Mobile Commerce Daily is now Retail Dive: Mobile Commerce! Click here to learn more!

Three-course meal of the back-to-school season

By Matt Kates

As the school year drags into its final stretches, marketers already have their back to school campaigns in the works. Back to school ranks as the second-largest shopping season of the year, with spending continuing to rise over the last three years. This gives marketers the prime opportunity to delight fans with timely deals and share brand offerings.

Though the core back-to-school season is typically three to four weeks before school starts, there are two additional phases to consider: the Appetizer Season one to two weeks prior, and Dessert time, after kids are officially back on the bus.

Back to school provides a plethora of marketing options, but we can simplify it by approaching the shopping season like a three-course meal designed to feed consumers with a little brand love at every phase.

Pre-season | Appetizers
Throughout the shopping season, marketers will encounter consumers with specific preferences and behavior.

Pre-season shoppers are those who head into stores early, looking to avoid the lines, while budgeting their spending over a period of time.

To beat the rush, 23 percent of moms begin researching back-to-school purchases before July 4, but do not actually do their spending until early to mid-August. This is a great time to inspire them with ideas, especially for brands who lend themselves to visual platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram.

A great way for retail brands to leverage customer creativity and boost brand recognition is to engage fans on Pinterest.

To boost awareness for season offerings, retailers can encourage audiences to create a custom Pinterest board depicting their dream back-to-school style, using styles from their catalog for a chance to win a new wardrobe.

Doing so incentivizes consumers to spend time looking through online items and then advocate only those fashions online.

Converting these early planners into advocates spreads the love of fashion aligned with specific brands as others head into the main shopping season.

Main season: Main entree
In the four weeks before the bell rings, the back-to-school shopping season is in full swing, and consumers are hungry for purchasing things that truly represent their needs and expressing their style.

But market saturation and heavy competition for brand attention is the challenge in this season.

Retailers can host a “Try On” event, offering customers cash prizes to incentive visiting the dressing room.

In dressing rooms, brands can place a call to action inviting shoppers to text a set number for a chance to win and share their photos socially using a branded hashtag.

Brands can then reward participants with a coupon for $15 off their next purchase.

Such an initiative strategically gets shoppers in the dressing room to try on products as the main course with a side of sharing their favorite fashions with friends over social media.

Post-season desserts
By now, parents have spent all summer planning and shopping for their children.

Once class is officially in session, parents can finally get some of their coveted me-time back. Brands should shift their attention to rewarding and engaging Mom and Dad and look to build a long-term relationship.

This does not have to be an over-the-top execution or a full-blown rewards program.

For example, a local fitness center acknowledged the start of the season – of which we are sure every parent has a private countdown calendar – messaging parents directly with a chance to treat themselves with a series of classes now that they have more time to focus on working out.

NO MATTER WHICH course of the back-to-school meal you choose to put the most focus on, marketers should take time to plan out campaigns months in advance, ensuring initiatives not only resonate with consumers, but align with overarching goals.

Whether planning appetizers, the main course or desserts for mom and dad, brands can use these tactics to build detailed shopper profiles that hone further messaging and establish stronger connections to their guests.

Matt Kates is vice president of strategy and insights at HelloWorld, Southfield, MI. Reach him at