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Jun 13

Back-To-School Advertising Best Practices with Third-Party Data

The 2024 back-to-school season is here, marking the second-highest shopping volume of the year, trailing only the holiday season, presenting a critical opportunity for retailers and brands to boost sales and gain insights into consumer behavior ahead of the holiday shopping period.

This season, however, brings unique challenges. While back-to-school sales are expected to exceed $81 billion, marking significant total sales, the growth rate is the slowest in five years. As the gap between back-to-school sales growth and total retail sales narrows, advertisers must employ innovative and data-driven strategies to stay competitive.

Navigating the Back-to-School Sales Landscape
Key Trends to Leverage for Back-to-School 2024
Strategic Approaches for Back-to-School Advertising
Channels to Maximize Your Reach

Navigating the Back-to-School Sales Landscape

Slower Growth Amid High Expectations
Back-to-school sales surged in 2023, reaching a staggering $78.68M in the US. However, 2024 marks a turning point. While the projected $81 billion in sales is impressive, the growth rate is slowing, reflecting a shift in consumer spending patterns and economic pressures. This slowdown demands a more strategic advertising approach, capturing consumer attention and driving conversions in a competitive market.

Shifts in Consumer Behavior
With economic uncertainties and evolving schooling formats, parents and students are becoming more selective and strategic in their back-to-school purchases. Although spending for K-12 students is robust, spending for college-bound students is expected to slow, influenced by shifting college enrollment trends and budget constraints. Additionally, the growth rates for physical retail are stabilizing, even as online and hybrid shopping experiences continue to thrive.

Key Trends to Leverage for Back-to-School 2024

Extended and Diverse Shopping Timelines
According to the National Retail Federation, parents are spreading their back-to-school shopping over a longer period, starting as early as June and extending into September. This extended timeline is partly due to ongoing supply chain issues and a desire to find the best deals. It provides multiple opportunities to engage with consumers and adjust marketing strategies to capture their attention throughout the summer.

Hybrid Shopping Experiences
Consumers continue to balance in-person shopping with online conveniences. Deloitte’s survey indicates that 41% of back-to-school budgets will be spent online, a slight increase from last year. Additionally, hybrid shopping options like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), and curbside pickup remain popular. These preferences highlight the need for flexible advertising strategies catering to online and offline shoppers.

Regional and Schooling Variations
Different regions exhibit varying preferences for in-person, hybrid, or remote schooling, influencing local shopping behaviors. Areas with predominantly in-person schooling may see higher demand for traditional supplies, while regions focusing on remote learning might prioritize technology and home learning aids. Tailoring your advertising strategy to these regional nuances can enhance relevance and effectiveness.

Strategic Approaches for Back-to-School Advertising

Leveraging Third-Party Data for Precision Targeting
Third-party data remains invaluable for reaching specific audiences during the back-to-school season. Platforms like Choozle provide access to detailed data segments from partners such as MasterCard, Dstillery, Oracle, and Dataonics. These segments help identify and reach in-market audiences based on their purchasing behaviors and interests, ensuring that your campaigns target those most likely to convert.

Relevant third-party data segments include:

  • Parents of school-age children: Identified through recent purchases of school-related items and activities.
  • Tech-oriented families: Targeted based on searches and transactions involving educational technology and remote learning tools.
  • Early planners: Consumers who typically begin their back-to-school shopping early to take advantage of deals and availability.

Embracing Contextual Targeting
Contextual targeting provides an alternative to third-party data by placing ads based on the content of web pages. This strategy aligns your advertisements with relevant content, such as educational blogs or parenting articles, ensuring your message reaches engaged audiences naturally. For example, placing ads for school supplies on websites discussing back-to-school preparation can resonate well with readers seeking such information.

Tapping Into Optimistic Consumer Sentiments
Consumers are drawn to positive and uplifting stories. Back-to-school campaigns highlighting themes of new beginnings, preparedness, and community resilience can tap into the enthusiasm of families gearing up for the new school year. Emphasizing readiness and the excitement of starting fresh can create a strong emotional connection with your audience, fostering trust and engagement.

Channels to Maximize Your Reach

Adopting an Omnichannel Strategy
Over the years, a consistently strong recommendation for digital advertising campaigns is not relying on just one channel to reach your target audience. An omnichannel approach is essential in 2024. Consumers expect a seamless experience across various platforms, from social media and search engines to e-commerce sites and physical stores. Your campaign should maintain a consistent presence across these channels, engaging customers wherever they are.

With big-box stores being the most popular choice for back-to-school shopping, retail media ad opportunities on platforms like Walmart and Amazon are worthwhile placements.

An omnichannel strategy aims to keep customers continually engaged with your ads so that when they are ready to buy, your brand is at the top of their minds, in the right place, and at the right time. For most marketers, understanding the dynamics of the new cross-channel customer behavior is the easy part. The challenge lies in aligning your marketing programs and ad spend with the influential moments and channels your audience responds to. Real-time reporting and optimization can help direct your ad spend to continue to reach audiences with effective means that drive conversions.

Focusing on Influential Moments
Understanding the key moments that drive purchasing decisions is crucial. For back-to-school shopping, these moments often occur in the weeks leading up to the school year, during major sales events, and around local school start dates. You can maximize your impact and ROI by aligning your ad spend with these critical periods.

Final Thoughts: Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities

The 2024 back-to-school season offers significant opportunities but also presents challenges with its slower growth rate and changing consumer behaviors. Despite these challenges, the overall market remains robust, with significant spending on K-12 supplies and evolving shopping preferences.

To navigate this landscape, leveraging third-party data for precision targeting, embracing contextual targeting, and maintaining a strong omnichannel presence are key strategies. By aligning your campaigns with positive consumer sentiments and regional preferences, you can effectively connect with your audience during this vital retail period.

As families prepare for the new school year, a flexible and data-driven approach will ensure your back-to-school campaigns are impactful and relevant. Stay attuned to evolving trends and be ready to adapt as the season progresses, capturing a significant share of this essential retail event and setting the stage for a successful holiday season.

About the author:

Sarah Lilly, Product Marketing Manager at Choozle, brings the team a wealth of marketing experience. She began her career in digital advertising and later transitioned into product marketing. Collaborating extensively with cross-functional teams, Sarah refines product strategies to meet evolving market demands, ensuring that Choozle’s solutions remain at the forefront of digital advertising. In her spare time, you can find her curled up with a good book and her pup, Huey, or exploring Denver with friends. 

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