2021 Back-to-School Marketing Ideas for A+ Results

After a year of virtual learning, kids are hitting the books in person again. Their moms and dads feel excited, relieved, and nervous — just like they do every other year but more so.

It’s not just K-12 that’s resuming face-to-face classes, either. College students are also returning to campus after learning online.

We’re almost back to normal, right?

Not quite.

Even with in-person classes kicking off, the world still looks a lot different than it did when we went back to school in 2019.

Shopping could look a lot different this year, too. More parents feel at ease with buying supplies online. E-commerce is still growing. And the economy is booming again. Kids are masked. Adults are vaxxed (or should be). And everyone is concerned about the COVID variants.

Parents and kids are still buying products, however.

In an environment like this, what does it take to win at digital marketing?

Let’s unmask A+ marketing for the back-to-school crowd.

Back-to-School Shopping in 2021

Back-to-school buying is the second highest volume shopping season of the year after the winter holidays. In 2021, experts project $828 billion in sales during the back-to-school months, which stretch from mid-July to mid-September.

Despite the impressive total income number, today’s parents are pinching their pennies following more than a year of financial and employment uncertainty. One survey revealed that 62% of parents say they expect to pay less for products this year than they did last year. Keep in mind, that’s with inflation near the top of everyone’s mind.

Consequently, coupons and price points are your keys to sales right now.

What Kids and Parents Want for School This Year

In July, retailers start seeing footwear walk out of their stores followed by clothes and accessories. Kids’ preferences tend to drive sales of these products.

When early August rolls around, families begin stocking up on traditional classroom items such as notebooks, pens, and binders. This year, that list will no doubt include masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, too.

Later, buyers start looking at food and snacks since grazing throughout the day may work in the summer but not during school.

None of that will change.

What may change, however, is where people buy these products.

Where Are People Doing Their Back-to-School Buying?

Chicken Little got it wrong. The sky did not fall on traditional retail. Parents and students are still showing up at Target, Wal-Mart, and other brick-and-mortar stores. At the same time, online shopping is clearly here to stay.

Candidly? It doesn’t matter where people pay for their products. The path to every purchase runs through the digital landscape.

People see merchandise advertised on TV, online, or in store windows. They research the product on the internet, often using a mobile phone to read up on the item while they stand in the store’s aisle. Some are even showrooming, a practice where people look at products in stores and then buy them at home online.

What products are consumers buying this year?

What Back-to-School Products Are Hot in 2021?

Pull the data on what you sold this time last year. It’s not going to change drastically. Kids still need school supplies. No variant spike changes that fact.

K-12 shoppers will be gathering their backpacks, pencils, phone cases, beanies, and stickers. The college crowd will hunt for cool posters, towels, bed linens, and athleisure wear. And teachers? They’ll want water bottles, totes, mugs, and coffee — lots and lots of coffee.

How will you sell it all to them?

You’ll market it like your hair’s on fire.

5 Ideas for your ‘Back to School Marketing Campaign

  1. Produce content at high volume. Whether it’s paid, social, or organic, tested-and-proven content gets results — every time.
  2. Involve kids in a compelling way. Target lets kids write, direct, and act in their back-to-school commercials. You may not go that far, but at least ask kids or teens what they think of your content.
  3. Hone in on social media. Moms love Pinterest and Facebook. Your brand needs to be there.
  4. Experiment with influencer marketing. Parents often buy the product an influential mom or dad suggests to them. Kids follow much the same behavior pattern.
  5. Follow your data. Go wherever your data points you. Facts never lead you wrong.