How To Ace Back-to-School Advertising

juli pettijohn
8 Jul 2024

Brands are gearing up for one of the most crucial shopping periods of the year — back-to-school season, and the focus isn’t only on school supplies anymore. Beyond pencils and notebooks, consumers are purchasing everything from electronics to clothing to home décor and storage during the second-largest spending event for families after the holiday season. To ensure your back-to-school digital advertising campaigns make the grade this year, here’s a comprehensive overview of the current landscape along with actionable tips to ensure your brand stays top of class.

Set Reasonable Goals

Before diving into ROI, take a step back and evaluate your brand's current market position. Conduct a self-audit to assess brand awareness and market stature. Set clear objectives aligned with your brand’s awareness, engagement and sales stages. If you're new to the market, focus on building brand awareness before prioritizing ROI. Tailor your goals and KPIs based on your brand’s current life cycle and product types as the purchase cycles for notebooks and laptops vary significantly, which should influence your targeting and digital channel choices.

Know Your Audience

Understanding your target audience is fundamental to any successful marketing campaign. For the back-to-school season, identify where parents and students are spending their time. Dive deep into their digital habits across social media, ecommerce platforms and other online spaces. Use geotargeting to deliver personalized offers when customers are near your stores. Implement contextual targeting to place your ads on back-to-school webpages, ensuring you reach your audience in the right frame of mind. Build look-alike audiences based on your first-party data to engage more customers with similar behaviors and leverage dynamic retargeting campaigns to re-engage consumers who have previously interacted with your brand.

Offer Personalization

In the era of big data, personalization is key. Use data analytics to segment your audience and craft tailored marketing messages. Consider AI-powered recommendation engines to suggest products based on browsing history and past purchases. Implement loyalty programs to foster repeat purchases and customer retention. Offer exclusive rewards and discounts to incentivize purchases and personalize emails to address individual customer needs, enhancing engagement and driving higher conversion rates.

Start Early, Stay Late

Though 63% of consumers plan their back-to-school shopping in August or September, the season actually kicks off as early as late June and lasts into September. This extended period necessitates an early start and sustained momentum in your marketing strategies. Consider a phased approach, beginning with awareness campaigns in June, intensifying promotions in July and August, and culminating with last-minute deals in September. Use real-time data to fine-tune your strategies, staying aligned with evolving consumer behaviors.

Create Attention-Getting Ads

Parents are highly responsive to deals and discounts. According to eMarketer, 93% of parents are interested in discounted pricing in ads, and 81% would scan a TV QR code for school supplies. Use creative visuals and engaging content to appeal to shoppers' emotions. Highlight product usage, and, if possible, incorporate special effects in your ads to capture attention and drive conversions.

Take a Staggered Approach

School start dates vary widely, requiring a tailored advertising strategy. Optimize your media spend by staggering your DMA launch times to align with different school district schedules. Stay agile and adapt your media planning to potential shifts toward year-round school schedules, ensuring your campaigns remain relevant and high performing.

Be Budget Conscious

Consumers are looking to manage their budgets, with some planning to spend $100-$300 on supplies and clothing, while others may exceed $1,000 for electronics and other items. Cater to different budget constraints by offering products at various price points, emphasizing quality and longevity to justify higher prices. Consider value bundling and offering discounts or free shipping to enhance appeal. Be transparent about pricing changes due to inflation and consider price matching to win over price-conscious shoppers.

Provide Flexible Payment Options

With families managing tight budgets, offering flexible payment solutions like Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) could be a game-changer. Partner with popular BNPL providers and prominently display these options throughout the shopping journey.

Go Mobile

Mobile shopping is dominating the back-to-school landscape. Optimize your ads and website for mobile devices. Invest in responsive design, optimize site speed and consider developing a mobile app to leverage push notifications and in-app exclusive deals. eMarketer believes mobile apps are vital for commerce. A mobile app is another avenue for your brand to meet customers at the moment they’re ready to buy.

Focus on Education and Value-Add Content

Provide valuable content beyond product promotion to position your brand as a trusted back-to-school advisor. For instance, you could offer study tips or dorm room organization hacks or advice on balancing school with extracurricular activities. This approach builds trust and positions your brand as a helpful resource.

Leverage the "Halo Effect"

Capitalize on major events like Amazon Prime Day or Fourth of July and Labor Day sales to drive back-to-school purchases. Major sales events create a shopping buzz you can leverage to increase your brand visibility. Smaller retailers can use this opportunity to offer deals and outmaneuver larger competitors.

Embrace Sustainability

Consumers are increasingly interested in sustainable and eco-friendly products. Highlight your commitment to sustainability by featuring eco-friendly products and communicating your brand's broader sustainability initiatives. Create a dedicated "green" back-to-school collection to appeal to environmentally conscious shoppers.

Leverage Social Commerce

Social media platforms are evolving into significant sales channels. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are at the forefront of social commerce. Create shoppable posts and engage in influencer partnerships to showcase products in action. According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s Benchmark 2024 report, 85% of those surveyed believed influencer marketing to be effective, and TikTok is the most popular influencer marketing channel. Use video content on platforms like TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels to captivate your audience. Consider live shopping events to generate urgency and excitement around your offerings.

Create a Multichannel Experience

E-commerce is projected to account for nearly 35% of back-to-school sales. However, to maximize consumer reach, adopt a multichannel approach. Explore in-store, direct mail and other offline channels alongside digital to create an integrated shopping experience. Implement features like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup to offer seamless shopping convenience.

Leverage User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is a powerful tool for building trust and showcasing products in real-life settings. Encourage customers to share photos or videos of their back-to-school purchases and experiences. Repurpose this content across your marketing channels for authentic, relatable promotion.

Strive for Innovation

Technology will play an increasingly pivotal role in back-to-school marketing. Consider using AR technology to allow students to try on clothes virtually or visualize dorm room setups. Implement AI chatbots to offer for 24/7 customer service and personalized product recommendations. Optimize your content for voice search to reach the growing segment of voice-assisted shoppers. Use advanced analytics for trend prediction, inventory optimization and personalized marketing efforts.

Prepare for Success

Use this back-to-school period as a prime chance to cultivate enduring customer connections. When you offer authentic value through top-notch products, insightful content and seamless shopping experiences, you sow seeds for your brand's sustained success. Collaborate with GRADIANT now to stay nimble, deliver unwavering value and captivate back-to-school shoppers’ interest and spending power.


About the Author: 

Juli Pettijohn is a seasoned advertising expert who has seamlessly transitioned through various roles within the advertising industry, ranging from editor to writer to project manager. At Goodway Group, Juli collaborates with both internal and external teams to craft engaging case studies, webpages, proposals, press releases, presentations, award submissions, blog posts and more content aimed at enlightening audiences on ad tech matters, elevating our brand presence and highlighting client successes. Her extensive writing portfolio spans diverse topics such as retail media, connected TV, intent data and our cookieless future.

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