Brand Strategy

A September Like No Other

“Back to school” is looking less and less like the usual September and it will be more of a “back to routine” season. For brands that have a typical role in this time of year, there is an imperative to be 100 percent focused on understanding, support, empathy and being truly consumer focused first.

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It goes without saying that back to school this year, looks vastly different than any other year in our experienced history. Around the world and here in Canada, every family and every child is navigating unique challenges and very often, no two situations are the same.

“Back to school” is looking less and less like the usual September and it will be more of a “back to routine” season as many parents may choose to home-school, navigate through online learning or adopt a hybrid model where their kids are at home and at school.

For brands that have a typical role or relevant offering at this time of year, there is an imperative need to be 100 percent focused on understanding of diverse household needs. Enabling and optimizing access to your product in ways that maybe weren’t imperative in years past is essential. As is having an ear to the ground and connection to your community to anticipate and react to consumer behaviours and challenges, ensuring actions continue to keep the spotlight on your target consumer.

For a manufacturer, retailer or service to be successful, they need to be connected with the variety of situations being lived. Whether it is a kid starting university for the first time but instead of moving away they are creating a dorm at home, a pre-schooler who had been counting the days until they can get a new backpack and see their friends again or a high-schooler who is having major FOMO for their previous life of parties, sports and clubs.

A few things that we as parents (and marketers) suggest that a brand or service have on their radar for back-to-school:

  • Consider how you can add value to a parent or student’s life by making it easier to get the things they really need and even suggest ways they might be able to repurpose stuff they already have so they aren’t wasting money or valuable time. And on this note, many families are on a restricted income now more than ever so brands and services need to think about how they can offer special deals, ways to save and rewards for those who do use their valuable income to buy with them.
  • Create content that focuses on empathy, support and understanding vs selling. The message of “we are in this together” still is valid but has evolved as time has passed into offering practical and realistic messages that truly understand the unique scenarios of each parent.
  • Don’t try to be an expert where you aren’t- brands should not replace the role of hospitals, medical professionals, school boards or governments- know your place as a brand and your role within a much larger situation. That may be helping with feeling safer – through content co-created with an expert or a product that makes it easier for kids to eat lunch at their desks without touching yucky surfaces.
  • Realize that even though this situation is incredibly serious, there are still need to create moments of joy for kids and families. To some that may be a really great laptop case, new kicks for their middle schooler or the ultimate dorm room set up for that emerging adult who is doing college or university online. After all, some behaviours never change, including the influence kids have on purchases, the desire for that first day of school outfit and awareness of trends, new products and cool factor.
  • Be flexible, be honest, be nimble. Just like the past 6 months, the world will continue to change and evolve -hopefully to a much better place. As a brand or service, you need to evolve and change with it, including being prepared for all scenarios (think test and learn!) and that may differ region to region, group to group and family to family.

We wish all of our partners, clients and friends a safe and healthy September and beyond.

Harbinger is a Toronto-based North American marketing agency with expertise in product launches. We help brands get noticed and purchased.


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