The beginning of the school year and school shopping season is fast approaching! While the uncertainty around schools reopening means that typical back-to-school shopping and preparation looks a little different, what we do know is that military families are still preparing for their children’s return to school this fall — and your brand is preparing your back to school advertising campaigns.

In 2019, American families spent an estimated 27.8 billion on school supplies, and military families have over 1.7 million children to buy school supplies for. The benefit of back-to-school advertising to military families is that service members are always employed and easily reachable through targeted on-base media and military print. To effectively reach the military audience, here are our top four tips for your back-to-school marketing campaigns to military families.

1. Understand the military family back-to-school experience

According to Refuel’s Military Explorer Series, there are approximately 1.7 million military children in the United States. In order to understand how to craft your fall 2020 back-to-school marketing campaigns to military families, you first need to understand where military kids are going to school, how their experience might be different than civilian children, and the priorities of military families as they send their kids off to school in the fall. 

Military families are often in transition, moving from one military base to another, and that means that military kids change schools frequently. Almost half of military kids attend public schools in their area, with the rest in a handful of different learning environments. According to findings from a 2019 survey by the Military Family Advisory Network, 10% of military children attend public school on-base, 6% attend DoDEA schools, 10% are homeschooled, 8% attend private schools, and 12% are in pre-school. 

Additionally, military families are actively prioritizing their children’s education. According to Refuel’s Military Explorer SeriesTM, 60% of military spouses cited saving for their child’s education as one of their most important financial goals.

2. Utilize on-base advertising and military print advertising

While it remains uncertain whether students will be returning to their physical classrooms in the fall to be influenced by in-school OOH advertising, we do know that military families frequent base facilities and services and read military print. In fact, on-base advertising and military print are the most trusted media sources by the military community.

According to Refuel’s Military Explorer SeriesTM, 63% of active duty military, 59% of spouses, and 53% of reserve/guard expressed that they have a deeper connection with a brand when they see their ads on-base versus off-base. Additionally, the same groups expressed that they were more likely to try the products advertised on-base, as well as recommend those products to others.

And in terms of on-base magazines, military newspapers, and military OOH ad results, upwards of 90% of active duty, guard/reserve, and military spouses took action after seeing these ads. 

Additionally, you can show your appreciation to military personnel and earn brand loyalty by offering military discounts. Refuel Agency’s Military Explorer SeriesTM showed that the military community is more likely to be loyal to brands that offer military discounts — 43% of active duty, 53% of reserve/guard, and 41% of military spouses were more likely to be loyal to brands that offer discounts. 

On-base military advertising, military print advertising, and military discounts are extremely effective and will play a vital role in your military back-to-school campaigns.

3. Strategize around the new school environment

Typical back-to-school marketing campaigns are centered around the traditional learning environment. Military kids pack their books and their lunch in their backpacks, bring all their school supplies to their desk, and wear new clothes after their summer growth spurts. They take the bus or their parents drop them off on their way to work, and students are out of their home for seven hours a day. Students’ learning environment is provided by the physical building they attend, and their lives are very separate from the rest of their family for five days a week. 

Now think about the new, remote learning environment. Families’ lives are no longer physically separate; instead, everyone’s lives and needs are heavily integrated. That means that not only do military children need tools and resources to make their remote learning successful, but parents working from home also need strategies to make their family successful. This includes everything from the way families are delegating the space in their homes, to the way that food is being prepared, to the technology that is being used to bridge all the gaps.

A recent survey found that 47% of parents in general are considering homeschooling their kids this fall due to both schools’ uncertainty and health concerns. This would require that parents equip their home with everything needed to make it a successful full-time learning environment and ensure they and their kids get the support they need. 

When you’re strategizing your campaigns, think about this entirely new rhythm of life we’ve all adopted and the new needs it might bring up. The military community is already accustomed to being flexible, but your brand can improve your military reach by providing additional support.

Finally, ensure that your online shopping experience is as streamlined as possible. Consider offering free shipping for orders over $25-30. Curate collections of back-to-school supplies on your site so parents can easily find everything in one place.

4. Pivot your products in your back to school advertising

Given the anticipated learning environment for fall 2020, fall military back-to-school sales will look different. Usually, clothing and apparel comprises a majority of military families’ back-to-school sales, but kids learning from home will need different products. For example, clothing brands may shift to marketing comfortable clothes for learning at home and durable clothes for playing outside.

Technology will play an important role in bridging the gap between physical schools and home learning environments, as well as adapting the home into a place where it’s comfortable for parents to work while their kids are in school.

Recreation will be an important theme, too, as kids will need activities to stay occupied while they’re home every day and their parents may be busy. Think games, sports equipment, crafts, and educational activities. 

And all the while, remember the things that won’t change. Military parents will still need to purchase school supplies like pencils and notebooks for their children. Parents still want to feed their kids healthy snacks, and kids still outgrow their clothes over the summer. Stick to what’s tried-and-true where you can.

Liz Carmo

Liz Carmo brings over 14 years of experience with Refuel Agency. While an expert in all Refuel’s core markets, she quickly formed a passion for the military division. Liz has been a pioneer in the military space with building our partner relationships that allow us to keep competitive pricing and top industry knowledge. Her passion towards the military market, creativity, and deep consumer insights help Refuel’s key brands grow their business.