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Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Tech Tops Student Spending for 5 Years Running in Retail’s Second-Biggest Shopping Season

For American students and their families, back-to-school shopping isn’t front-of-mind (yet). But almost 20% of K-12 shoppers make their purchases three weeks to one month before school starts. Another 53% finish up a week or two before. That means US retailers need to have a plan in place now for the July and August back-to-school crowd. These brand strategy examples in tech will help brands capture some of the $15.2 billion in back-to-school tech spending we saw last year.

Back-to-school (along with back-to-college) is retail’s second-biggest shopping season of the year. In 2023, consumers spent $41.5 billion on K-12 and $94 billion on college shopping.

In 2020, per-person back-to-school spending in the US took a dramatic turn—and it hasn’t changed course since. That’s the first year technology expenses outpaced clothing (shoes and school supplies are the other two categories tracked by NRF, and they remain consistently in third and fourth place, respectively). Here’s how the numbers stack up from 2019 to 2023, and 2024 will likely see more of the same.

National Retail Federation: Per-Person Back-to-School Spending
YearClothing and accessories (excluding shoes)Electronics or computer-related equipment

We’ll remember fall 2020 as the COVID back-to-school season, where different areas of the country were seeing a combination of virtual and in-person learning. It makes sense to see a rise in tech spending that year. But once spending took off, it kept rising. From 2019 to 2023, the average US back-to-school consumer is now spending $122.52 more per student on tech.

Total tech spending rose from $12.5 billion in 2022 to $15.2 billion in 2023—a 22% YoY increase. Meanwhile, total clothing spending rose from $11.2 billion to $12 billion in the same time period, a modest 7% increase, more in line with inflation (shoes and school supplies showed similar percentage increases).

Interestingly for our brand strategy examples, many fewer back-to-school consumers report they will be buying school-related technology for their students, compared to other categories:

  • 69% plan to buy technology
  • 94% plan to buy shoes
  • 95% plan to buy clothing
  • 96% plan to buy school supplies

These 69% of consumers are responsible for purchasing the category that represents 42% of all back-to-school expenditures. This data reaffirms that technology is much more expensive per ticket than the other categories.

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Tech Spending Tracks Schools’ Growing Focus on One-to-One Devices

Why has tech spending exploded? EdWeek Research Center surveys show that elementary, middle and high schools are overwhelmingly moving to a one-to-one computing model, where each student is issued their own device (as opposed to multiple students sharing a device, or “computer lab” classrooms):

“About two-thirds of district leaders recalled providing one school-issued digital learning device for every middle and high school student prior to the pandemic. About 40 percent said the same for elementary school kids.

“But by March of 2021, 90 percent of district leaders surveyed said they were providing a device for every middle and high school student, and 84 percent said they were doing the same for elementary school students.”

In my experience as a parent, while elementary and middle school students may have their own device at school, that device stays in the school building. If the student needs to work on a project at home, they must login to the system from an at-home computer or tablet. Boston Children’s Digital Wellness Lab confirms this practice:

“This increase in one-on-one access means your child will likely be using a device for online assignments and homework.”

Back-to-School Brand Strategy Examples:
What Tech Are Parents Buying?

For the 69% of families planning on purchasing back-to-school tech this year, the items are expected to be big-ticket, with laptops at 21%, tablets at 15% and calculators at 12%.

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Let’s take brand strategy examples from each category:

  1. Laptops: Lenovo
  2. Tablets: Apple
  3. Calculators: Texas Instruments

Back-to-School Brand Strategy Examples:
Lenovo Laptops

Lenovo made our list of New Product Examples in Gaming Laptops recently. Consumers are beginning to appreciate gaming laptops for work, as these products deliver on performance and quality. Not surprisingly, students are also fairly keen to own a machine for both school and fun.

This brand strategy example shows Lenovo’s SEO approach to the education market. Its top-ranking article “What’s the Best Laptop for Gaming and School?” guides consumers to a well-organized education portal.

Teachers, college students and K-12 parents are all re-assured they will be receiving educational pricing.

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Consumers are also presented with product options for different customer segments:

  • “Best Laptops for College Students” – With an emphasis on performance and portability, including a gaming laptop option
  • “Best Laptops for K-12 Students” – With an emphasis on affordability and usability
  • “Best Laptops for Teachers” – With an emphasis on performance and portability, but without the gaming option (perhaps teachers think it would be a bad look to bring a gaming laptop to school?)

Back-to-School Brand Strategy Examples:
Apple K-12 Education

This brand strategy example is targeted at schools, not parents. Apple has a long history in the education market, going back to 1978 when it supplied 500 computers to Minnesota Education Computing Consortium for sale to the state’s schools. Today, Apple educates educators on classroom tech through its K-12 web portal.

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

Global success stories tout all kinds of metrics, from 95% at-home learning attendance rates during COVID shutdowns, to improved test scores for grades six through eight, to 15% enrollment growth at one tech-enabled California school. This data-driven success is designed to appeal to educators, who all seek to improve these same metrics at their schools.

Apple’s education offerings go beyond sales of technology (although, it’s selling quite a few iPads in the process!):

  • Apple Professional Learning: Continuing education for teachers and administrators
  • Apple Professional Learning Specialists: Experts who visit schools and make recommendations. Also provide ongoing support
  • Apple Learning Coach: Training course to become an Apple Coach for a particular school
  • Apple Distinguished Educators: Certification for educators who are technology pioneers and who promote tech in schools
  • Apple Distinguished Schools: Certification for schools “that demonstrate Apple’s vision for learning with technology.” Currently, there are 889 schools in 37 countries
  • 1:1 iPad for Students: Each student has an iPad
  • 2:1 iPad and Mac for Teachers: Each teacher has an iPad and Mac

Back-to-School Brand Strategy Examples:
Texas Instruments Calculators

Texas Instruments is a brand strategy example of near total dominance in a category: graphing and scientific calculators. Office Depot’s Graphing Calculator list contains nine products, and eight of them are Texas Instruments (the very last one is from Casio). Google Shopping results are similarly dominated by TI.

Brand Strategy Examples: Back to School 2024

“Personal Electronics” accounts for only 15% of the company’s overall revenue, about $2.6 billion in 2023. The lion’s share comes from Industrial and Automotive markets, totaling 74%. America’s educators and testing authorities better hope TI never decides to scale back!

At present, TI maintains a comprehensive, education-focused microsite, which starts out:

“Trusted by teachers, loved by students. Home of the most popular graphing calculator for over 30 years. TI calculators and resources are built with the classroom in mind — to challenge and inspire students, not just get answers. That’s why TI is the most recommended brand by math teachers and used by millions of students each year.”

The brand has gained approval for use during most college entrance and state tests by staying disconnected from the internet (no cheating or distractions). These calculators aren’t communication devices at all—but you can now get the TI-84 Plus CE in your choice of nine colors.

While other brands would face insurmountable challenges in trying to compete with TI, here’s what we can learn from this brand strategy example, if you’re trying to dominate your own particular market:

  1. Appeal to authority: Teachers grew up using TI calculators themselves and know how to use them. So, they have confidence in teaching students how to use these same functions. TI never made the mistake (to my knowledge) of re-inventing the wheel and losing legacy users
  2. Appeal to gatekeepers: TI understands what testing administrators value. It has earned the trust of the SAT, ACT, AP and IB organizations, while resisting market pressures to make every device “smarter”

At Insight to Action, back-to-school is an especial interest of ours. It’s the second-biggest season of the year for many of our clients. Take a look at some of our past analysis:

Do these brand strategy examples inspire ideas for your brand? Contact us to start a conversation. Or, get to know our experts at one of our open office hours.