INSIGHTS & IDEAS >> Retail Marketing

Time To Rule Back-To-School


Every year, the crucial back-to-school retail marketing campaign can make you feel like youre back in school yourself — in the pressure cooker of exams. And despite your best intentions of studying well ahead of time, all of a sudden you’re down to the wire and panicking.

A back-to-school campaign is one mid-term you don’t want to cram for. Here’s why it’s so important to get a jump on your BTS campaign, and how to make sure you’re going to ace it. 

Timing is Everything

retail marketing campaign good cheap fast pick only two graphic MMK Marketing

Every marketer — and their boss — wants to launch a campaign that is good, inexpensive and fast, but you can’t have all three. We recommend planning early, so you can deliver a high quality, lower cost campaign.

How early? You need to have your BTS campaign in market by July, and since even the smartest campaign plans are prone to delays, that means starting in April. We have created a timeline below, but first, let’s look at why being in-market at the right time is so important.

It Pays to Start Early

Deloitte's 2016 retail survey estimated that parents would spend $488, on average, for clothing, accessories, school supplies, computers and other electronics for their children in last year's BTS season.

But there are really three types of BTS shoppers:

  1. The Planner — Starts at least two months before school — essentially as soon as kids are out of school.
  1. The Last-Minute Shopper — Gets down to it just 1-2 weeks before school starts.
  1. The Bargain Hunter — Searches for sales throughout July and August.

Here’s the thing: consumers who shop earlier spend more. Shoppers who start before August were projected to spend 26 percent more than those beginning in August. It’s kind of like stocking stuffers for the holidays — parents who shop ahead of time still always find last-minute items to buy. 

According to the National Retail Foundation, 73 percent of BTS consumers plan to shop approximately a month or two before school starts, while over a quarter of all back-to-college shoppers start shopping at least two months before school.

Get Ready for the Mad Dash Back to School 


In the rush to get a BTS campaign in market, marketers often overlook digital opportunities. According to Deloitte, in-store shopping dominates the back-to-school season, with two-thirds of the budget for clothing and school supplies spent in physical stores, but digital technologies and social media shape the shopping journey. Sixty-one percent of consumers research online before they make an in-store purchase.

While everything digital moves quickly, it still takes solid upfront planning. Here are six components to consider well in advance:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE — Prioritize Facebook. According to the Pew Social Media Update 2016 report, 84 percent of adults aged 30-49 (i.e. parents of school aged kids) use the social platform, and its highly-targeted ad network and Shop section mean Facebook will likely provide the biggest ROI.
  2. PAID ADVERTISING — Aligning with the stats for Facebook usage of your target audience, consider putting most of your social media advertising dollars behind Facebook ads for the back-to-school season and launching your Facebook Shop section. Today’s moms multi-task; they shop online while social networking and taking care of family and business. 
  3. RETARGET AUDIENCES FOR DOUBLE THE IMPACT — Retargeting, or remarketing, is a form of online advertising that can help your brand stay in front of visitors to your website after they leave. Since only 2 percent of web traffic converts on the first visit to most websites, this is a must.
  4. INFLUENCER SHOPPING CAMPAIGNS — These take time, but Word of mouth and/or social media messaging is powerful earned media that can't be beaten. When moms discover a good sale, they tell their friends and the social circles swarm to grab money-saving deals before the sales or products run out.
  5. USE INCENTIVES — Consider free shipping incentives to appeal to the online shopper. A study by Synchrony Financial shows 75 percent of shoppers say they are more likely to choose a retailer with free shipping.
  6. BE MOBILE-FRIENDLY — According to Mediapost, the indications for mobile commerce for shopping seasons, smartphones are shifting into center-stage for BTS parents. 91% are expected to spend the same or more than last year, according to a 2016 study conducted by Survata for Fatwallet. Having a seamless mobile-friendly interface will enhance their shopping experience. This can also apply to online coupons prompting additional purchases in-store for a higher spending value.

The Ideal Timeline


With so many moving parts, solid BTS campaigns take time to plan and execute. In a perfect world, here’s how it comes together.


  • Springtime = Planning Time! Now is the time to plan and set up your BTS campaign for success
  • Don’t skip the essential step of preparing comprehensive project briefs
  • Make sure you’re making data-driven decisions. What do you know about your customer’s buying behavior online and off? Is a rinse-and-repeat of last year’s tactics going to drive your desired results?
  • Determine your optimal campaign strategy. What’s the best use of resources to drive business impact?
  • Don’t forget to connect with your vendor base! Are there hot new products for the forefront of your campaign that you can support through co-marketing?
  • Loop in your internal teams — buying, merchandising, planning and logistics — to get aligned on product delivery times and to make certain they are tracked on your campaign critical path
  • Get inspired to consider interactive digital signage, geo-targeting based on proximity to the store, or experiential marketing
  • Keep tabs on the fundamentals — retail media (online and off), in-store activations and customer experience, digital marketing for demand generation. And don’t forget social media and influencers!


  • Push to kick-off with all your BTS campaign partners by May 1. It is common to get delayed by process, meeting schedules and multiple layers of approvals
  • Plan ahead to minimize time lost between issuing the brief to your partners and kicking-off campaign production
  • Add buffers to your work back schedule to account for ineveitable hiccups and ensure you are in market on time
  • By being in production in May, you keep costs low and give your agency partners the time they need to deliver fantastic creative and smart solutions


  • Any in-store BTS campaign assets need to be delivered to retail locations by the last week of June for a July 1 launch
  • Retail sales training should also happen before the end of June. Training should include product knowledge on new hero items as well as general campaign info
  • Avoid last-minute requests which incur rush charges


  • Your BTS campaign should be running in-store and online no later than the first week of July!
  • Watch early performance closely. You have the opportunity to optimize your campaign and make any adjustments for August and last-minute buyers


  • By now, your BTS campaign should be optimized and running at full-tilt boogie
  • Now’s the time to ensure you have resources lined up and organized for your holiday campaign.


  • You made it! Your back-to-school campaign is finished!
  • Request performance reports and all the numbers you need from various stakeholders to demonstrate success against your most important KPIs
  • Sneak away for some R&R ahead before the next crush — the annual holiday campaign

This Year, Rule Back-To-School

Feeling under pressure to rock your BTS campaign this year? Get started right now to avoid rushed creative, higher costs and competitive noise in the market. Our Retail Marketing Success Guide provides best practices for planning high-impact campaigns for back-to-school and any time of the year.

Retail Marketing Success Guide by MMK Marketing

You can also get in touch to discuss what special challenges you face — we would love to help you score high marks!
 Book a Chat With Us 

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