Back-to-school Marketing For Changing Realities

FROM Irina Kovalenko, CMO, SmartyAds

Anything but typical – that’s how we can describe customer purchasing habits in 2020 and 2021. The lockdown has completely redefined the way people purchase goods, consume content, and make buying decisions. The economic downturn has affected practically every industry including education, which mostly shifted online. During this ‘back-to-school season’ marketers should stick to these changing realities to be able to reconnect with their customers.


With the pandemic leaving a trail of uncertainty and shoppers getting a head start on things for the classroom, how can marketers prepare for back-to-school season in terms of messaging?

Traditional outdoor advertising almost completely lost its relevance in recent years and hence, marketers should refocus and invest ad budgets into digital channels where people spend most of their time, especially CTV and mobile. In addition, it is important to develop new brand-building strategies which foster customer loyalty, engagement and better adjust messaging to customer needs.

Shocking but true: over 70% of customers report that they will only buy from those brands whose messages appeal to their unique needs. Instead of simply addressing shoppers with hot offers, you can add an additional layer of humanity to your ads with marketing that deals with various lockdown back-to-school perspectives:

  • Offer cheaper product alternatives for families that experience financial scrutiny.
  • Add online shopping options if you didn’t have them
  • Introduce products with unique properties, e.g., lunchbox with antimicrobial coverage.
  • Offer discounts on sanitizing products when purchased for the entire class, school, etc.


How do you think social platforms like TikTok will play a role in back-to-school planning?

With social platforms like TikTok marketers can drive engagement and even significantly decrease budgets on branding campaigns. Feature the product used in the video, wait until it gets enough shares, and voila you have free marketing and wild brand recognition. It sounds oversimplified but you’ve got the idea – your customers (TikTok influencers) tell their authentic stories while using your product and then these stories get lots of shares.

TikTok marketing doesn’t have to be difficult, simplicity is the key to success here, remember the story with ‘simple-dimple’ or ‘pop-it’? It’s enough to showcase how using your product can be fun and there’s a high chance that people will want to share these stories or make similar ones for themselves.


With pandemic habits like online shopping on the rise again due to the recent COVID surges, how are marketers altering their media strategies for online presence?

While brands are currently looking to find the right tone to correctly address their customers during the lockdown the ad budgets are seeing the massive redistribution. Traveling, dining out,

attending music festivals, international trade fairs, and sports events all these activities are still under restriction in many countries, naturally, the demand across the verticals dropped.

Many brands limited their marketing and advertising budgets at first, however, later it turned out that lockdown also caused a surge in online content consumption, especially when we talk about watching video content on mobile and CTV gadgets. As a result, many marketers and advertisers simply redistributed these ad budgets in favor of these channels.

Many brands for the first time embraced influencer marketing on social media like TikTok. This is a rewarding approach indeed. Additionally, if you have that effective influencer content from social media, you can always repurpose it and turn it into the programmatic ad creative that will reach thousands or millions more like-minded targeted audiences.


How does messaging differ when targeting different audience segments for back-to-school campaigns. (i.e. parents, students, higher education students, teachers)?

Before targeting different audience segments marketers should identify what appeals specifically to the needs of each taken segment (parent/student/teacher) – what are their main pain points? How product or service will help to solve them?

Additionally, messaging to each segment requires unique advertising appeal: informational and emotional. Thus, It requires developing separate creative strategies. For instance, safety is a fundamental value that you need to broadcast in your messages while appealing to parents and teachers. Show that your product is safe and can be trusted. The school students are more concerned about the entertaining or ‘cool’ components of the product you offer, while higher education students will also resonate well with self-development and achievement appeal.

Tools for messaging also play an important role. Unlike other generations, Gen Z consumes the most part of digital content on social media, so this might be the perfect medium for messaging to them. Millennials are most active on mobile devices and PCs (during working hours). While advertising on Smart TV (CTV) you can appeal to the entire family as people usually watch TV surrounded by friends and family members.


Wrapping it up

For successful advertising during this back-to-school season marketers should remember that the needs of customers, as well as their lifestyles, have significantly changed since the lockdown. Old school advertising approaches are losing their relevance and gradually getting replaced by meaningful and personalized user experiences. This back-to-school season is an opportunity for marketers to realign customer’s interaction with their brands by crafting unique advertising approaches and exploring channels that their customers love most.