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Digital Marketing to Moms of College Students During Back-to-School

By collegemktgrp | January 31, 2017 | Brands/Advertisers

Back-to-school shopping, including students heading off to college, is the second-largest consumer spending period in the United States in terms of dollars spent. In 2015, total spending for K-12 and college was about $68 billion (source). In 2016, this topped $75 billion. With growth like that, the 2017 back-to-college spending season should see even more gains.

If you work for a retailer wanting to earn a larger piece of that spending pie, you already know you need to work harder and smarter than your competition. One path to success in achieving those sales gains might be doubling down on efforts that focus on families with college-bound students in the home.

According to the NRF Back-to-School Spending Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights, consumers in 2016 planned to spend nearly $48.5 billion on “back-to-college.” Assuming that spending patterns and shopping behaviors hold the line or increase in 2017, retailers can safely plan their college marketing strategies with these assumptions in mind.

Consumers will shop primarily at discount stores, department stores, online, and in college bookstores. We think spending online could climb to a number 1 or 2 position based on how holiday shopping played out this last year.

Back-to-college shopping will be heaviest in July – about one month prior to classes starting on campus. This could adjust by a week or so, depending on where the college is located and when its academic calendar starts. Some will shop even earlier, and of course, there are plenty of laggers who will wait until the last minute (two weeks before or less).

Once you understand how your retail brand fits with the where and when of back-to-campus shopping, you can then start preparing your college marketing strategy.

When targeting back-to-college shoppers, brands should focus directly on mom, with a secondary effort targeting students. Students heading off to campus in the fall are most definitely influencing the purchasing decisions, but in most cases, a parent is the one paying for those college essentials.

Marketing to the parents of college students with digital advertising can be fraught with missteps and wasted budgets. A couple digital tactics exist to help you leverage this reach and get ahead of your competition.

The first tactic would be applied to your mobile marketing strategy. By using a technology called “Verified Walk-in,” mobile marketers can identify actual shoppers who have visited the brick-and-mortar stores you’ve defined in the past 30- or 60-day time period. Once that pool of shoppers has been identified (Moms who shopped at Target for example), retailers can then bid on mobile ad inventory and serve those ads directly to those store visitors moving forward when they surf the web on their phone or use an app. Retailer marketers can use this technology to identify their own store shoppers or even track the customers of their competitor’s store locations. This ability not only identifies the shoppers you want to reach but gets you closer to understanding shopping intent.

The other digital advertising option retail brands should consider during back-to-school is “Household Extension.” Here is how it works: Let’s say 18-year-old Nancy (the influencer) just graduated high school and is heading off to college this fall. While at home, she visits IKEA’s website to look for dorm storage containers. While on the site, she gets cookied. When Household Extension is activated, every device connected to the internet in the home theoretically can start to serve IKEA ads when someone else in the home starts browsing online. This means Nancy’s mom (the end purchaser) will now start seeing ads for dorm containers sold by IKEA when she surfs the web.

What do you think those two ad technologies could do for your bottom line this back-to-school shopping season? Maybe more importantly, what would you do if you knew your competition was using this technology to win over your customers?


College Marketing Group has created a college marketing planning worksheet that works retail marketers through creating a campus advertising plan with the college media channels available. Download it for free.

For more information on reaching mom during the back-to-school shopping period using the methods mentioned above, or through other marketing channels, request a free consultation by clicking here.

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