“Back to School” season will soon be upon us, that magical time when kids (grudgingly) head back to school, usually around mid-August in the U.S. and September in the UK.

Stakes are huge: Back to School (BTS) is the second-biggest shopping event in the U.S. behind Holiday season, raking in a whooping $75.8 billion in 2016 (National Retail Foundation). And while the rest of the economy is on a rollercoaster ride, BTS revenues have gone nothing but up – about 40% over the past 10 years (NRF).

It’s the perfect storm of kids needing all kinds of new stuff and parents opening their wallets. The average U.S. household spent $674 on Back to School in 2016 (NRF).

But there’s a catch: You’re marketing to kids and young adults – so pitfalls and #fails abound. To avoid looking like a fool this Back to School season, here are 5 secrets every marketer should know. 

1. Is “Back to School” a good fit?

That’s the big question every retailer and marketer should ask beforehand. Unless they’re catering to the four biggest BTS-categories: clothes ($235.39 per household), electronics ($204.06), shoes ($126.55), and school supplies ($107.76). 

Play it smart: While those categories are no-brainers – especially technology, with a 29% purchase intent (Deloitte) – everything else may require some creative storytelling (see 4.). But it can be done: The Direct TV network enticed parents to get kids a discounted viewing plan for NFL season with the slogan “Behind every great player is a great mother.”

2. Know your audience

Back to School is all about empowering young learners, but here’s a sobering fact: Average pre-teens only plan to spend $20 of their own money (NRF) , so you want to be talking to the parents. Also keep in mind that bigger kids equal higher spending: In 2016, U.S. parents spent an estimated $27.3 billion on kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, while college spending amounted to $48.5 billion (NRF Survey).   

Play it smart: Choose a theme (see 4.) that appeals to kids and parents alike, then draw on 360-degree customer profiles for laser-sharp segmentation. Even talk to students and parents at once – and have fun – with a cross-generational campaign like Selligent customer MyWay.

3. Be clear on goals and timing

What do you want from Back to School? Currently 64% of all BTS campaigns aim at increasing foot traffic, 19% at raising brand awareness, and 17% at boosting website and mobile traffic (Millennial Media). For retailers, it’s also a great time to unload excess inventory at discount pricing or, on a CRM level, solicit personal consumer info in return for promos (see 4.).

Interest over time

Timing is equally crucial. Although 50.9% of parents plan to shop 3-4 weeks before school starts (NRF), the trend goes towards holding off for better deals (see 5.). Accordingly, BTS-related web searches spike in the final week  and consumer engagement with campaign content is 2x in July, 3 x in August and 6x in September (Millennial Media).

Play it smart: Pre-load your campaign with content to last until that final stretch in August/September. But grab customers’ attention early and surround offers with rich storytelling, as 50% of parents use smartphones during shopping and 61% research online before purchasing (Deloitte). Keep the conversation going with behavorial retargeting and social engagement to get conversion. 

4. Pick a winning theme

The graveyard of failed BTS-campaigns runs deep. So remember your audience (2.) and design a theme centered on their Back to School needs – reflected in trending search keywords  – to drive real customer-first marketing. Campaign ideas include:

  • Back to School Sweepstakes. Everyone loves free stuff – especially when they’re spending money on mandatory supplies. Make customers share your message or create their own content (see below) and pepper your campaign with hashtags (see 5.) for increased reach.
  • Early Bird Special. While most shoppers dig in until late August to score better deals, reward early purchases of big-ticket items like laptops and tablets with personalized early buyer specials starting in July.
  • Get them while they’re young. Today’s students are tomorrow’s earners. Learn about your customers by offering rebates in return for personal info. Selligent customer Mediahuis boosted its database by handing out 20% discount codes with quick acquisition interception pop-ups for long-term dialogues.
  • Let them do the talking. A whooping 79% of BTS advertisements use rich content like video (Millennial Media) because it’s super effective. Don’t have the budget? Let consumers do your content creation: Target’s student-created Lunchbox Stories commercial clocked over 1.5 million views in a matter of weeks.
  • Donate in their name. The Amazon Smile Foundation lets customers focus on shopping while automatically donating 0.5 percent of the purchase price to a charity of their choosing. And Staples even blended donations with sweepstakes by handing out $50,000 scholarships in last year’s #StaplesforStudents campaign.

5. Know your shorthand: Hashtags, coupons, et cetera

Swipe for better deals. About one quarter of parents enlist social media to boost their BTS shopping by learning about promotions (74%), receiving coupons (64%), and reading recommendations (44%). In searches, “Back to School” combined with “deals”, “sales”, and “promo” ranges supreme. Free shipping is almost expected by today’s entitled customers and 84% of parents refuse to shop without it. 

Play it smart: Attract consumers by using hashtags such as #backtoschool (up 30% year-on-year according to NetBase) and #backtoschooldeals or #giveaways. Add free shipping as a coupon code to nudge those undecided parents. Always remember that BTS is once per year, but the relationship journey is forever.

Want to get a head start on that other major retail event of the year? Here’s our Holiday Season Special on Boosting Customer Loyalty with Joyful Giving.

Inspiration in Your Inbox!

Sign up for your monthly dose of thought leadership.
You can unsubscribe in each newsletter at any time.

See our platform in action

book a demo