back-to-school email marketing: summer strategies that sizzle

Emily Keye Strategy

Get ideas for your back-to-school email marketing campaigns.

Back to school goes hand in hand with the end of summer.

However, many schools start in August, so add the back-to-school theme into your marketing calendar early. You’ll want to begin email marketing promotions at least a month out, and planning at least two weeks out.

When considering back-to-school marketing, you’ll want to consider starting your email marketing campaigns around the end of July.

For companies that don’t sell back-to-school related products such as supplies or kids clothing, there are still ways to take advantage of back-to-school themes. The key is to find a way to relate the products and services you sell to the season.

Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.

back-to-school consumer mindsets

The 2017 back-to-school season accounted for more than one-sixth or 17.3 percent of full-year retail sales. This year will likely be just as fruitful. This presents a huge opportunity for retailers to drive traffic to their websites and stores for back-to-school savings.

But where do consumers shop? Most are shopping online. In fact, the majority of parents (62 percent) and college students (70 percent) begin their searches for the best deals online.

The leading causes or influences on purchasing decisions?

  • recommendations by schools
  • familiarity with products or brands
  • children
  • coupons

Recent reports suggest 28.4 percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to use a coupon. This includes online shoppers, as well as traditional brick-and-mortar store visitors.

If you plan to offer your shoppers coupons, make sure any coupon codes are clear and easy to find in your email campaigns.

back-to-school email marketing timetable

The research on when people start their back-to-school shopping is surprising: More than two-thirds plan to wait until after school begins to take advantage of back-to-school promotions. Back-to-school email marketing timing varies by category.

Parents have noted they expect their peak spending to occur:

  • Early than July for computers and related items
  • Late in July for school items/supplies
  • Late in August for clothing and accessories
  • September for electronic gadgets

For those who don’t want to wait until after school starts to begin their shopping, 30 percent of back-to-school shoppers will wait until one or two weeks before school to start shopping.

This is important to know so you can be sure you’re getting your email marketing deals in shoppers’ inboxes at the right time. If you choose to send messages earlier in the season, be sure to follow up with last-minute campaigns for those procrastinator shoppers.

After the winter holidays, back-to-school season is the largest revenue-driver of the year for email marketing.

Let’s take a look at some campaigns you should be sure to send for back to school season.

general back-to-school sale email

The general one-size-fits-most approach is the easiest type of back-to-school email marketing campaign to send because it appeals to the masses. While it lacks personalization, it can easily encompass popular trends or highlight general needs for the upcoming school year.

When working on these general sale campaigns, ensure your email meets a need. Consider what the subscriber will want from the email. These types of emails should showcase how your products or services meet those needs.

In this Gymboree example, subscribers want their children to be comfortable and stylish at an affordable price.

Take a look at Gymboree's back-to-school email marketing.

highlight the need for back-to-school supplies

For the companies selling school supplies, this period offers some of the biggest opportunities to communicate and promote products, as well as offer special discounts. With parents ready to spend hundreds of dollars for back-to-school apparel and supplies, this time of year is a significant opportunity to drive revenue via email marketing.

For these email marketing campaigns, be sure to highlight pricing and offers prominently and showcase the product(s). If personalization is an option, be sure to let the audience know so they can add that special touch to their student’s supplies.

This LD Products example touts general back-to-school products many students will need. The sender had fun with the visuals, incorporating a school time feel with the chalkboard and doodles look.

Another example of great back-to-school email marketing.

This example shows personalization is an option for their products:

An example of back-to-school email marketing.

showcasing electronics in back-to-school email marketing

With parents planning to spend an average of $204 on electronics for their kids during back-to-school shopping, email marketing presents a prime opportunity to get those products in front of parents in the purchasing mood.

If you sell electronics or electronic accessories, you’ll absolutely want to send an email marketing campaign and have that campaign stand out from the rest. You can do this by incorporating clean, bright, school-related imagery and clear CTAs.

This Costco back-to-school email touts smartphones and is designed with bright images, background colors and prominent CTAs.

Costco back-to-school email marketing example.

This email has a missed opportunity in that all images are left aligned. It could have benefited from the use of the S-curve layout.

what to wear back-to-school email marketing campaigns

Everyone wants to look their best for their first days back at school. If you sell products related to fashion or beauty, be sure to put together back-to-school email marketing campaigns. Within those emails, choose products that complement each other and highlight them in a way that the subscriber can envision themselves using the product.

Email marketing campaigns about what to wear or that provide style ideas are popular. For these emails, use lifestyle imagery and highlight sales.

Check out these examples of back-to-school email marketing.

back-to-school email marketing personas

Keeping with the theme of what to wear, persona email marketing campaigns are a great idea for back-to-school campaigns. Persona emails provide a way to guide a customer who’s overwhelmed or doesn’t know where to start with back-to-school clothes shopping.

To begin, create a few personas that fit the products you sell. Give the personas a fun name and highlight products that would fit well with each persona. Encourage viewers to begin shopping each persona by including a clear CTA button.

This Abercrombie Kids example showcases three personas: all-star athlete, party animal and smarty pants, and showcases products that fit each persona.

An example of a back-to-school email campaign from Abercrombie Kids.

back-to-school email marketing campaign relevancy

Even if you don’t sell back-to-school related products or services, you can still get in on the theme and time of year.

This PetSmart email is a great example of that. It does a spin on back-to-school with the message themed as, “Help your dog adjust to back-to-school routines.” Within the message, it highlights products that would keep a dog busy, contained and/or comfortable while no one is at home.

Learn about back-to-school email marketing by looking at this Petsmart example.

Any retailer could put a fun spin on its products or services to make it fit with back-to-school timing, so get creative.

back-to-school email marketing campaigns for the college bound

Let’s not forget those who are college bound during back-to-school time. The average college student’s back-to-school expenses total $968, so there’s opportunity here for email marketers to capture the college bound student’s attention in the inbox.

For college students, care packages are a popular way for loved ones to connect with college students. If you don’t sell school related products, but do sell items that could be sent in a care package and would be relevant to a college-aged student, you should be sending this type of email marketing campaign.

In Dean&DeLuca’s email marketing, the back-to-school mood is highlighted with the addition of imagery such as pencils. The email incorporates a font that looks like actual handwriting.

Check out Dean & Deluca's back-to-school email marketing.

email marketing that highlights student discounts

College students are typically pinching pennies, so every bit helps. If you offer a student discount, get the word out via an email marketing campaign.

This campaign should show what the student discount is front and center and mention why you love students and how your products or services can help them. Also, explain how to take advantage of the discount, whether it’s a student ID or a coupon code.

Don't forget college students with your back-to-school email marketing.

As a side note, this type of approach can also work well as a small banner or callout in regular email marketing campaigns throughout the year as a gentle reminder of the student discount.

don’t forget teachers with back-to-school email marketing campaigns

Besides targeting parents and students, don’t forget about teachers who will spend close to $500 of their own money purchasing back-to-school supplies for their classrooms.

Many companies offer discounts for teachers. If you fall into that group, in order to capitalize on this segment, create standalone email marketing campaigns specifically personalized for teachers.

In these campaigns, talk to educators specifically and clearly state what the discount is and how they can take advantage of it.

This can be a standalone campaign, but also works well as secondary content in other email marketing campaigns during the back-to-school timeframe.

In addition, it’s a good idea within this email to encourage subscribers to forward the email along to any teachers they know. This increases your brand visibility.

Don't forget about teachers in your email marketing.

What are some back to school strategies that have worked for you in the past? Let us know what some of your best back to school campaigns have been.

Don’t be fooled by her southern charm and love for puppies. Emily has over a decade of experience in retail email marketing and is ready to optimize your email program and turn it into a revenue driving beast!