcoming issue on back-to-school fashion trends will have many young readers eager to buy the publication and the clothing!

Back to school fashion on Pinterest

5. Optimize your campaigns:

Learn from your previous campaigns before going ahead with plans for this year. Here are three ways to differentiate in a crowded marketplace:

Highlight product features: Campaigns that zones in on the product features which are high on buyers’ priority lists have better chances of getting noticed and will make messages irresistible.

Plan offers to make them feel special: The best kind of deal deals leave customers walking away feeling valued. Develop campaigns that make buyers want to spread their experience around.

In a back to school promotion by Apple, anyone buying a Mac got a free $100 App Store gift card in the U.S. or £70 in the U.K. Students purchasing an iPad or iPhone received a $50 gift card in the States or £30 card in Britain.

back to school campaign by Apple

Spread the word about your non-profit initiatives: When a company uses its resources whether financial or non-financial, to help those in need, it sends out a strong message that stands out. Talk about your initiatives in all your offline and online interactions.

Last year, in a marketing campaign called Shine On, Gap shared stories about children who make the world a brighter place through their unique talents and community service. The campaign appeared in Gap stores in the United States and Canada, as well as online at and on Gap’s social media properties.

Shine On campaign by Gap kids

6. Support a cause:

Many retailers try to form a connect with families with many cause marketing campaigns projected towards education, child development, bullying and various other related issues. The campaigns that get the best responses are the ones that support a genuine cause, strike a chord among the audience and provide real value to the affected group.

Office Depot is uniting with the boy band One Direction for a back-to-school campaign that will include an anti-bullying initiative carrying the theme “Live. Love. Move” that elaborates to say: “Live kind. Love everyone. Move together against bullying.” The brand has introduced an exclusive offering of back-to-school products in this campaign. The limited-edition collection is available at all Office Depot retail locations as well as their website. A percentage of the products’ sales will be donated to support anti-bullying education.

Every business is unique in its strengths and weaknesses. Each brand associates with its customers in a different way. So, it is good to know these tactics and use them to develop your own personal strategy to engage your existing and new back to school consumers.

Which trends have you discovered for this back-to-school season? How do you plan to draw crowds with offers this season?

About Kriti Adlakha
I have been working in the field of marketing and brand development for more than eight years. My experience ranges from hospitality to media and IT products to outsourced services. During my journey, I have worked with print and new-age media and have enjoyed developing content. I have also learnt and worked on marketing tools like adwords marketing, analytics, CRM and the list is steadily growing. Having acquired post-graduate diploma in business management from IIM, Calcutta, I love new challenges and learn from each experience. In my blog, I share marketing strategies that enable small and medium businesses to market in a small budget. I also discuss how to use different online tools that can help businesses to monitor returns of their marketing investments. Above all, I love to hear back from my readers!

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