How Pandemic Habits Affect Back-to-school Marketing

From Elisabeth Castera, Marketing and Public Relations Consultant, Babette Communications and 2021-2022 AD Club Fellow


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?

When it comes down to messaging, specifically during times of uncertainty –– empathy and clear communication are key.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, for many consumers, back-to-school shopping will be done online. And for many brands, leveraging their digital channels will be the means of communicating, whether that be newsletters, display advertising, social media, or video marketing.

Whichever channel marketers decide to use, messaging must align with the goal of the marketing campaign. Are you pushing a specific type of apparel? School supplies? A back-to-school discount or sale?

Another useful tactic to consider when creating your messaging is to research keywords and key messages that resonate with your audience. What matters most to shoppers at this time? What problems are you solving for parents, teachers, and students? How are you simplifying the shopping experience?

When you put yourselves in the shoes of a parent who’s sending their child back to school during recent COVID surges, you can only imagine the amount of ambiguity they must feel. Some parents have decided on homeschooling, while others prefer a hybrid model. Your average consumer from 2019, is no longer the same consumer. There’s no one size fits all approach to messaging during times of uncertainty. But what should be apparent is the voice in your messaging. A voice that offers reassurance, credibility, and confidence in your service or product.

Many students are excited to be back in the classroom with their peers and parents can sense that. While we still face many challenges, messaging should remain positive and welcoming.

Marketers should also consider running special back-to-school discounts. Let’s face it, the last year or so has been difficult. Parents, children, and teachers went through the hurdles of remote learning, a new experience for so many. Consumers are looking for an empathetic approach to shopping. They want to know you care. They want to know you understand. So be sure to convey that in your messaging.


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

With over half of Gen Z consumers now on Tik Tok, it’s no wonder why brands targeting this demographic are jumping on the video-sharing platform.

As the consumer landscape constantly evolves, brands need to stay on top of the latest conversations. And Tik Tok is all about trends. From recipes to viral dancing videos, Tik Tok’s back-to-school planning will influence consumer buying decisions.

We’re already seeing tons of videos with topics on back-to-school hairstyles, dorm room decor, best backpacks, back-to-school tips for teachers, bento box lunch ideas, Tik Tok inspired outfits, and the list goes on.

Influencers and celebrities are also making a huge impact on consumer purchasing. All it takes is one influencer or celebrity like Rihanna or Kourtney Kardashian wearing their favorite pair of Gap sweatpants and poof – those sweatpants are on the shopping list of almost every middle schooler.

Our suggestion for brands that have just started marketing on Tik Tok is to stay niche-focused. Like every other platform, you have to understand your audience. Don’t imitate what the next brand is doing just because their video went viral. Tik Tok is all about community and having fun. Target your specific niche and find your creative style.


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?

Digital marketing is on the rise and businesses must find ways to connect with their audiences via online channels. There’s a focus on e-commerce marketing – user experience, usability, and mobile-friendliness. Marketers are also leveraging the shopping tools that social platforms have to offer. For instance, Pinterest has Pinterest Shops, there’s Shop Module on Twitter, Instagram Reels and Stories that allow you to link to your site, and IG Shops. Collaboration with influencers is also on the rise with many brands. It’s about being active and creating value.

Altering your media strategy means understanding the customer journey. How do your customers typically find your business? Which social platforms do they use most? How can they find your website or landing page?

Once you can answer these questions, you are better equipped to optimize your website, focus on SEO, and on social platforms that will increase brand awareness and create relationships with your audience.


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

When targeting different audience segments for back-to-school campaigns the key is to understand that demographic. As mentioned earlier, there is no one size fits all approach to messaging. Parents, teachers, and students each come with their own sets of beliefs, pain points, wants, and needs.

The first step to market segmentation is to conduct market research. Surveys, focus groups, and polls are reliable tools for understanding your audience on a deeper level. This will enable you to create stronger messages.