What You Can Learn from Back to School Marketing

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on August 19, 2011
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Back to school is big business, representing the second largest consumer spending event outside of the holidays, according to The National Retail Federation (NRF). The best news for small business owners is that you don’t have to actually be in the back to school market to piggyback on this cash cow. Here’s how you can jump on the craze whether you’re selling backpacks and pencils or not:

Deliver value. According to The National Retail Federation (NRF), today’s back to school consumer has a singular focus: value. This shift in consumer ideology isn’t just limited to back to school spending, though, and it’s great news for small business. Back in 2009, consumers were resolute on finding the lowest price. But this year, though coupons and circulars are still in vogue, customers are still interested in finding the best overall value, comprising a good price, quality, and customer service. As a small business owner, the “value-focused consumer” offers an opportunity to define and deliver your brand proposition, and ultimately capture profitable customers for life.

Create a sense of urgency. School doesn’t start any earlier than it used to, but retailers now start promoting back to school deals soon after that last 4th of July firecracker has boomed. According to the The New York Times, one of the reasons for this is that consumers are spending early to jump on savings, in light of high gas prices and the economy. In other words, shoppers who recognize value when they see it won’t hesitate to buy now. Regardless of your business, you can give shoppers a reason to take advantage of your promotion with a true value proposition, combined with a “now or never” message. (Just make sure that your “limited-time offer” really is one).

Encourage chatter. Sweepstakes, contests, and charitable giving run rampant in the back to school season. Why? Because when everyone else is selling the same stuff to the same audience, it’s an easy way to get press, and consumers’ attention. Stimulate a reason for chatter about your business with a giveaway, or a charity-related cause, that invites consumer participation. As long as you honor your promotion, such tactics are relatively easy to execute, and they give customers a reason to visit (and interact) with your social media accounts, Facebook page, and loyalty program. At least one lucky winner will benefit from your promotion, and you’ll gain some valuable marketing intelligence in the process.

Think life events. All businesses, in some way, are associated with life events. It may take a little creative thought, but with the right marketing mindset, there are always opportunities to tie your business into one of them. (For example, Tuffy Auto Centers are offering free back-to-school maintenance checks this year.) Find out what yours is, and speak up when your competitors are silent.

Stephanie Christensen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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