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How small businesses can market products and services to back-to-school shoppers – USA TODAY

It’s that time of year again.

Time to get to watch “Succession” again, you say?

No my binge-watching friends, fall is a time to both gear up for getting the kids (finally!) back to school and also to think about some new ideas for your business.

One smart idea that many small businesses implement this time of year is to combine the two and market their business with that back-to-school factor in mind. And that’s smart. With so many families now getting into the swing of things, focusing on a school theme makes a lot of sense.

That said, school right now looks many different ways – in class, on Zoom, and a hybrid of both all abound. But that actually is good news. That gives you more options to play with.

The key to marketing your business for back to school therefore is two-fold. First, you need to have the right marketing angle. Second, you need to have the right marketing vehicle. Let’s look at both.

The right angle

There is no shortage of competition out there when it comes to back to school promotions, and that is so for a reason: marketers market to where people put their attention, and right now, for families, that is returning (in some form) to school.

So the first thing to think about is that you have to be smart with your marketing efforts so that you don’t get lost in the shuffle.

I once had a master marketer tell me that the key to marketing in a crowded field is “waves and dips.” What he explained is that while it is smart to catch a wave like”‘back to school” because it is where the eyeballs are, the key to standing out is the dip. That is, you need to position yourself in a spot where the rest of the wave marketers are not.

What constitutes a dip? Really it is anything that you can do that sets your business apart from everyone else. Your dip could be:

  • A loss leader sale of an item that is not normally found on sale
  •  “Cool masks for kids!” 
  • An ad campaign that is really different. My dad once brought an elephant to his carpet store parking lot sale. While it did attract a lot of families, dad was not prepared for, shall we say, “Cleanup on aisle 3!” So be careful.

Thus, the key is to be different enough so that you stand out among all the surfers trying to catch the same wave.

The right marketing vehicle

Parents spend a lot of time in the car, schlepping kids to and fro. Finding the right station, and advertising there, can be a goldmine.

One of the great things about marketing today is that there are so many ways to get the word out: Pay-per-click, traditional ads, blogs, social media, etc.

While I am a big proponent of all of these because they all work and generally are very affordable, in this case, I would also suggest that the tried is also true. Where are the parents? What do they read, watch, and listen to? Whatever the place, that is where you need to be.

Some options:

Facebook. Facebook ads can be very effective and affordable, when targeted properly. Be sure to choose your categories of who will see your ads carefully so that you don’t waste a lot of money.

E-newsletter: After all, your distribution list is a list of people who have already opted in to hear from you.

Radio: Parents spend a lot of time in the car, schlepping kids to and fro. Finding the right station, and advertising there, can be a goldmine.

Local TV: Very expensive, and not worth it unless you can afford to do it right.

Fall is a great time to get back into the swing of things. Just be sure to follow these ABCs so that you don’t flunk the marketing exam.