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Proven Back-to-School Marketing Strategies for 2020

Sarah HillelSarah Hillel | August 20, 2020

This year’s back-to-school season is marred with uncertainty. Parents, students, and businesses have to adjust to the difficult and constantly-changing conditions caused by COVID-19.

As the 2020 school year draws nearer, brands and retailers need to remain agile and in tune with their customers to succeed. Here are five back-to-school marketing strategies we’re seeing succeed amid the chaos of this year:

back to school marketing

1. Back-to-School Marketing Should Focus on Virtual Learning

Whether it’s full-on distance learning or a blended system, parents are getting ready for schooling at home. Deloitte’s back-to-school survey for 2020 revealed that 40% of parents expect to buy fewer traditional school supplies, while technology spending is up 28%.

From essentials to the fun stuff, brands have to focus on products that can help parents and students transition to online schooling. If you don’t sell electronics, feature other necessities, such as high-quality desks, tables, and chairs to furnish an at-home “classroom.”

In addition, you can highlight nice-to-have accessories, like wall calendars for staying organized and stationery for taking notes. Students won’t be going out much and are less likely to need new clothes — however, apparel retailers can focus on the impact of “dressing up” even at home as a way to raise students’ spirits and make distance learning more fun. Comfy but cute athleisure is already emerging as a critical category as months of quarantine have made adults and children alike want to wear something other than pajamas at home.

Another great opportunity for apparel brands is offering outfits with a matching mask. For example, Macy’s online back-to-school section features cute face masks for kids, so that when they do go out, they can dress up and stay safe.

2. Create a Visual Inspiration Gallery for Dorms and Homeschooling Spaces

To make at-home-learning easier for everyone from kindergarteners to college students, share ideas for decorating a virtual study space.

NRF’s recent survey found that more than 66% of Gen Z college students find inspiration and research products on social media. Keep that product discovery going by creating shoppable galleries on your website and social media accounts.

A great example of this is Bed Bath & Beyond‘s College from Home campaign. It’s an online shopping experience that provides free tips and curated inspiration for transforming childhood bedrooms into distance learning spaces.

back to school marketing

3. Set Up Your Website for Success

According to Statista, 55% of consumers plan to shop online for their back-to-school products. The pandemic has further stimulated the move from brick-and-mortar stores to eCommerce, meaning you’ll be seeing more traffic to your site than in past seasons — and you need to be ready for it.

Make sure your site is exceeding shopper expectations by answering the following questions:

  • Is your website responsive, supporting customers who choose to buy your products on desktop or mobile?
  • Is the journey from your social pages to your product pages seamless?
  • Can back-to-school shoppers find the products they’re looking for on your website? Ensuring that product discovery is intuitive will be key as more shoppers venture online. Consider new ways to help them find what they’re looking for — for example, enable them to search with an image.
  • Are you offering a range of fulfillment options that are easy to find on your site? Now is the time to offer maximum convenience to your shoppers, including options to buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS), drive-through, and curbside pickup.

4. Empathize, Communicate, and Engage

The one comfort in this difficult period has been a sense of unity — we’re all going through the same thing, and it’s been tough on everyone. The Deloitte survey also revealed that 66% of parents are anxious about sending their kids to school, 76% are concerned about health, and 38% about finances.

Plus, with supply chain disruptions, customers are more willing to try out new retailers and products, according to McKinsey & Co.  — at a time when brand loyalty is at high risk, make sure your customers know and feel that they’re being seen and heard.

Level up your communication channels for more empathetic back-to-school marketing: Add self-service tools like chatbots to ensure you don’t miss customer concerns. Be present in your online community with genuine messages of support, educational content, and more.

Walmart has created a suite of educational offerings both online and in-store to make things a bit easier for their customers. There’s a section where teachers and parents can find everything they need for their classrooms, plus the retail giant also offers virtual learning tools for children, from workbooks to interactive online content. Mattel is providing a similar offering, with free resources for parents such as digital learning posters and online storytime.

back to school marketing strategies

5. Back-to-School Marketing Should Be Agile: Keep Up to Date With Changing Consumer Demands

As the situation persists, shoppers will continue to adjust to new and developing policies. So, brands need to seamlessly adapt and reprioritize strategies.

Your customer data is the key to reacting quickly to changing shopper behavior. For example, if you track search queries on your website, you’ll know which products you need to keep in stock to stop your customers from looking elsewhere. You can also use engagement data from inspirational and educational content to inform what you need to be creating more of.

No one has a clear idea of what back-to-school 2020 is going to be like — but the more you prioritize convenience, empathy, and agility in your back-to-school marketing strategy, the more relevant your brand will be for customers.


Sarah Hillel

Sarah Hillel

Sarah is the Global Events and Marketing Manager at Syte. From conception to evaluation, Sarah is passionate about delivering impactful events that enhance the organization's image and brand to client experience.

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