5 Tips For A+ Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns

Pop quiz: How do you make your back-to-school pro­mo­tions most like­ly to suc­ceed?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 1 comment

Tis the sea­son to be edu­cat­ed. And as 70 mil­lion Amer­i­can stu­dents head back to school, that trans­lates to big bucks for retail­ers and huge oppor­tu­ni­ties for mar­keters.


The total com­bined spend­ing for back-to-school this year is esti­mat­ed to come in sec­ond only to win­ter hol­i­day shop­ping with $68 bil­lion in sales, accord­ing to the Nation­al Retail Fed­er­a­tion. What’s more, each fam­i­ly will spend a total of about $630, the NRF says.

Just like the win­ter hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son, retail­ers are using every tool in their arse­nals – includ­ing videos, retar­get­ing, social media, and emails – to make the prover­bial grade. But like stu­dents in school uni­forms, it can be dif­fi­cult for brands to stand out from the crowd.

Here are five tips from mar­ket­ing experts on how brands can dis­tin­guish their back-to-school offers and cam­paigns.

1. Location, Location, Location

Accord­ing to Car­la Fitzger­ald, CMO of mobile expe­ri­ence soft­ware com­pa­ny Smith Micro, what might be too ear­ly for one shop­per is just right for anoth­er, so mar­keters should focus on shop­per cir­cum­stances and pat­terns rather than cal­en­dars to build cam­paigns.

Indeed, per the NRF, 30 per­cent of back-to-school shop­pers will wait until one or two weeks before school to start shop­ping, which is up from 25 per­cent last year. And Google says while back-to-school search inter­est is trend­ing ear­lier this year, tim­ing varies by region.

Con­sumers lin­ger­ing near the school sup­plies are prime can­di­dates for back-to-school mes­sag­ing, mak­ing loca­tion-trig­gered pro­mo­tions a key ingre­di­ent to max­i­miz­ing engage­ment. How­ev­er, you don’t want to blast con­sumers down every aisle, so the abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy a sequence of events, such as shop­pers mov­ing between pen­cils, back­packs and lunch box­es, is more effec­tive than a sin­gle trig­ger,” she said. “Regard­less of the cam­paign or sea­son, keep­ing con­sumer shop­ping pref­er­ences in mind by mon­i­tor­ing prox­im­i­ty, device activ­i­ty, dwell time/time spent and oth­er con­tex­tu­al trig­gers can help deter­mine the right time to mar­ket to a par­tic­u­lar shop­per.”

Fur­ther, Fitzger­ald notes the use of loca­tion tech­nol­o­gy like bea­cons, WiFi, and GPS geofenc­ing is chang­ing the retail envi­ron­ment and intro­duc­ing new ways to improve tar­get­ing and increase rel­e­van­cy for mobile mar­ket­ing.

For exam­ple, she said Wal­mart intro­duced loca­tion-trig­gered ads using its Sav­ings Catcher app last fall, gam­ing retail­er GameStop alerts its staff via tablet when PowerUp loy­al­ty mem­bers enter their dig­i­tal stores and mall oper­a­tor Taub­man is using GPS and rout­ing algo­rithms to help shop­pers find the fastest path to the stores they want to vis­it using their mobile devices.

The­se are just a few of the ways in which retail­ers are har­ness­ing prox­im­i­ty and mobile to dri­ve closer engage­ment,” Fitzger­ald said. “How­ev­er, suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing cam­paigns must also con­sid­er their cus­tomers’ unique his­to­ry, pref­er­ences and cir­cum­stances or they run the risk of being labeled as spam and los­ing a cus­tomer.”

In addi­tion, a recent research report from Black­hawk Engage­ment Solu­tions, a divi­sion of pre­paid and pay­ments net­work Black­hawk Net­work that says it pro­vides engage­ment, incen­tive and rebate pro­grams, found 63 per­cent of U.S. shop­pers would con­sid­er allow­ing retail­ers to send offers to their smart­phones based on where they are in-store.

2. Cater To Mobile Researchers & Shoppers

Par­ents are using mobile more than ever in the back-to-school sea­son and they are shop­ping in micro-moments through­out the day, accord­ing to Google. In fact, this year, back-to-school search­es on mobile sur­passed the 50-per­cent mark, Google says.

In addi­tion, Google notes shop­ping behav­ior is chang­ing as par­ents aren’t plan­ning out back-to-school shop­ping trips any­more but rather shop­ping in so-called I-want-to-buy moments and rely­ing on mobile to tell them pre­cise­ly where to go for what they want.

Ergo, Google rec­om­mends brands cre­ate great mobile web expe­ri­ences and use mobile-speci­fic ads to fer­ry back-to-school shop­pers from research to pur­chase as quick­ly and eas­i­ly as pos­si­ble.

3. Think Overall Solutions Rather Than Singular Campaigns

Instead of sav­ings pro­mo­tions that get lost in the back-to-school noise, Brid­get Fahrland, senior vice pres­i­dent of client strat­e­gy at Flu­id Inc., which says it cre­ates com­merce expe­ri­ences and soft­ware, said brands can dis­tin­guish their mes­sages by offer­ing solu­tions that add actu­al val­ue to con­sumers’ lives.

That includes cre­at­ing out­fits and looks based on trends, as well as enabling par­ents to pre-shop and set up gal­leries for their chil­dren to select preap­proved items, which Fahrland says also helps chil­dren learn to bud­get and avoids bat­tles in stores.

Aalap Shah, co-founder of social media agen­cy SoMe Con­nect, agrees con­tent should be util­i­tar­i­an and tar­get con­sumer pain points, such as the aver­age fam­i­ly school sup­ply spend, which is over $600 this year.

4. Get Emotional

While many retail­ers car­ry the same prod­ucts at com­pet­i­tive prices, Bruce Clark, mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor at the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness at North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, says brands can set them­selves apart by look­ing for ways to address the emo­tion­al side of going back to school, even for func­tion­al prod­ucts.

For stu­dents, it’s a rite of pas­sage. For par­ents, it’s anoth­er step on the par­ent­ing jour­ney,” Clark said.

There­fore, he said brands should ask them­selves ques­tions like: “How does your pro­duct make stu­dents and par­ents feel bet­ter about going back to school?”

5. Use Events To Generate A Sense Of Urgency

Mar­ket intel­li­gence firm Mar­ket Track said adver­tis­ers can build excite­ment and cap­ture the atten­tion of price-con­scious con­sumers by pro­mot­ing in-store and online events.

Not­ing retail­ers go through the same strug­gles dur­ing back-to-school as they do in the hol­i­day sea­son but to a greater extent because they must cre­ate urgen­cy to buy dur­ing this two-plus-mon­th shop­ping event, Mar­ket Track notes cre­at­ing events under the back-to-school umbrel­la that have start and end dates can help dri­ve con­sumers to pur­chase.

Bonus Point: Turn Customers Into Loyalists

A white paper from dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agen­cy Hel­loWorld shows there’s a 21 per­cent increase in shop­ping vis­its at con­sumers’ favorite retail­ers as engage­ment goes up.

It’s an amaz­ing sta­tis­tic, and makes a strong case for con­tin­ued brand engage­ment,” said Jan­ice Pol­lard, senior mar­ket­ing man­ager at Hel­loWorld.

In addi­tion, the sur­vey of 5,000 con­sumers found shop­pers with high­er lev­els of cus­tomer engage­ment pur­chased more prod­ucts from their favorite brands and, among cus­tomers who already demon­strat­ed high lev­els of cus­tomer loy­al­ty, increased engage­ment was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in pos­i­tive­ly influ­enc­ing those same cus­tomers to spend even more, Hel­loWorld says.

Fur­ther, Hel­loWorld found 96 per­cent of shop­pers con­sume goods or ser­vices from their favorite brands after they are engaged through a CPG loy­al­ty pro­gram.

As a result, per Pol­lard, brands should look to dig­i­tal incen­tives, offers and exclu­sive con­tent that res­onate with their tar­get audi­ences and find unique ways to extend engage­ment beyond the one-time back-to-school pur­chase.


What back-to-school mar­ket­ing tips do you think are most valu­able?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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1 Comment on "5 Tips For A+ Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns"

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Colin Greene
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Colin Greene
2 years 7 months ago

The­se are some real­ly great sug­ges­tions to help with mar­ket­ing strate­gies. I think it is espe­cial­ly good to cater to those that are using mobile devices, since this is so com­mon now. If I worked on this with my web­site, I think that could real­ly help to make my web­site more appeal­ing to those vis­it­ing it. Thanks for the great sug­ges­tion!

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