10 Tips for Making the Most of Your Back-to-School Ad Spend

The back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holidays for dollars spent at retailers across the nation. So how can you stand out from other brands in the hectic run-up to the school year? Get more from your advertising dollars by understanding how parents search for and stock up on school supplies, dorm furnishings and other gear for their students.

After all, the market is huge. Parents will dole out more than $43 billion in 2015 on back-to-school supplies for college students, according to the National Retail Federation. Surveys show back-to-school spending for college ranges from $899 per student (NRF) to more than $1,100 per student (Rubicon Project). And a Deloitte survey found families plan to spend upwards of $1,313 in 2015, including textbooks and other school supplies.

“Tots and teens may require more supplies to start a school year, but it’s the college shoppers that bring in the most business for retailers,” the NRF says, with perhaps not surprisingly the most money spent in the student’s first year. A freshman college student will spend on average $986.

Most of the dollars spent will come from parents’ wallets, making parents a top target for your marketing. Just a quarter of college students pay their own way while back-to-school shopping, according to the Rubicon Project.

And parents are planning to spend more than they did in 2014 thanks to an improving economy and the growing use of tech in the classroom.

So what are they buying?

Electronics and laptops, tablets and smartphones make up the biggest piece of the spending pie. Laptops are the most popular tech purchase for college parents, according to the Rubicon Project survey, followed by tablets.

Next in line: clothing and accessories, and then dorm or apartment furnishings. In fact nearly a third of college students will live in a dorm room or college housing this year, and the average college family will spend an NRF survey-high $126 on dorm or apartment furnishings.

Here are 10 tips for making the most of back-to-school shopping trends:

  1. Invest in online advertising – Many parents say they spend more time online than watching TV, according to the Rubicon Project. The good news: Multiple surveys show that online advertising has a significant impact on purchasing decisions. Half of parents with college students surveyed had clicked on an online ad in the past seven days; about 40% said they purchased based on an online ad they clicked in the past week. An AdWeek report said that a third of survey respondents found what they needed for school because of an online ad. And 46% found new products in marketing and promotional emails.
  2. Craft a mobile ad strategyAccording to Google, the number of people searching for back-to-school terms on a smartphone or other mobile device has grown from 40% in 2014 to 50% this year. And 1 in 10 parents of college students make purchases on a mobile device daily; about 2 in 5 parents surveyed said they made a purchase in the past week after clicking on a mobile ad, according to the Rubicon Project. The NRF reports that a third of back-to-school shoppers plan to complete purchases on mobile devices, and 35% plan to buy products with their tablets.
  3. Make the shopping experience seamless no matter the channel – Given the rise of parents using their smartphones and tablets to buy, it’s more critical than ever that you make it easy for them to search for products and buy no matter the device. Consumers these days expect to be able to search for a product on their laptops and then purchase on a phone.
  4. But don’t count out print – About half of those surveyed in the AdWeek report are still looking at and influenced by print ads.
  5. Ensure customers can find what they need to make an informed decision – Price matters to shoppers. About 40% in the NRF survey plan to use a smartphone to research products and compare prices. And it’s not uncommon for them to do so while standing in a brick-and-mortar store.
  6. Recognize that reputation matters – It’s not all about price. It’s also about your rep. The Deloitte survey found that parents are looking to online blogs and reviews, as well as the college and university itself, for direction in what to purchase and from whom. Friends and family members are also an important resource for parents when looking for shopping advice.
  7. Integrate social media – Social media is a powerful platform for brands looking to grab the attention of both students and parents. Nearly two-thirds, according to AdWeek, say they will be influenced by social media when shopping for back-to-school. Even more important: Most of those say they’ve actually purchased something they saw on social media. Facebook was most frequently cited by shoppers, followed by Pinterest.
  8. Make discounts a part of your plan – 61% say store sales and promos are top determinant of when and where they shop, Rubicon says. And, per the NRF, coupons have the biggest impact on purchases for dining out, clothing and electronics.
  9. Use video – A quarter of college parents watch multiple online videos daily, according to Rubicon.
  10. Think regionally – Remember that college schedules vary across the country. A national campaign may be effective, but you may also want to target specific schools with different offers at different times.

Give Ryan at UniversityParent (ryan@universityparent.com) a call today at 866-721-1357 to learn more about how we can help you reach the college parent market.


Top 10 trends for back-to-school and college 2015 Infographic by the National Retail Federation

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