Get Schooled in Back to School Marketing

Written by Tim Edmundson

As marketers, a well thought-out plan goes a long way when it comes to the big spend seasons. With the beginning of school just around the corner – it’s time to start taking notes on how to make the most of this year’s busy buying season.

CLASS IS IN SESSION: How to Conquer Back to School 101

back to school stats

This busy season has grown tremendously with the average spend going from $17.4 billion in 2009 to $26.5 billion in 2014, and this year the number continues to rise. The School Marketing Research Institute and National Retail Foundation (NRF) predict an 8% jump in sales for 2015, totaling a pencil dropping $28.6 billion.

With so much being spent by back to school customers, marketers who can get more people in store and onsite to make a purchase will earn some major extra credit. So here are a few lessons to consider before school starts! Get your notebooks ready.



Because so many different vendors and brands are going after the same audience, buyers have gotten smarter about leveraging product and pricing information. Shoppers are now more accustomed to searching multiple sites and apps in order to find the best deal, making it harder to bring customers to your site through the point of conversion.

Getting visitors back, no matter how many sites they compared against, is just a matter of creating and serving the right ads to the right segments. Try using these techniques to get viewers back to your site at the right time – when they are ready to purchase.

Retarget Your New Site Visitors | Do this to stay top of mind and keep your brand in front of as many potential new shoppers as possible, even when your new site visitors check out other sites.

Test Multiple Offers | Do this to get a more refined understanding of what your audience responds to and create more effective campaigns with this new knowledge.

Escalate Your Offers | Do this to present discounts that increase with each ad – for example “free shipping,” 10%, 15%, 20% . . . until you’ve converted your site visitors into customers.

Create Daily Deals | Do this by emailing a Daily or Weekly deal, then Retarget those who click through with the same deal, to make sure your engaged email users are being pushed further down the conversion funnel.

 These strategies and other data driven campaign tips, can help get viewers back to your site, regardless of how many other sites they visit while comparison shopping.



Every year students graduate from one grade and advance to the next. Don’t get held back! As marketers, we need to make sure our strategy is doing the same thing, growing from one set of standards to the next.

back to school_millenialsThe notorious millennials, are currently at the top of the class (and I’m allowed to call them that, because I’m one of them). Mostly born in the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s, they are by far the most tech-educated group yet and are one of the main reasons marketers need to up their game.

This new audience is not only good at navigating the Internet in search of the best version of what they intend to buy, but also they place a high value on what others say. 93% will read reviews prior to purchase and 97% will even trust anonymous reviews on sites like Amazon.

And the research doesn’t stop there. Not only are these shoppers consulting with eCommerce sites, but with social circles as well. 66% of them will ask their friends for advice, 59% will ask their significant other, and 37% look to their parents when making purchases. This averages out to 89% of millennials trusting their peers or parents regarding purchase decisions.

It may be hard to get into the millennials’ heads because marketers have limited control over all the reviews posted on their brand. But we need to leverage what we do have – Social Media. 66% of millennials will follow various brands on social media, mainly because 38% of them believe that brands are more accessible and trustworthy when they use social rather than traditional advertising. So meet them on their playground. You’ll get the traffic you need, the reviews people want, and the trust that comes with it.

Check out Eggo’s Facebook campaign to promote their partnership with Crayola for the back to school season.

So, you’re probably thinking, “thanks a lot captain obvious.” But here are a few notes to take when trying to reach millennials in social:

Face Your Audience | With 1.44 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most obvious place to show your products and services through features like your Brand Page. Showcase images of your products and encourage your audience to review them. You can also encourage users to talk about their positive experiences through questions or other types of engagement posts.

Extra Credit: Why not run a contest on Facebook, rewarding users for providing their email or sharing their favorite product or photo of your brand in use. The better the reward, the more traction you will get, along with some free product promotion along the way. See how Land’s End is promoting their back to school sweepstakes on Facebook.

Pin Their Interest | With 72.8 million users, pinners will spend on average $50 more than any other social site. Because 93% of Pinterest users are searching purely to plan a purchase, the comments on the site tend to be rich in quality and quantity. So more pins means more reviews!

Extra Credit: Looks count! Try to make your Pinterest boards inspirational, instructive, and collaborative. Check out how Wholefoods pulls this off with flying colors. Here are some more brilliant pinterest ideas from real brands.

Instagram Your Brand | With 300 million monthly active users and over 30 billion pictures shared, Instagram is a great place for you to show your products. Here, people are aware of their peers following specific brands or using specific hashtags. While following and hashtagging are not technically reviews, they still offer a strong public endorsement.

Extra Credit: People don’t want to see your products sitting in your store. Show your products out in the world such as at a party, with family, in a park , wherever it makes sense based on the item. See how Michael Kors does an excellent job of this.



Mobile shopping has taken the eCommerce and Retail industry by storm, so with people searching and browsing on their mobile devices more than ever– having a mobile strategy is essential. Here are two basic questions you should know the answer to before this Back To School Season begins:

What’s your Mobile Traffic | More than three-quarters of shoppers own a smartphone. On average, at least 50% of site traffic comes from these mobile shoppers. Find out how much of your traffic comes from mobile so you know how to allocate your resources. Chances are it’s more than you think.

What Are Users Doing on Their Mobile Device | 41% of mobile shoppers plan to use their mobile devices to research products and compare prices – many of them comparing online prices while they are in the physical store. Of the average 43 times shoppers check their phones each day, 71% of them will only browse online but do their actual shopping in the store. This connection between the store and mobile device makes it even more essential for the two to be cohesive.

Knowing these mobile facts will help make sure that you create a mobile strategy that is up to date and ready for back to school . . . and beyond.



Even though most schools start towards the end of August and beginning of September, Marketers have noticed a very strong trend in last minute shopping. Shoppers are no longer looking for the early bird sales, but rather the last minute blow out sales. Here are some statistics surrounding the timing of shoppers and the best times for you to pick up the pace:

When do shoppers pick up the bulk of their supplies?

back to school_when_to_shop
With the last minute shopping on the rise, and predictions of it getting stronger for this season, make sure that you are scheduling your sales and ads for the optimal time.



 The start of school means a variety of supplies need to be purchased, so knowing the facts will help you get to the head of the class. Use these 15 facts for your 2015 Back to School Marketing Plan.

$97.74 | Average spend on supplies like notebooks, pencils, and backpacks

$630 | Average spend for children in K-12

$899 | Average college student or family plans to spend

90% | Amount planning to take advantage of free shipping

96% | Demand of paper, pencils, etc.

91% | Demand in Clothes

85% | Demand in Shoes

73% | Demand in Backpack, book bag, lunch box

#2 | Rank of places to go for supplies: Online

65% | Shoppers are afraid of where their personal data will go online

40% | Prefer to pick up in store for their online purchases

74% | Will comparison shop on their Smartphones while in the store

30% | Said online ads helped find what they needed

46.1% | Said email helped them learn about new products

53% | discovered products and sales through TV, Print, or Radio



In all, back to school is a great time for companies to get to the head of the consumer class and remain there for the year to come. So let’s start the momentum with back to school and keep it there well through the holidays!

Class dismissed.