Direct Mail Products

5 Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for Top Results

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of May 2022.

Back-to-school marketing is traditionally a big driver of retail school supply sales, second only to the holiday season. Start planning now for how to approach consumers in the months ahead.

Why focus on back-to-school marketing now?

  • The National Retail Federation says that combined K-12 and college spending for the current school year is a record $108.1 billion
  • According to a 2022 survey by Quantum Metric, 76% of consumers are beginning back-to-school shopping earlier due to concerns about supply chain issues and rising prices
  • Shoppers increasingly prefer the convenience of online purchases instead of store-to-store comparison shopping

Your back-to-school advertising should reflect the shift to digital channels. Regardless of where in-school learning will stand this upcoming school year, it’s important to take advantage of these long-term changes.

4 Points to Consider in Your Back-to-School Marketing Strategy

1. Target consumers

Geographic segmentation is usually a good practice. But now, changes in the definition of “students” makes demographic segmentation important in your back-to-school marketing as well. Students’ ages range all over the spectrum, as well as how they school and where (online, in person or a mixture). Different ages buy differently, so it’s crucial to take more thought with campaign segmentation.

2. Set your budget well ahead of time

Especially for your direct channels (direct mail, email), planning now helps determine your ROI.

3. Prioritize your resources

What are you willing to do? Do you make major changes to your site or app just for back-to-school? Do you focus on helpful content for the consumer and where they are now? Do you spend on PPC campaigns?

4. Review competitive research

What others are doing in your market space may shape your creative, price and pain points, targeting, and so much more.

5 Marketing Ideas for Back-to-School

As the second biggest shopping season each year, back-to-school marketing is very competitive. For the 2022-2023 school year, online commerce is more dominant than ever, and consumer preferences continue to evolve.

Here are some ideas to help your back-to-school marketing stand out.

Back-to-School Marketing Idea 1: Direct Mail

Direct mail has been the channel of choice for reaching broad audiences with back-to-school marketing efforts. Proven, winning tactics include:

  • Coupons
  • Sales
  • Friends and Family Discounts

Mail is well-suited for the extended back-to-school shopping season. Depending on the state, it can begin as early as July 4th and finish up well into late September or October. A direct mail piece – like a folded self-mailer, or co-op insert – can be mailed at the beginning of summer and stick around for months before being used.

Direct mail and digital channels can support each other by presenting a unified brand voice as well as meeting customers where they are with messaging and offers tailored for each method.

Up Your Marketing Game
Coupons and sales are a sure win for direct mail, but you can up your marketing game for back-to-school campaigns with a small addition or two. For example, if your campaign includes envelope mailers, using the five-component direct mail letter allows you to add a tear-off business card and full-color newsletter. This acts as a “two-fer”. You advertise your products and you advertise your business in style.

Back-to-School Marketing Idea 2: Sponsored Ads

Many brands sell goods or services online that fit a back-to-school theme. So sponsor ads for them wherever it makes sense – on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, or Instagram.

You’ll need:

  • Back-to-school imagery
  • Engaging copy
  • High-performing back-to-school keywords

The key is to grab the attention of the main influencer, i.e., the student, with your ad and the offer.

How direct mail can help: Let’s say an ad for a specific product, such as a tablet, appears in online shopping results. If the shopper goes to the product page for the corresponding ad, but decides not to purchase, don’t abandon them – retarget them. A direct mail postcard featuring their item, maybe with a more tempting offer, can be printed and mailed quickly. If they’re still early in the sales funnel, the postcard may prompt a purchase.

Back-to-School Marketing Idea 3: Local Search

Put yourself in the shoes of your back-to-school prospects. They want that new laptop, soccer ball, haircut, or dry-cleaned suit NOW, not tomorrow. Local SEO helps them find local or regional businesses that can meet their immediate wants and needs.

Searches with local intent appear higher in results and generate more value for businesses.

Some ideas:

  • Basketball shoes near me
  • Pediatric dentist in Phoenix
  • Nearby kids hair salon

Also, if your local business has a free Google My Business profile, it can increase your relevance in search results over organic and paid results.

How direct mail can help: Share your profile’s URL on all of your direct mail pieces, or even better, use a QR code to bring customers there quickly.

Up Your Marketing Game
“Content is King”, as they say in marketing, and helpful content beats the competition hands down. Informative, related content helps families quickly finish up their back-to-school shopping while increasing local search.

For example, the local Foot Locker, in the midst of sharing their favorite sales, could also share how the local Kohl’s has backpacks on sale for 50% off. How can you take this idea and up your digital and direct mail marketing?

Back-to-School Marketing Idea 4: Social Media

Your customers follow their favorite brands on their social channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So it makes sense to be there with your back-to-school offers when they are.

Marketing activities to consider include:

  • Announcing your back-to-school promotions
  • Providing a coupon, promotion code, or link to your site, BTS landing page, or app
  • Post reviews, ratings, and recommendations from other shoppers
  • Launching videos or live stream events

How direct mail can help: Your social media sites can announce when your back-to-school campaigns drop in the mail. And because you put your social links on your mail – right? – you’ll help build their loyalty to your brand.

Back-to-School Marketing Idea 5: Email Marketing

This one is a no-brainer. You already know – or should know – how effective your email lists are. And while a blast to your audience may work, segmenting it may produce better ROI.

As with direct mail, all of that audience and buying data you have should guide your decisions about what products or services to promote for back-to-school season.

Think about how to engage customers with:

  • Subject lines and preheaders that mention back-to-school
  • BTS promotions targeting past buyers
  • Informative and helpful content that provides value
  • Deadlines or quick sales that scream urgency

How direct mail can help: Direct mail and email make each other better in many ways.

Here are some examples:

  • Assuming you have physical addresses, you can mail to your email customers.
  • Use direct mail as part of a drip campaign over several weeks – perfect for back-to-school.
  • Re-engage cart abandoners brought to your site by an email and make the sale.

Up Your Marketing Game

Whether email or direct mail, adding personalization and segmentation are excellent ways to up your marketing game and your sales. Segments include:

  • Marketing to parents and grandparents
  • People starting college
  • Undergraduates
  • Classroom teachers

Each one will need a separate approach and, while this may take a little more time, will up the potential of back-to-school sales for each target market.

Wrapping it up

In-person learning for millions of children, teachers, staff, and parents has changed the face of schooling. Figuring it all out – the rules, schedules, and expectations – presents challenges for buyers and marketers alike. However, marketers have opportunities to make a positive, helpful impact like never before.

These back-to-school marketing ideas can support your goals and help them succeed. And they work better as part of coordinated or even integrated omnichannel campaigns. The key is to reach your customers at the right time with the right offer.

At, we work with marketers of all kinds to bring their direct mail campaigns to life. Contact our team to talk about how we can work together on your back-to-school marketing campaign!

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