Late summer and fall is the time when parents and their kids are shopping for backpacks, binders, and the latest styles as students head back into the classroom. But teachers are making plans much earlier. They spend springtime finalizing their lists for the following school year.

March through June is when lists start showing up on school websites, which means brands that start reaching out to consumers in September are months too late. Brands that want to reach the coveted top spot on back-to-school lists need to be creating awareness. It’s a market worth spending a little extra time reaching. Back-to-school spending topped $80 billion in 2018.

Our research also shows that 73% of educators request specific brands — Crayola, Elmer’s, or Expo, for example. Some also recommend specific stores, especially if the school has an official retail partnership. Getting your products or retail store name-dropped on school shopping lists could drive millions in revenue when parents head into stores to buy all the items their children will need.

Claiming a Spot on a Lucrative List

Spring and early summer present a short window for marketers to make a big impression on teachers. These strategies are sure to get their attention:

1. Offer free educational resources.

Teachers are always short on time and resources. A great way to build goodwill is to offer free resources they can use in the classroom. This content can be hosted on the brand’s website, or it could be created through a partnership with a retailer where shoppers can actually purchase the products.

Lysol, for example, created a website for teachers that offers up ideas, tips, and resources to help them keep a healthy and germ-free classroom. The free resources were promoted through social media, email, and a classroom makeover giveaway.

Free resources for teachers should be easy to access and actually helpful; otherwise, they’re easy to ignore. Elmer’s is great at this. The brand provides free lesson plans that use Elmer’s products to combine math and science in fun ways — something every elementary and middle school teacher is grateful for.

2. Hold a contest.

On average, teachers spend $480 of their own money each year to outfit their classrooms, so a Target or Amazon gift card is always appreciated. Holding a simple contest or giveaway gets teachers engaged with your brand while adding a feel-good element to the marketing campaign.

Last year, Crayola ran a social media sweepstakes inviting people to thank a teacher with a special hashtag. One teacher would win a classroom makeover, a professional development award, and a year of school supplies. Through this campaign, Crayola put itself on teachers’ radar as a brand they might want to support.

3. Host the list yourself.

If the top spot on the shopping list is valuable, imagine hosting the list itself. Teachers who want to create and post their own list of recommendations online don’t have many options outside of their school’s website. But retailers such as Target, Office Depot, or Family Dollar are in a prime position to host these lists themselves. Walmart makes it easy for teachers to upload their own lists and equally easy for parents and students to find those lists online or even in stores. In the process, Walmart funnels all the back-to-school business into its own ecosystem.

There are few consumer brands that don’t stand to benefit from early and effective back-to-school marketing. Shopping lists are the entry point for anyone who wants to be associated with education, and getting products in front of teachers all year long keeps those products top of mind once teachers start recommending products.

If you would like more information on how to tap into the school supply list market, click here to download my company’s report, “An Inside Look at School Supply Lists.”