Aug 13, 2021 | 13 min read

Back-to-School Marketing Tips

Binders and books are replacing swimsuits and sunscreen in many aisles as we inch toward the back-to-school season. Whether customers are school-aged youngsters, parents of back-to-school children or shoppers with a nostalgic fondness for shopping sprees as summer fades to fall, many revel in this shopping season.

On Nextdoor, 45% of neighbors have school-aged children. We’ve put together this guide to help your small businesses get in front of these neighbors and take advantage of this consumer spending spike. Keep reading to get insights on back-to-school consumer trends, successful campaigns, and back-to-school marketing ideas to help create brand awareness and reach your target audience.

Back-to-School Marketing 101: 7 Marketing Campaigns to Learn From

To help you devise your very own back-to-school campaign ideas, follow the lead of successful back-to-school marketing campaigns from major retailers. Even if your business does not provide traditional back-to-school staples like cartoon-themed office supplies, trendy sundresses, or swanky sneakers, you can still borrow inspiration from previous campaigns and make the ideas entirely your own.

For example, brands such as Whole Foods aren’t “traditional” back-to-school retailers but the supermarket chain still found a way to make itself ultra-relevant with a back-to-school campaign that promotes healthy school lunches. In addition to non-traditional campaigns, small local businesses can market themselves for end-of-summer shopping in a variety of unique ways. As a marketer or business owner, it is your job to create brand awareness and promote to a wide audience. If you want to reach potential customers, try promoting a school sale or try a new school marketing idea.

#1 Back-to-School Giveaways 

Giveaways are always eye-catching to customers. Combining the allure of a giveaway with back-to-school seasons will make everyone a winner. 

Regardless of if your marketing campaign is in-person or online, host a special back-to-school event to promote your products or services to parents and students. You can even partner with other local small businesses also looking to take advantage of the back-to-school season. Draw more customers to your event by adding an enticing contest or giveaway, just like Newegg.

Newegg is an online electronic retailer - a relevant back-to-school vertical. The company was able to further increase its relevance through its #DormBattleStation Giveaway where prizes included a gaming laptop, keyboard, VR headset, and more exclusive electronics.

While no purchase was required to enter this contest, the giveaway was attention-grabbing and helped Newegg get its name out. Each person was able to make up to 13 entries through an online form on Newegg’s website. In addition to submitting their contact information, those who entered had to:

  • Solve the equation (2 x 3) + (4 - 3)
  • Visit Newegg on Facebook, Google +, and Instagram
  • Follow Newegg on Mixer, Snapchat, Twitter, Twitch, and Youtube
  • Retweet a tweet on the entry form

The winners of this school promotion competition were then selected at random and notified by telephone, email, or through Facebook. Newegg offered three tiers of prizes:

  • 1 Grand Prize winner received 10 free electronics
  • 1 Second Prize winner received 2 free electronics
  • 2 Third Prize winners received 1 free electronic each

The total approximate retail value of all the prizes offered was $4,997.79.

Lesson: Giveaways are an effective way to get your business in front of new customers. Get creative in making your business relevant to the back-to-school shopping season and entice neighbors with discounts or contests.

#2 Make It Easy for Parents to Shop for School Supplies

Parents can use all the help they can get when the school year begins, which means you have a unique opportunity to offer some aid. That’s exactly what Target did. 

To position themselves as a one-stop shop for back-to-school shopping, Target created their School List Assist features, which allowed parents to find classroom supply lists and easily add them to their online shopping cart for delivery or pick-up.

Lesson: Make the back-to-school shopping experience at your small business customer-centric and convenient. Brainstorm how you too can become a one-stop-shop destination, or at least make your customers’ shopping experiences easier. 

Work with other businesses to guide your customers to local purchase options. Here are a few ideas:

  • Reach out to the local schools for school supply lists and create a guide to where parents can buy certain items locally.
  • Work with other local businesses to create ready-made packages of school supplies for kids.
  • Parents need some support in these times, too. Make a care package of treats and goodies for parents to purchase so they can treat themselves when their kids are away. 

#3 Help Parents and Students Find the Resources (and Know-How) They Need

Best Buy lured parents and students by creating both a Student Hub and a Parent Hub. In these online portals, customers could:

  • Access buying guides
  • Be matched with the perfect computer
  • Acquire special deals and promotions

Using an inbound marketing strategy, Best Buy also offered free resources to help parents learn:

  • How to improve their Wi-Fi
  • How to increase their computer speed
  • How to customize their home office

Lesson: Best Buy offered invaluable free resources to subtly encourage customers to broaden their expectations of what they should buy before school starts (i.e. a new Wi-Fi router). You can utilize a similar strategy. Imagine a coffee shop advertising their coffee beans for sleepy parents struggling to drop their kids in time for the first bell. 

Follow Best Buy’s example and create your very own Back-to-School Shopping Guide. This will be easy if you sell school supplies or clothing, but any small business can join in on the fun. 

  • Do you run a gym? Create a back-to-school guide and add a section of the best workout equipment or classes to train for fall sports. 
  • Own a cafe? Make a list of the best-caffeinated beverages to get students through midterms.
  • A brewery? Suggest an IPA for parents based on which year their student is starting and sweeten the deal with a back-to-school, BOGO beer deal.

#4 Speak to School Year Fears 

The first day of school jitters can keep kids (and parents) up at night. Local small businesses can offer support and care to families at this sometimes anxious time of year. 

With their #ShareKleenexCare campaign, the tissue brand promoted a video advertisement exploring the fears of incoming middle school students. As the ad continues, the students write custom messages of support on Kleenex packs to exchange with classmates, turning a moment of anxiety into an atmosphere of camaraderie.

Lesson: The #ShareKleenexCare campaign is a classic example of how companies can use pathos and emotion to shape consumer behavior. The back-to-school season is emotional for both parents and students. Strategically instill an understanding of these complex feelings into your marketing efforts. 

If you sell children’s clothes, gear your marketing efforts to helping students feel ready for anything in their first-day-of-school outfit. Or if you run a salon, let parents know that now is the perfect time for a first day of school trim so your child can feel confident walking into the classroom. 

#5 Create Your Own Relevance

If your business isn’t exactly related to the back-to-school season, you can make yourself relevant by taking a page out of Whole Foods’ playbook.

In a campaign they promoted on television and social media, Whole Foods shared inspiration and ideas for back-to-school lunches. These ads weave in visual and written references to foods Whole Foods carries as well as products such as food storage containers available at the upscale grocery store.

Lesson: Whole Foods probably isn’t your first stop on a back-to-school shopping spree, yet the retailer was able to create relevance for themselves, seamlessly blending themselves into the back-to-school season. The trick is to keep an open mind and find places where your unique services would be essential. 

Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • Let’s say you own a mechanic shop. How do you make yourself relevant to this season? Well, if you’re a parent (or remember your student days), you might remember that the drive from home to school on the first day of the semester can be a little stressful. What your business can do is make sure the drive is always a safe one by offering a discount on tune-ups or having a sale on rear-view cameras to make sure newly licensed drivers are avoiding accidents in the school parking lot.  
  • If you run a real estate agency, now might be a nice time to remind clients that a new home might mean a better school district and a better future for a family with close proximity to after-school activities like recreation centers.
  • If you own a spa or salon, the back-to-school season might be an ideal time to tell parents that they deserve a little pampering after all the busyness of new school year preparations. The suggestion of a midday massage or haircut while the kids are in school may appeal to some parents, too. 

#6 Show Some Love For Teachers

Parents and kids aren’t the only ones preparing for the new semester. Teachers are also abuzz preparing their classrooms for new students—which is why this is a perfect opportunity to show some appreciation through your marketing tactics. 

In 2019, Staples made teachers the focus of their back-to-school campaign by offering 5% back in rewards for teachers when parents and kids shopped at Staples. They also amplified the #ThankATeacher hashtag on social media to encourage families to share how a teacher made a positive impact on their life. One winner received $10,000 in school supplies for that teacher’s school.

Lesson: In their campaign, Staples showcased the power of social good and charitable giving on consumer habits. Sponsor a local school or organization and advertise that a percentage of customers’ back-to-school purchases will go towards this cause.

#7 Embrace the Digital

The growing online ecosystem can be intimidating, but it also gives you nearly instantaneous and direct access to students and their parents. In 2020, many small businesses were forced to pivot online. Despite the pressure of this situation, these small businesses achieved fantastic results. Don’t believe us? Here are some examples:

  • Haven’s Kitchen – A New York company offering in-person cooking classes, Haven’s Kitchen very successfully transitioned to virtual classes. 
  • Burst of Butterflies – Another experiential company, Burst of Butterflies is an Arizona pottery and painting studio that began to sell pottery and art kits with accompanying digital instructions for both individuals and parties. 
  • Matthiasson – This Napa Valley winemaker switched from in-person wine tastings to an online experience where customers can order a tasting pack of six wines to enjoy during a virtual tour and private tasting on Zoom.

As of 2021, 64% of small businesses have an online presence, providing them with opportunities to connect with customers and promote their products and services in new ways. 

Lesson: These experiential and events-based companies were some of the least likely to transition online, yet they were able to do so by utilizing current technology and their own creativity.

Take a peek at your business and ask yourself where you can add more digital offerings. Can you offer online classes? Provide services online? Or, take this time to polish up your digital presence. Does your website need a touch-up? Have you updated your social media profiles recently? 

Find Families Today on Nextdoor

This back-to-school season is going to be big—billions of dollars big. After a year of in-person and virtual learning, students want to make a splash as they reunite with their classmates and teachers for good. Major retailers will be pulling out all the stops to capture consumer attention. Follow their lead and get creative with your back-to-school marketing ideas.

Whether you need somewhere to share your back-to-school buying guide, promote your event, or get the word out about your business, Nextdoor can connect you with the parents and children in your community. Create your free Business Page to share your wonderful new back-to-school campaign ideas with your neighbors now.



National Retail Federation. Back-to-School 2021. 

National Retail Federation. A summer snapshot of back-to-school trends. 

National Retail Federation. Back-to-Class Data Center. 

Business Wire. Newegg Kicks-off Six-Week Back-to-College Campaign July 20. 

Target. Target’s School List Assist is the Fastest, Easiest Way to Buy School Supplies. 

Best Buy. Best Buy Launches Parent Hub To Help Prep For Virtual Learning. 

Cision PR Newswire. Kleenex® Brand: There Whenever, Wherever Someone Needs One. 

Youtube. Commitment to Care. 

Youtube. Back to school lunch ideas from Whole Foods. 

Twitter. Get ready for #BacktoSchool with these delish deals through 8/22.  Find more: 

Mind Body Green. The Genius Equation That Makes Packing A Healthy Kids’ Lunch Super Simple. 

Financial Post. American Eagle Makes an "Uproar" for Fall '19 With Lil Wayne Collaboration and Unrivaled New Jeans Collections With Curvy, AirFlex and Stacked Fits. 

Youtube. LIL WAYNE MAKES MOVES (MUSIC VIDEO) | AE x Young Money Fall 2019 | American Eagle. 

Business Wire. Staples Encourages Everyone to Thank a Teacher This Back to School Season. 

Twitter. Parents, you can support your child’s #teacher with every back to school purchase! Enter your receipt online and they’ll receive 5% back in rewards: 

U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 10 In-Person Businesses That Have Successfully Gone Virtual.


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Author image Nextdoor Editorial Team At Nextdoor, we love local. The Nextdoor Editorial Team is dedicated to telling stories of local businesses, providing product education, and sharing marketing best practices to help businesses grow.