“The battle for students’ backpacks is never fiercer than in the back-to-school season. So, how do you ensure your stationery brand ends up in the hands of the 10million UK pupils in full or part-time education?
Research by Mintel discerned that the back-to-school period is the third largest seasonal shopping event in the UK now, with parents parting with close to £1billion. Only Black Friday and Christmas are bigger. There’s an estimated average individual spend of £273 on goods from uniform to stationery.
Detailed research by YouGov also pinpointed the time parents generally do their back-to-school shop, and it’s earlier than you might think. Most parents have wrapped it up by the end of July - a MONTH before term starts. So you need to think ahead in order to get into the hearts and minds of stationery shoppers. But how?
There are some specifics to consider when marketing stationery versus other retail products.
Innovation and continuous improvement are hugely valuable to marketers operating in this sector, and the most successful campaigns put this at the heart of their marketing offering. Like with many sectors, once your ‘brand new’ product has hit the shelves you can be assured copycats won’t be far behind. But with this kind of campaign, even when copycat products do hit the shelves, your product and brand has already been positioned as the leader and innovator.
We found this when we launched Pritt X. Fundamentally, what we were marketing was still Pritt’s glue stick – but it was a new, stronger ‘green’ formula. Our brief was to try to get more boys in particular sticking with Pritt as their glue of choice, and to create an integrated campaign around this new variant in Pritt’s portfolio. Our response was out of this world. OK, we’re not being big headed here – the campaign centred around an alien “Mr Pritt X” who’s green, extra strong and leaves a bogey-green slime trail behind him. Our creative spanned all media, from short films to print, and it was a huge move away from previous campaigns that were perhaps more aligned to the practical side of the products.
For Sellotape, where innovation is not a driving factor, the challenge was, in effect - what is there left to say? So, we produced a successful TV ad that said ‘nothing’ and ‘everything’ at the same time. Our hook was that Sellotape is one of only a handful of truly generic brand names in the UK. In the ad a mind reader tells viewers: “I’m going to read your mind … you will see an object … I want you to tell me the first word that comes into your head.” They are then shown an unbranded roll of Sellotape. The mind reader then says: “I know what you’re thinking.” The ad helped Sellotape increase sales and market share at the critical Christmas sales peak.
Creating a character around your product also helps to deliver standout in a fairly functional market. For Uni-ball’s erasable pen we created a lovable cartoon monkey based on an old Japanese proverb ‘Saru mo ki kara ochiru’ which literally means ‘even monkeys fall from trees’ – after all, we all make mistakes. The monkey became a brand property, featuring across the entire campaign, engaging a young target audience and their parents.
This may sound obvious, but making your product easier to buy is key. Parents and students alike are time-poor, so when faced with a wall of pens in any stationery store, they don’t have the attention to sift through a full list of features. Know your audience, the key features and benefits they are looking for and, importantly, value enough to pay more for.
Spell out the benefits. For example, Sellotape is stickier, Pritt Stick washes out at 20 degrees and for Uni-ball, its AIR writes like a fountain pen but doesn’t leak, its TSI signo pen “writes and erases.” These messages can shout loudly from the busy background noise of SKU central.
There is always the temptation to add the full list of features on the front of the pack, for fear that you’ll lose out on a sale, but from our consumer testing and research, spelling out one core benefit has greater impact.
We’re also often asked by our stationery client brands about how their marketing can compete against own-label. Firstly, it’s about accepting a small percentage of the market will always only buy own-label, because this is how they’re wired. Some shoppers just want the cheapest deal each and every time. They’re simply not the brand’s target audience.
Well-positioned brands who consistently repeat their brand’s key customer benefits as loudly and as often as budget will allow will always overcome non-branded products, be that through a perceived or actual point of difference. It’s the amplification effect – repeat the proposition, time and again, across multiple channels, to increase the chances of cutting-through in a congested media landscape.
We find that consistent campaigns which deliver a common thread throughout the customer journey right through to the point of sale, prove significantly more effective against every measure.
And finally, a simple one, but very relevant in this category, is to create reasons for consumers to buy your product over other brands or cheaper alternatives. Commercial tie-ups can often drive considerable spend at the tills too, like an association with a new Pixar movie, a spectacular competition prize or a tactical promotion such as a cash back opportunity with a proof of purchase. This avoids discounting or a price war and can be highly motivating in store.
When it comes to stationery marketing, it takes flair, imagination and dedication to make the grade. But the rewards can be in a class of their own.”
Paul Keen is director of brand communications agency 438 Marketing. He has worked with brands including Pritt, Sellotape, Uni-ball and retailer Ryman.