A Few Lessons for Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns

Back-to-school season remains the second largest retail season after only the holiday season. In fact, a recent report from marketing agency PM Digital says that back-to-school spending reached nearly $75 billion last year, a 3% increase over 2013.

Marketers for retailers this year need to pay close attention to the changing landscape of back-to-school shopping. Brands have three main target audiences: K-12 kids, college-bound students, and their parents. The 2015 Back to School report from PM Digital spells out some interesting findings that can help brands meet the needs of a growing target market, shoppers’ changing demands, and the varying ways to reach them with new messages. From increased online spending to social’s growing role, here are some of the more poignant takeaways from that June report:

1. K-12 spending reached $26.5 billion in 2014; compare that to college-bound spending at $48.4 billion.

2. The average per family spent for K-12 students was $669.29; the average per family spent for college students was $916.48.

3. Intent to shop online has increased for all back-to-school shoppers—up 5.5% for K-12 and 9.5% for college students.

4. Some 56 million K through 12 students account for 84% of all students; compare that to 11 million full-time college undergraduates.

5. Two thirds of all back-to-school dollars are spent on college students.

6. The average college student’s online spend was $1,128 per family in 2014. Campus spend is driven in huge part by higher-priced needs, like electronics, dorm furnishings, food, and personal care.

7. The average K-12 student’s online spend per family was $893.54 in 2014.

8. Online back-to-school shopping starts earlier and ends earlier; two thirds reported that they would begin shopping at least three weeks ahead—some as early as two months in advance.

9. K-12 shoppers spend more on apparel and shoes; college-bound shoppers spend more on electronics and computers.

Some key takeaways:

Message early. Back-to-college shopping has already begun; back-to-school for K-12 is just around the corner. Contests, events, and previews are examples of how marketers can pique shoppers’ interests in late spring and early summer.

Think visual. Youthful shoppers are highly visual. Think YouTube shopping hauls—video recordings posted to the Internet that display recently bought items—photo-sharing contests, and mounting pins on Pinterest; all are ways for marketers to standout across platforms.

Think mobile. Mobile growth will continue its dramatic upward trajectory. Mobile share of sales is smaller than in-store or online but has roughly doubled year-over-year.

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