This $30B Market Requires Serious Study
Back-to-school is the second-busiest time of the year, presenting a large opportunity for retail and manufacturer brands to capture share using a compelling brand strategy template.
In 2021, back-to-school US retail spending will top pre-pandemic levels, with sales from mid-July to early September rising 5.5% compared to 2020. Apparel (+79% vs. 2020), tech and electronics (+13% vs. 2020) and school supplies are all expected to grow.
In contrast to 2020, physical “brick” stores, including department stores, are expected to capture more back-to-school dollars (+78% vs 2020), while eCommerce is expected to capture relatively less (-7% vs. 2020). Mass merchandisers like Target and Walmart will also do well. Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom is predicting both Target and Walmart will be big winners for 2021 back to school:
“The back-to-school period is going to be wildly successful for Walmart and Target in particular.”
Back-to-School Brand Strategy Template: Consumer Target is Mom
While kids definitely have a voice with “pester power,” Mom is generally the primary decision maker for K-12 back-to-school spending. As such, Mom is generally the target audience for a back-to-school brand strategy template.
When my children were in elementary and middle school, I enjoyed the trips to Office Depot, Staples and Target to shop for school supplies. Favorite school supplies in our household included color-coded binders (e.g., green for science), along with colorful pens from Crayola.
Back-to-School Brand Strategy Template: Timing is June-August
This fall, 64% of parents expect their children to attend classes in person. And 26% of back-to-school shopping parents are eager enough to start “early bird” browsing and buying in early June, up from 17% in 2019.
With the return of in-person schooling for many in fall 2021, clothing and accessories are the #1 category that parents say their kids are excited to shop for. 49% of parents chose clothing as the most exciting category for 2021. Also popular are:
- 25% – school supplies
- 15% – electronics and computer equipment
- 11% – shoes
Back-to-School Brand Strategy Template Example: Crayola
Crayola has a clear brand strategy template for back-to-school in 2021. The brand’s website makes it easy for Mom to help her child “go back with the best” for “however they go back.” Supplies are organized by grade level and audience, including:
- Middle and High School
There are choices of class multipacks, with individual sets inside and “bundles” for each grade level.
As my co-author Teri Lucie Thompson and I wrote about in Tuning into Mom: Understanding America’s Most Powerful Consumer. segmenting the US moms market by age of the oldest child is very effective, and Crayola is capitalizing on this with its brand strategy of providing bundles by grade level.
It’s also interesting to see a brand like Crayola reaching up age from its strength in preschool and elementary to middle school, high school and college. In these Facebook posts, the brand highlights 15-year old artist Tyler Gordon and a calligraphy lesson.
Crayola recognizes the homeschool market with resources for home learning. And with good reason. One estimate has three million children homeschooling in 2021, while another source shows homeschooling rates doubling in some areas to as much as 11% of school age children.
Back-to-School Brand Strategy Template Example: Target
Each year, Target executes on a focused, back-to-school marketing and merchandising brand strategy template. With its wide product assortment spanning clothing, school supplies and even electronics, Target makes it easy for Mom and her child to complete most or all of their shopping in one trip.
A late June store visit to a Target in Georgia found the “school shop” back-to-school section in the back corner of the store.
Prominently displayed in the center of the back-to-school section are school supply brands like Elmers and Crayola under the banner of “Priced Right Daily. Low prices and great deals on 100s of school items.” Backpacks make up a significant portion of the broader Target school shop, and are also on one of the two back walls. At Target, the most popular backpack brand is Trans.
Cleaning and organizing supplies for classroom use have their mini section with Ziploc, Bounty paper towels and generic disinfecting wipes and facial tissue. Three other brands with a large back-to-school presence at Target included Post-it, Sharpie and Thermos. While Thermos may be expected with lunch boxes for school, I hadn’t recognized that Post-it and Sharpie are as popular for school age children.
Target also attempts to make the process easier with their School Assist feature that helps the shopper find their child’s school supply list if the school list is available. As of this writing, however, many school supply lists are not available.
Like other brands, Target uses online influencer videos promoting back-to-school shopping. This allows Target to showcase different situations, with a more personalized appeal. One mom of an elementary school age daughter commented:
“ While I can’t make myself watch those long back to school shopping videos of girls, my 7 year old daughter loves them.”
A different example of a brand strategy in back-to-school is El Segundo-based Yoobi. Yoobi donates school supplies in classroom packs to kids in need through its partnership with Kids in Need Foundation. Core product lines include pencil cases, notebooks, binders and desk essentials.
Target and Crayola provide well-developed brand strategy template examples for back-to-school. Both focus on moms as the target for their back-to-school marketing. Other brands like Post-it, Sharpie and Ziploc also have a focused back-to-school brand strategy.