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9 back-to-school marketing ideas for 2023

The back-to-school season may look a little different for marketers going forward. Here are our top tips to help you adapt for your best back-to-school season ever.

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Life is slowly but surely easing back to normal as the pandemic fades away, and for millions of Americans, that means it’s once again time to pick up everything students need for a successful school year.

As a retailer or e-commerce company with a full stock of back-to-school products, it’s your time to shine.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of selling to families in a post-COVID world, I’m here to put your mind at ease. All it will take is a little creativity and a few tweaks to your messaging and strategies.

Follow these tips to make this back-to-school season your most successful ever.


How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the back-to-school season?

There have been countless ripple effects on students and their families in the wake of the pandemic, but I’ll highlight a few of the most important ones for retailers to keep in mind here:

  • Families are more health-conscious. This is an obvious one, but it’s very important to understand as you prep for the back-to-school season. Families will be focused on keeping their students healthy and COVID-free all year.
  • Financially impacted parents are looking for deals. A lot of the country fell on hard times over the course of the pandemic between the layoffs and firings and missed work due to illness. 
  • Kids may have fallen behind in school due to missed classes or closures. Similar to their parents’ work concerns, kids may be struggling to keep up in their classes if their schools closed or if they missed a lot of time while sick.

These are all crucial details to keep in mind as you design your back-to-school marketing campaign

Emphasize that your products will help keep students safe, organized, and set up for success — and that they won’t cost parents an arm and a leg.

What are the most popular back-to-school products?

Think back to your school days: What were your daily essentials? 

While technology has changed the way kids pack for school these days, the basics haven’t changed much. The most popular back-to-school products include:

  • Backpacks (bonus points if they include laptop sleeves and/or USB slots)
  • Planners
  • Pens, pencils, and highlighters
  • Erasers
  • Notebooks, binders, and folders (don’t forget the tabs)
  • Covers for laptops and tablets

How are people shopping for school post-pandemic?

Every school around the country has adopted one of these three learning models since the start of the pandemic:

  1. In-person classes
  2. Virtual classes
  3. Hybrid approach (a combination of virtual and in-person)

As of Fall 2022, most schools have returned to fully in-person learning, but the approach an individual school takes will still impact the materials your customers shop for this year.

With that in mind, the best strategy is to optimize for the way customers will shop this year.

The numbers suggest that the online shopping boom is leveling out slightly, with 51% of back-to-school shoppers reporting that they intend to divide their shopping between online and in-store in 2022, up from 31% in 2020.

That means you’ll need to diversify your marketing a little (but I’ll get to those strategies shortly).

When should you start promoting back-to-school products?

Although different schools start up at different times, most kick off the school year in August or September. 

That means you’ll want to start marketing your back-to-school products around July. 

Pro tip: Base your start date on factors like the speed of your supply chain and your team’s bandwidth. When in doubt, start planning early. 

How do you market back-to-school products?

Now that you know when to kick off your back-to-school marketing campaign and which products to feature, here are nine tips to give you an advantage over your competitors.

1. Optimize for mobile shopping

47% of parents in America did their 2021-2022 school shopping from a mobile device. 

That’s a lot of valuable traffic, so you’ll want to be sure your site is optimized for those mobile shoppers. That means having responsive themes and text sizes, no cut-off images, and no excess pop-ups.

By the way, if you’re not sure how well your site performs on mobile or you need a starting point, use Google’s tester tool to assess your site’s mobile-friendliness.

2. Start a loyalty program

The back-to-school season may only come around once a year, but remember that it comes around every year.

It’s well worth it to reward parents who shopped with you last year and incentivize them to choose you again. The easiest way to do this is with an attractive loyalty program.

Offer special discounts or free extra products to parents who enroll or send gift cards after a set number or dollar amount of purchases.

3. Send text-exclusive coupons

According to a Deloitte study, collecting coupons or discounts is the most popular use of mobile phones when it comes to retail. Texting has the other added benefit of sending personalized offers to the only inbox with a 98% open rate. 

The data shows that 72% of consumers will only interact with personalized messaging, and texting is the best channel to send offers instantly in a way that ensures your customers will see them.

Hey, Staples text club members! Have the ideal back-to-school shopping spree when you use code SCHOOL20 for $25 off orders over $100.

Take that sense of connection to the next level by letting your text lists know that the offers you send out are exclusively for them. This will make them more likely to engage and make your texting program more desirable.

4. Advertise promotions on banners

The goal of any good marketing strategy is to break through the constant marketing chatter your customers experience and show them something that will make them stop and take action.

If you’re looking to keep your website visitors engaged and browsing, set up a banner on your site with your best back-to-school deals. 

Be sure to include the details of the sale and a call to action (CTA) that encourages them to click through to a page where they can shop.

5. Host giveaways

Giveaways on social media, email, or through text-to-win are all great ways to gain new followers, boost your brand reputation, and generally leave your audience wanting more.

A back-to-school social media giveaway

They’re also a cost-effective marketing strategy to start your back-to-school campaign out on the right foot.

Offer up a popular product in your giveaway and encourage participants to follow you on social media or tune into your texts and emails for future deals and perks.

6. Hold a “last call” sale

None of us are immune to FOMO, and a little urgency can help motivate unsure customers to make a purchase. 

That’s the basic principle behind a “last call” type of sale. 

A last-call flash sale advertisement

A week or so before the end of your big back-to-school marketing push, send out a text or email blast letting customers know that you’re featuring one last big promotion before the school year starts.

Let them know the details of the sale and how long it lasts, and send them a link to your site or encourage them to visit your store. 

7. Work with a local nonprofit

While partnering with local charities is a great way to bring more attention to your business and its back-to-school sales, it’s also a sign to your community that you’re focused on making a positive impact. 

A back-to-school nonprofit event

That can do wonders for your brand reputation and help you stand out from your competition.

Center your efforts on the back-to-school theme by donating some products to a local Boys & Girls Club or YMCA (or any other local nonprofit you like). You can also sponsor those nonprofits’ back-to-school drives or programs and place a few advertisements on-site.

Note: The pandemic has been hard for everyone. Partnering with a local charity lets your community know that you understand people are struggling and want to help share the burden.

8. Get creative with social media

The more you showcase your products through engaging photos and videos, the more likely you are to watch your sales rise. 

Images motivate 25% of viewers to visit a website from social media, and videos influence 16% of viewers to click through. 

Media not only gets results, but it also gives you a chance to show off your products to interested buyers.

Not to mention, the unique climate COVID has created means it’s important that you show how your products can be used to keep kids safe, happy, and motivated throughout the school year.

An example of a social media post with images

9. Reach out to mom bloggers/influencers

Real people showcasing how products work in real life is one of the best ways to reach, you guessed it, real customers. 

Given that you’re trying to reach parents to market your back-to-school products, “mommy bloggers” are an effective way to convince those parents that what you’re selling is worthwhile for their students. 

A mom blogger photo
Source: Flickr

Partner with a blogger for an Instagram giveaway or sponsored posts/videos on your social media platforms to drive sales and awareness toward your brand.

10 back-to-school marketing phrases to kick-start your campaigns

You’re almost ready to run the perfect back-to-school marketing campaign. Now all you need are some eye-catching phrases to help customers check out your products.

  1. No school year is complete without…
  2. Make this school year the best ever with…
  3. What’s left on your back-to-school checklist?
  4. Is your student ready for the school year?
  5. Help your scholar prep for the school year with…
  6. Back-to-school essentials are on sale now!
  7. The school year is just around the corner…
  8. Can you believe the school year is almost here?
  9. Don’t wait until the week before school starts to stock up on supplies!
  10. Get all your school year essentials in one place this year.

The bottom line on back-to-school marketing

The fact is, parents will be drawn to the most convenient and attractive option when it comes to buying school supplies, especially with the extra stress that COVID has caused.

School years may look a little different now, but your ability to adapt to the changing times will make you more valuable (and popular) than ever to your customers.

Meghan Tocci
Meghan Tocci

Meghan Tocci is a content strategist at SimpleTexting. When she’s not writing about SaaS, she’s trying to teach her puppy Lou how to code. So far, not so good.

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