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We’re quickly approaching summer, the time of year when students wrap up the school year and head off to camp, the beach, and a number of other fun activities.

But there is no summer vacation for marketers, who need to turn their attention to developing strategies to capture back to school shoppers when the summer ends in a few short months.

However, deciding who to target with your campaigns, parents or students, can be a challenge.

The good news is that, when it comes to back to school, there are more similarities than differences between the groups.

Let's review similarities among parents and students during the back to school shopping season, particularly when it comes to using social and mobile technology to effectively reach both groups.

Spread the wealth with social

The rise of social media in recent years has spread across all age groups, leaving no demographic behind. From teens to baby boomers, all ages are using channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to engage with their networks and share content.

Back to school is its own fashion show event and there is not better stage (or "runway") for parents and students to show off their style than social media.  

Here are a couple of examples of campaigns designed to reach both parents and students, as well as some lessons that can be applied by marketers this year.

Last August, Target launched its Stylagrams campaign to help parents celebrate their children’s style. Parents were invited to Instagram a picture of their child with the hashtag #KidsGotStyle and @Target in the caption.

For five days, the brand used winning photos to create curated collections of Target products, called Stylagrams, inspired by the pictures.

This type of engagement offered parents a fun way to share content and also engage more deeply with the brand’s fashions.

Seventeen Magazine's Rock the Hallways Instagram contest, on the other hand, directly appealed to students. Readers were invited to snap a 'selfie' of their back-to-school fashion and upload it to Instagram with the hashtag ‪#‎17COVERGIRL.

Entrants were required to follow @seventeenmag and @covergirl for a chance to win a homecoming prize package including a $500 shopping spree, a makeover for the winner and three friends, limo transportation to and from a homecoming event, a videographer to capture pre-event makeovers and the limo ride, plus a year's supply of COVERGIRL products.

These engagement tactics appealed to popular behaviors among teenagers, and the relevant prize package successfully motivated participation.

Mobile drives in-store engagement

The rise of the smartphone and the always-on nature of today’s consumer have fundamentally changed customer influence. There are huge opportunities available to marketers that effectively incorporate mobile into their efforts to reach customers of all ages.

Importantly, mobile enables retailers to bring the benefits of digital into their brick and mortar stores. This gives marketers the ability to immediately engage and activate consumers in-store by providing them exclusive offers to be claimed via mobile, generating advocacy and creating long-term ongoing communication relationships through mobile channels.

The back to school shopping season in particular presents marketers with a unique opportunity to create excitement and a sense of urgency, using mobile to activate consumers in store.

In a recent back to school campaign, Australian retailer Gilly Hicks used mobile technology to activate in-store shoppers by providing them with an instantly usable mobile coupon intended to drive awareness across their social networks.

The retailer offered a trip to Bondi Beach in Australia as an incentive to drive in-store traffic, and postcards were distributed throughout the store to promote the campaign and drive mobile participation.

The postcards featured a unique keyword to text in for a chance to win the trip, and in an SMS message sent in response to the consumer's keyword, the retailer also delivered a 20% coupon code.

In addition to activating customer participation, this strategy allowed the brand to create a robust CRM database of mobile numbers that they can use for ongoing SMS engagement and future promotions.

Similarly, Old Navy’s goal during the summer months is to get kids in store for back-to-school shopping.

Old Navy's Multiply Your Style campaign used mobile to promote an in-store event through students’ social networks. The event was set up with foods, treats and drinks to encourage traffic.

Participating students grabbed their spot to walk the runway in style and parents took pictures of their kids rocking their favorite Old Navy back to school looks – sharing the pictures via Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #myONstyle.

Students aged 6-12 (or their parents) could enter for a chance to win a trip to LA to shop with Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande, stars of Nickelodeon’s Sam & Cat, with $1,000 to spend at Old Navy – or appear on the Old Navy website.

Mobile enables Old Navy to use this type of concentrated investment by activating consumers who attend to promote the event and drive awareness for Old Navy fashions through their social networks.

The personalized nature of the pictures students and parents share helps to drive brand relevancy to shoppers’ social networks – activating participants into digital evangelists for the brand.

The back to school shopping season presents marketers with a number of opportunities to increase customer engagement.

While the specific strategies or concepts you offer may be different for parents and teens, all campaigns should use the same digital marketing channels – social and mobile – that resonate with all customers.

Matthew Kates

Published 27 May, 2014 by Matthew Kates

Matt Kates is Vice President, Strategic Services at HelloWorld and is a contributor to Econsultancy.

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