3 things you need to know to win back-to-school in MENA

Sara Hamdan, Josette Ghorra, Dina Barakat / July 2019

In a month, summer will be over, and we will usher in a new school year - and all the pencil cases, markers and backpacks that come with it. For marketers looking to make an impactful start to the back-to-school (BTS) season, we have compiled a guideline of three things to keep in mind when creating and delivering an effective campaign. These include:

  • how the purchase journey is not as simple as it was before
  • why BTS shopping is beyond just school supplies
  • a more in-depth understanding of what consumers really want

Get your highlighters out and let’s get started.

1- The consumer purchase journey is multifaceted

BTS shopping doesn’t just happen right before school starts. Shopping and research take place in advance, often up to three months before the academic year begins.

It happens in advance

When it comes to research, 58% of BTS shoppers begin 1–3 months before the first day of school, while 53% of those surveyed make actual purchases during this time.


It happens online

Today’s BTS consumers take different actions throughout their shopping journeys, from research all the way to purchase, with certain consumers researching online before buying some BTS products offline. Out of those who do their research, 89% search on different online channels (80% use Google Search as their primary source of information). Following their research, 72% of BTS shoppers will do some of their shopping online, while 26% shop exclusively online.

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It takes different factors into account

As with most consumer goods purchases, people are always on the lookout for bargains and smart buys. When consumers research and shop, quality and price are the two main factors that come into play, followed by discounts and brand names.

Takeaway: When it comes to BTS shopping, consumers go online for more than just research, with more of the full shopping journey moving online than ever before. It’s no longer as simple as ‘see and buy’, with consumers spending a lot of time researching before they purchase – mainly online and mainly in the summer season. Ensure your BTS campaign captures early demand for both research and buying.

2- BTS shopping goes beyond school supplies

The “new school year, fresh start” notion often spreads to the whole family. It doesn’t just apply to a school year, but signifies a fresh start for everyone, ultimately affecting families’ buying decisions. It’s also a time when college students are moving into dorms, so this impacts different kinds of shopping behavior that includes everything from furnishings (mattresses) to electronics (new laptop) to household supplies (bathroom slippers).

So what are consumers actually purchasing during the BTS shopping season, and how does this season impact the different unobvious categories? The results from a Google Consumer Survey show:

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As part of a consumer’s research journey, we see that searches for electronics, beauty/personal care and books/stationery are among the most popular categories during BTS. Searches for groceries and furniture were among the fastest-growing search categories during the 2018 BTS season. This goes to show that there is research and purchase behavior online that is not just limited to school supplies during this period.

Key takeaway: Advertisers can involve themselves in this crucial moment, even if their products are not directly related to school supplies. A BTS campaign targeting the broader needs of a wider family would do well during this season. See examples from Kiri and IKEA.

3- BTS shoppers are looking for guidance

When they start their shopping journey, 70% of BTS shoppers are undecided on which brands to buy. In fact, two out of three undecided shoppers say a good video ad could influence a purchase decision. Undecided shoppers often look for inspiration on YouTube, seeking reviews and inspiration from other families. What exactly are they looking for? One of our surveys showed that quality trumps price, but that consumers turn to YouTube for three main reasons:

  1. To inspire: Back to school is about sharing. To inspire shoppers, Khawla, with her daughter Rima, shares her BTS buys in a haul video.
  2. To entertain: Back to school is also about having some fun. Noor Stars and Mishari from OZX got over 8M views on their video girls vs. boys in exams.
  3. To feel involved: Feel like part of the family with Mama Sima as she gets her kids ready for school.

Key takeaway: Undecided shoppers look for visual inspiration. Connect with consumers throughout their online purchase journey. A great way to do that is to collaborate with the right content creator for your brand and audience, creating an authentic connection with millions of loyal fans.

How brands can stand out

What does this all mean for marketers looking to gain a competitive edge in the BTS moment? You can get ahead of the game with the following tips and tricks:

  • Focus on the marketing funnel: Your BTS campaign should cater to the customer’s full shopping journey. Accordingly, it should have multiple stages and different, clear goals – starting from awareness to purchase – to target consumers at the right moments. This is where it is useful to leverage insights on the way consumers research and shop for products.
  • Define your audience based on data: Combine Google data with your own. Leverage tools such as Google Trends and Google Analytics to gather your own data and audience insights.
  • Use Google’s products and audience targeting tools to target shoppers at each stage of the funnel: This is an impactful way to attract users throughout their purchase journeys, from building Awareness, to encouraging BTS users to Consider your brand, and finally to drive Action for users. For example, YouTube Mastheads drive impact at the awareness stage, with a 92% masthead average ad recall lift. At the Consideration stage, aTrueView video ad format is ideal. TrueView gives YouTube viewers the ability to choose which video ads they want to watch and when – meaning you won’t pay for unwanted views. Finally, to drive action, YouTube for Action products are particularly effective. Check out a three-step guide to performance video marketing here.
  • Across the marketing funnel, Google Smart Shopping campaigns and Google Search campaigns optimize ad delivery, helping you reach your digital goals.

We hope this has been a useful guide that helps you entice back-to-school shoppers ahead of the new academic year!

How people decide what to buy lies in the “messy middle” of the purchase journey