Back to School Email Strategy

Even for brands without an obvious back-to-school connection, the sheer spending volume should be tempting. How should you optimize your email marketing strategy for the back to school rush?

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If you don’t have a back-to-school email marketing strategy, you’re missing out on a share of a potential $82.8 billion in shopping to send kids back to school and young adults off to college.

That’s how much the National Retail Federation estimated U.S. shoppers drop on clothing, books, electronics, classroom supplies, shoes, athletic gear and more. No wonder Back to School/Back to College is the second-biggest retail event behind the year-end holiday shopping season.

Even if your brand doesn’t have an obvious back-to-school connection, the sheer spending volume should tempt you to test a campaign. Many of your customers will have school shopping at the forefront of their attention or in the back of their minds, so anything that helps them check off their lists faster and with less hassle should grab their attention.

Back to School Email Examples and Subject Lines

Outfits for every day of the week

We love this email because it goes one step beyond with the product showcase email format. The email begins with a grabber of a subject line: “7 styles, 5 outfits (one for each school day!).” Then it presents a curated set of 7 items and rearranges them into 5 separate outfits. This email is sure to entice a parent shopping for several kids.

Nail the college shopping experience

Bed Bath & Beyond has nailed the whole college shopping experience in this one email. Perhaps the greatest stroke of genius is the timing – it went out in April, when most high school seniors know where they’re headed in the fall and there’s little competition from other brands. BB&B turns the promotion into an event and uses the email to build authority as a trusted partner.

Wondering if you're relevant for BTS?

If you’re skeptical your consumer brand is relevant to back-to-school shoppers, have a look at this email from Etsy. By showcasing handmade products from artisans, crafters and other small-business creatives, Etsy persuades parents to focus on back-to-school gift-giving for their kids’ new friends, new teachers – and even for their kids themselves.

Solve problems and earn loyalty

Not every school shopper gets every item on the list checked off early in the summer. This campaign caters to the procrastinators, the “oops-I-left-something-crucial-off-the-list” crowd and the “what-do-you-mean-you-used-up-all-your-crayons-already?” families. Brands that solve problems earn long-lived customer loyalty!

Personalized and segmented

IKEA promotes its dorm-furnishings program by creating room personas that reflect human characteristics using a realistic set, not the palace bedrooms that other brands use to showcase their collections. We also like how each call to action is tied to its persona and how the email features a male student instead of the usual group of girls.

What's wrong with a little pizza on our time?

Think your brand doesn’t tie in with back-to-school? Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago-area pizzeria, capitalizes on the frazzled feelings of the first few days with its benefit-driven subject line and headline: “Let us do the cooking tonight!” We also like how Lou’s promotes its school-related programs, especially for fundraisers and donation requests. It’s timely and relevant.

Email Strategy for Back to School

Aim for the college market

The back-to-college shopping list is longer and more varied than the K-12 list. Besides clothing and electronics, students and their families are spending an average $153 per household on dorm/apartment furnishings and $109 on food, the NRF estimates.

Been out of school for a decade or longer, or years away from packing someone off to State U? See how big-box merchants like IKEA, Target or Bed Bath & Beyond go after the college dollar in a big way with online and in-store events and special product collections.

Then, look at your product assortment. Which ones would fit on a dorm shelf or in a gym bag or locker?

Although parents usually foot the bill for back-to-college, students themselves have major buying power. The Refuel Agency estimates students have about $203 billion in discretionary spending alone. They’re open to products that aren’t traditional back-to-school items, such as appliances, convenience foods, music, storage and athletic gear.

If college students aren’t your target market, you probably have customers who are shopping for a college-bound friend or family member and would welcome a gift suggestion.

Run an editorial campaign that adds value

You know that big discount merchants will win the price game almost every time, especially on back-to-school merchandise. Many B2S products – especially school supplies – are loss leaders for discounters, who gamble that families coming in to buy inexpensive pencils or crayons will stick around to buy clothing and shoes.

Instead of going head to head on price, your campaign can center on value. Offer editorial content on aspects of the back-to-school experience, such as how to shop for higher-priced or complex products like electronics and sports gear or a checklist for new or returning college students that mixes your products in with other suggestions.

Create a product showcase

Collect at least three items that would appeal to a back-to-school shopper or college student looking to make a sterile dorm or dreary off-campus house more appealing. Use your imagination, remembering your own or your kids’ back-to-school cravings — or try polling co-workers.

Limit your product selections to no more than five or six per email. If you have more than that, send more than one email. This will give your products the attention they deserve.