5 Tips to Test In Back-to-School Promotions

15 May

You may think that your products and services, or those of your client, are not at all related to the back-to-school (BTS) marketing push that hits every summer. For example, if your client is a chain of boutique hotels in major U.S. cities, then BTS does not target your client’s demographic, right?
It may be time to think again, with companies like Marriott Hotels offering BTS discount packages for parents—e.g., “Enjoy Your Back to School Shopping with Marriott.”

As BTS affects millions of households with children ages 6 through 18, you may want to reconsider your potential share of the BTS mind-set. “People think that they don’t have a product or service that lends itself to a back-to-school initiative—and I would say look again at that,” advises Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse, a direct marketing firm based in San Francisco. “If you think about all the different ways that parents or kids may interact with your product or service, there may be some play there.”

1. Start Planning Now
BTS joins an ever-expanding list of consumer-driven holidays in the U.S. A study released by AOL’s digital advertising business, Platform-A, in July 2008 advises marketers, “With the majority of back-to-school purchases overall taking place in August, retailers can start to accelerate spending and increase store traffic earlier in the summer by highlighting promotional specials during mid-summer, similar to the way Black Friday and Cyber Monday accelerate holiday shopping spend.”

The season runs from after the Fourth of July through September and depending on the offer, can run as far as October, says Josh Weil, partner and co-founder of Youth Trends, a marketing services and research company in Ramsey, N.J. To compete in the flutter of offers, which flood mail and e-mail inboxes in late summer, it’s wise to start preparing for the 2009 season now. “I think certainly the more time you have, the more you can really build out and develop programs,” advises Brandon Evans, managing partner of Mr. Youth, a New York–based integrated marketing firm. He says that most of his clients begin planning promotions in March prior to BTS.

2. Use Value-Driven Offers
In this year’s down economy, with trips to the mall limited by high gasoline costs, marketers agree that value is going to be the No. 1 feature in BTS promotions. “Parents are looking for a bargain. And in many cases money can be tight, so showing that it’s a good value is important,” Evans stresses. He adds that coupons for percentage discounts and dollars off should be geared more toward parents—as kids, and especially males, do not tend to clip coupons or pay attention to channels in which they appear. Popick also shares the idea of retailers giving gas cards to preferred customers as a reward for their in-store spends.

3. Integrate Online Promotions
While Platform-A’s study found that most purchases still occur in-store, the study also reports that 83 percent of all BTS consumers are somewhat likely to seek information on promotions they see online. If you are targeting the students themselves, then you especially need to integrate online into your campaign. Weil says the youth market, especially on the older side, is online now more than it is watching television. “If you’re going after this demographic, that’s where they live right now. They’re not sitting there watching TV commercials or reading magazines,” Evans agrees. The ability to target closely, measure ROI and use online communities to create authentic word-of-mouth messaging are all pluses for online BTS promotions, Evans says.

4. Consider an Initial Test
In a down year, where only the big brands will be marketing with the same frequency as years past, 2009 might be a good time to test into BTS. “In this market where the overall ad spend against the market is going to be down anyway, there’s less clutter out there to compete with, so why wouldn’t you want to test?” Weil asks. However, Evans plays devil’s advocate and warns that if you don’t traditionally pull a lot of sales around the back-to-school season, you may spend more just to compete against more products and messaging than you really need to. Evans suggests that those companies who don’t normally do a majority of sales during BTS may want to consider another time like spring to gain more mindshare.

5. Mine the Experts for Ideas
When you plan a BTS promotion, look to leading companies who are striking a good balance between what Popick calls the “coolness factor” and value. “Kids have the latest and greatest, but they got to have it at a price they can afford,” she says. Check out Staples, which has integrated cause marketing into its BTS campaign. “Staples customers can get involved by adding extra school supplies to their shopping carts, and those school supplies go to kids who are in need,” Popick shares. Dell also has an online campaign that not only shows an outfitted dorm room, but has an “upgrade your parents” button for students to select, which Popick finds really clever. Target, Apple, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney are some other leaders to mine for ideas to start your own campaign.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, October 2008)


One Response to “5 Tips to Test In Back-to-School Promotions”

  1. hotel norwich 05.15.09 at 6:58 pm #

    Yeah, These five tips are really useful. Thanks a lot.

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