Five Ways to Take Advantage of the Extended Back-to-School Season

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by Tim McMullen

It’s that time of year again. Backpacks are filled with supplies. Clothes are tried on for size. Pencils are sharpened. School is in session. And retailers have scrambled to get onto back-to-school shopping lists to claim their portion of the billions spent annually during this season.

Back-to-school shopping reached a whopping $72.5 billion in 2013, making it the second largest spending season of the year, surpassed only by the winter holidays.

Even though school just started, don’t take down those back-to-school signs just yet! Today’s youth, Generation Z, has defined new parameters for the back-to-school season, stretching it weeks past its traditional stopping point as they scope out top styles before making their purchases. So… there’s still work to be done.

You have some extra time, but how do you take advantage of it? Here are five ways to secure your spot on Mom’s back-to-school list.

1. Focus on the students

While parents hold the purse strings, and make the ultimate purchase decisions, the “Pester Power” of Gen Z cannot be ignored.

Persistence is the top tactic Gen Z uses when attempting to convince parents to buy them something, according to a recent survey we conducted of 1,000 parents of 8-14-year-olds. Over 60% of parents admitted that their children continued to ask for items well past the initial “no.”

All of thiat begging works. In fact one-third of parents admit that their children “are extremely influential” on household purchases large and small. It is so influential that the persistence of Gen Z influences $150 billion in annual spending (POPAI: “Tweens ‘R Shoppers: A Look at the Tween Market & Shopping Behavior.”)

2. Use the right media

Children age 8-14 are very visual and consume large amounts of video content, spending well over half of their free time watching TV, playing video games, or spending their time online. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that YouTube is the social medium they are most active on, more so than Facebook or Instagram.

It may make sense for your brand to invest heavily in a Facebook campaign. But think twice and keep in mind the audience you are trying to engage. Some teens are leaving Facebook because it’s lost its “coolness.” Also, those under 13 are not of the legal age to be on Facebook.

You aren’t likely to reach the entire tween segment through a single platform. Tailor your approach across multiple channels to reach older and younger members of Gen Z.

3. Get them talking—by using the right message

With cell phones constantly buzzing, Gen Z lives in a world of distraction. Brand messages are received in a diluted form because of the sheer number of channels begging for attention in an already cluttered marketplace.

As every marketer knows, word-of-mouth has more breakthrough impact and more staying power than traditional advertising ever has or ever will, especially in the case of Gen Z, a demographic influenced most by their peers: 64.45% of tweens learn about new tech and fashion trends directly from their friends. They are word-of-mouth machines, and they possess multiple channels to broadcast their opinions.

These teens and tweens don’t react to special offers and celebrity endorsements the way that most adults do, preferring instead the lure of experiences. Brands therefore have an incredible opportunity to connect with tweens on an authentic level, opening the door to the marketing promised land of word-of-mouth buzz.

Taking advantage of Gen Z’s visual nature, brands should share video and Web content that engages them but also speaks to their parents. Take a look at animated movies released in the past years. Most of the jokes are for kids, but they also incorporate a higher level of humor specifically aimed toward adults. Such films are the perfect example of products for kids that adults can enjoy as well.

Get your brand into the conversation in a meaningful way. Gen Z (and their parents) will keep talking about you.

4. Explore new shopping seasons

The back-to-school season is increasing in length each year, but it can be broken down into logical segments, relevant to what students and parents are thinking about at each stage.

Expensive items such as electronics tend to be purchased early. Essential items such as pencils and notebooks tend to be purchased closer to the first day of school. The last round of purchases takes place in the first few weeks of classes as students determine which clothing, accessories, and other items will be popular for the year.

If your items are typically selling closer to that first day, find a way to get into the conversation and secure your spot on the list early, or extend it into the talks after classes begin.

Students are stretching the back-to-school season for weeks beyond the first day. They want to see what their friends are wearing and what accessories they’re carrying before digging into their parent’s back-to-school budgets. Use this change in back-to-school mentality to your advantage by timing deals and promotions after the first day.

5. Set up for a year of success

Although the $72.5 billion spent during back-to-school shopping is a nice chunk of change, it doesn’t end there. Keep in mind that parents and children are already thinking beyond the first day of school—lunches, after-school snacks, sports, dances, electronics for homework, and so much more.

The true winners of the back-to-school season will find ways to add value to a customer’s daily life by keeping their brand in the conversation year round.