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back to school 2024

How to Target Back-to-School Shoppers

By Melissa Tatoris, VP Retail Solutions. This year’s back-to-school 2024 is all about (insert drumroll here) … big budgets. 55% of shoppers plan to spend more than $800 on school supplies, clothing, and electronics. And while most plan to shop in August and September, for some, the back-to-school season starts now.

We recently surveyed 1,477 U.S. adults about how much they plan to spend, what they’re buying, and where they’ll shop. See the full findings from that survey.

We then matched the survey audience to our proprietary ƵAPP Data Cloud to learn more about their demographics, psychographics, household information, reachability, content consumption, and more. This level of insight can help retailers understand this year’s back-to-school shoppers to create more successful campaigns.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into tangible suggestions for winning back-to-school in 2024.

Tips for Effectively Targeting Back-to-School Shoppers

Consumers tell retailers everything. But the retailer must listen to “digital exhaust” and use that data to deliver a very personalized and relevant experience. At the end of the day, the top tips for back-to-school marketing ring true for all campaigns: Know your audience, segment appropriately, test your creative, and provide deals, offers, and recommendations that appeal directly to your shoppers.

But this isn’t enough to win anymore. Here are a few more specific and innovative things to keep in mind this year.

Prioritize traditional channels like email

Email is — and will continue to be — a highly viable marketing channel. But run-of-the-mill campaigns won’t be enough.

Every responding group from the survey is planning to buy school supplies, especially at big box stores. Let these items shine in your promotions, but don’t stop there. Consumers expect you to personalize based on your knowledge of the age group or the student. Don’t waste the costly marketing space showcasing goods that are irrelevant to that age group, like crayons for high schoolers. Focus on emails with products (at all price-points) that appeal to them, with messaging and designs that align to their values and preferences.

You can also use Gen AI and dynamic content to craft compelling campaigns and messaging that will resonate with your audience. For instance, use language in subject lines that feel custom-made for recipients and their stage in life. Instead of “Back-to-School Made Easy – Get Supplies, Electronics, and Clothes in One Place!”, you might try “High School Ready: Top Picks for Supplies, Electronics, and Fashion!”

P.S. If your email isn’t delivering for you, ƵAPP has the top-rated ESP, as well as the data to ensure the level of personalization necessary.

Look to emerging channels like connected TV

TV isn’t just about static ads anymore; people can now shop within the TV environment. This becomes an important channel not just for brand awareness, but for conversion.

Back-to-school is the ideal time to add new acquisitions to the top of the funnel to help you maximize the upcoming holiday season. But many retailers don’t understand how to approach connected TV as a sales channel. Here’s an example: Elementary-aged kids watch the remake of Full House from the 80s, the new Fuller House, and a lot of high school and college-age kids are binging Suits and Friends.

For both groups, you could create an image with a QR code that redirects to a microsite of your product directly relational to the age group. In knowing who, exactly, is watching these shows, you can create messaging and an opportunity to go directly to products that appeal to them.

The reason we’re mentioning CTV for back-to-school comes from our survey results. When cross-referenced with ƵAPP Data, we found that our respondents are heavy CTV users, making it the best emerging channel to focus on this year.

Prioritize channels with reach

The famous quote from retailer John Wanamaker quips that 50% of marketing dollars are wasted, we just don’t know exactly which 50%. Effective marketing isn’t just about finding consumers where they are, it’s about reaching them where they are most likely to engage.

Our survey audience was 100% reachable with programmatic, 90% accessible on connected TV, 88% through direct mail, and 80% on social media. But you’ll need to assess your own channels to determine which has the most potential for reach — and thus, sales outcomes. Simply put, don’t spend money in channels that don’t reach your audience.

If you don’t have a large enough database of previous, current, and prospective customers, consider augmenting with custom audiences from ƵAPP, including Back to School, Parenting, Education Type, and Education Level. These audiences allow you to target the right individuals and maximize the effectiveness of your campaigns with proven reachability.

Use the right messaging and creative

As always, your promotions have to land. That isn’t just the products you feature, but the words and images you choose. Based on our proprietary psychographics, those in our survey tended to be:

  • Family-oriented
  • Young
  • Outdoorsy
  • Trendy
  • Technical
  • Daring
  • Confident
  • Wholesome
  • Reliable
  • Contemporary
  • Successful
  • Dog Owner

The audience also skewed primarily female, between 35-55 years old, and with a $75,000-$199,000 household income. Nearly half of the survey respondents were “Black,” “Asian,” or “Hispanic or Latino.” This covers a wide range of personas and generations; your messaging and creative elements need to appeal to them all.

Also consider that family structures and roles in the U.S. are constantly changing, with more blended families, dual-income families, and varying roles and responsibilities. This further demonstrates the need to create dynamic content programs to appeal to who your customers are, as individuals, not as personas.

Generic, broad-stroke marketing campaigns that target one type of mom won’t win this back-to-school.

Make This Your Best Back-to-School Season Yet

Winning back-to-school — just like every retail season — requires a deep understanding of your customers and prospects. But it’s not just personas and generations, it’s demographics, transaction behaviors, shopping preferences, and budget constraints.

BTS is the rev-up to holiday, so the more you can engage your retained customer base and acquire new-to-brand buyers now, the healthier your holiday season will be. We know that only shop a brand one time and then move on. With a highly focused strategy, you’ll be setting your brand up for strong Q4 tailwinds.

Plus, with it being an election year, a lot of digital ad space is being bought up from political teams, forcing costs to rise and adding an uptick in CPA. New acquisitions now will help you in the future, but you’ll need a top-rated DSP to find and activate those new buyers.

By leveraging the insights from our back-to-school survey, plus the insights gleaned from our Data Cloud, you’ll have a leg up against the competition. Contact us to learn more about how the ƵAPP Marketing Platform takes the guesswork out of campaign success for retailers.

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