Understanding the Motives and Mind-Sets of Parents This Fall
The realities of the pandemic have made Back to School a tough puzzle for retailers. The nation is divided on how it should approach the upcoming school year, and while no one can define what “school” should look like, brands can play an important role in helping us work out how to prepare.
Successful marketers have always relied on keeping a close relationship with customers and their needs. This year, with policy reversals and growing uncertainty putting consumer mind-sets in flux, there's an added challenge for retailers focused on marketing for the back-to-school season to be flexible and sensitive to their customers. In a survey of 500 parents, a recent report from Holler reveals how the motives and mind-sets of parents in the U.S. have changed in the last few months.
To no one’s surprise, parents are overwhelmed. Sixty percent of parents report that they're worried and hesitant about their children returning to school in the fall. They don’t know if they should prepare to send their children to school with full protective equipment or expect them to be home for the next six months.
On top of an already overwhelming season, financials are strained. Although parents need to be more discerning about their purchases, shopping lists are longer than ever before. In 2019, 64 percent of parents felt pressure to buy the latest gadgets for school. Now, with cities mandating partial to fully online schooling, tech-related expenses are less of a luxury and more of an expensive necessity. In addition to new tools for connectivity, parents will be looking for personal protective equipment (PPE) this year, with 26 percent listing PPE as an essential back-to-school item.
Between protective gear for in-person learning and proper equipment for at-home sessions, parents are preparing for two possible realities — or a hybrid of the two. People are looking to retailers they trust for guidance and ideas to aid this confusing back-to-school process. Major online retailers are offering product collections organized by situation in a move to support their customers in navigating their new needs.
Campaigns should also be consistent across platforms, whether online or brick-and-mortar. E-commerce is having a huge moment right now. Holler’s survey of parents found that 68 percent plan to shop online for school-related essentials vs. 50 percent in 2019. However, 82 percent are still electing to purchase back-to-school essentials in person, only a 10 percent drop from the previous year.
To appeal to today's consumers, retailers need to be a source of guidance and create flexible, appropriate campaigns that support safe ways to return to school, regardless of their format. At the end of the day, the key to back-to-school marketing this year is empathetic messaging. Brands need to recognize the types of conversations confused and anxious parents are having with each other, and work out how they can become a meaningful part of their dialogue. They must focus on safety, make campaigns adaptable to multiple cases, and be empathetic. Eliminating insensitivities and recognizing that they're targeting families seeking guidance during an economic crisis will help retailers navigate this challenging moment.
Sarah Aitken is the chief marketing officer of Holler, a company that provides fun, expressive content for your DMs, messages, camera apps, and posts.
Related story: Back to School is a Moment, Not a Date on Calendar