Market Focus: Elementary School Teachers
Reach Those Who Teach
Elementary school teachers are responsible for making their classrooms conducive to learning. While the school districts may supply the textbooks and the desks, it’s the teachers who purchase much of the other materials for their classes—including workbooks, educational toys and videos. They also buy things to make the classroom a happy and bright place—items such as job charts, weather calendars and ABC posters.
“Teachers control some school funds and spend some of their own money on school supplies, as well,” explains John Jeffery, president of ClassroomDirect and Sax Arts & Crafts, both divisions of School Specialty, a Greenville, WI-based education-marketing company. In addition, teachers have some influence over larger school budgets through purchase orders, Jeffery adds. For this reason, he describes his target audience as “somewhere between B-to-B and B-to-C.”
The nation’s 1.7 million elementary school teachers have two spending streams, confirms Mike Subrizi, director of marketing, Market Data Retrieval (MDR), Shelton, CT. “First, there is the annual $200 or more budgeted by the school per teacher for classroom supplies. Then, there’s the teachers’ own out-of-pocket spending.”
Teachers Need Supplies
Two out of every three teachers are given a classroom budget for instructional materials and school supplies, according to MDR’s Educator Buying Trends report. In addition, annual teacher out-of-pocket spending on school supplies and instructional materials equals about $400, MDR’s survey reveals.
Samantha Bullock, K-12 product manager for MKTG Services, a Wilmington, MA, education list compiler, confirms, “Among obvious users of teachers’ lists are companies who sell supplemental text information, classroom decorations, maps and so forth.” She continues, “Some of these users include U.S. Toy Company, Delta Education and list brokers such as School Market Research—which works for a number of marketers including textbook publishers, bulletin and award producers, and general school supply companies.” Another cataloger successfully selling to this market is Oriental Trading Co., which many teachers turn to for classroom accessories, Bullock adds.
What Else Teachers Buy
Elementary teachers are predominantly women, and they have above average household incomes, Subrizi says. These two characteristics bring opportunities for a wealth of other offers targeted to teachers.
There’s a significant marketing opportunity for apparel sales to elementary teachers. Bullock cites “appropriate apparel for teachers” like Chadwick’s of Boston, and L’eggs and Hanes pantyhose among the users of her company’s data.
Teachers also are prime prospects for financial marketers such as credit card companies, Bullock says. And Subrizi adds that the fact that “they’re professionals with a steady income also makes them a good market for investment offers.”
It’s interesting to note that teachers tend to have summers off. “That opens this market up for a host of different offers, from summer camps to continuing education classes, to travel,” says Subrizi.
Travel historically has been a big category for teachers—both for class trips and personal vacations, adds Bullock.
Mail Still the Top Media Choice
When it comes to media, experts agree teachers still tend to prefer direct mail and catalogs over the Internet for making buying decisions. Not that teachers aren’t online: They certainly use the Internet for research and communication. But for shopping, they’d prefer to have a catalog handy that they can browse through at any time. “Direct mail is still a strong medium for communicating with teachers,” says Bullock.
When it comes to selling online, ClassroomDirect learned by experience that teachers like to have a choice. In the late 1990s, ClassroomDirect was School Specialty’s foothold on the Internet for reaching teachers, Jeffery explains. “Our belief back then was that in a few years, everyone was going to be on the Web.” The company spent a good deal of money “buying eyeballs”—only to learn later that consumers weren’t going to flock to the Internet. It has since integrated its online and offline channels. Today, it’s the teacher’s choice to use the Web or to send in a purchase order—whatever is more convenient for them. “Our Web site is very profitable now, and it’s an important channel; but it’s not its own business,” says Jeffery.
Other forms of direct marketing media, such as unsolicited telemarketing and e-mail, are “big no-nos … if they’re not your customers,” says Subrizi. Though teachers use e-mail, they still tend to reserve it for communicating with students’ parents.
Bullock concurs that e-mail is not a major marketing tool, yet. “People are testing e-mail as an alternate medium, but the lists of teachers’ e-mail addresses have not reached the same level of quality or availability,” she says.
Lists and Data Sources
The overall list market for teachers’ names is quite comprehensive. There are three main sources of compiled teacher information: Quality Education Data, MDR and MKTG Services; and half a million new teachers are added to the files each year, says Bullock. All totaled, there are more than 3 million teachers in the kindergarten to grade 12 market, says MDR’s Subrizi.
There also are many individual direct response lists available for rent—among them, catalog buyer files, subscribers to education magazines and more general market lists such as consumer magazines with a teacher job-title select. Use these lists—as opposed to compiled teacher files—when you want proven direct mail responders, recommends Tracey Bausano, senior list manager of Venture Direct Worldwide in New York, which handles many of the top education response lists.
With both compiled and response lists, reaching teachers at their home addresses is another option, and, says Subrizi, “[Home address] is sometimes preferred, since they’ll have more time to spend reading your catalog at home.” But, he cautions, “It really depends on the offer and product, and how it is purchased. You definitely have to test into those markets,” Subrizi asserts.
In general, Bullock says she sees most catalogs and other product offers mailed directly to the teachers, unless the marketer is selling larger items such as furniture, textbooks or computer hardware, which would go to the district level. “Mail to the teacher at home or school for supplemental learning products, and to the district for curriculum-based materials and other larger purchases,” she advises.
ClassroomDirect’s Jeffery says his catalog has just started to explore list modeling this year. “We feel that profiling and modeling [are] going to give us some more prospects to go after,” he says. Among the factors he’s looking at in modeling: how a particular school has performed as a purchaser historically. “We’re finding [that the] schools that have a significant number of purchasers are more likely to add new buyers. We’re also looking at them by state, urban versus suburban areas, [and] student population,” he adds.
Offers That Motivate
When selling products to teachers for their classrooms, you have to prove the value of your product—and the right offer can help you do that. “Any added value that you give, if it’s something that will help the teacher to do his or her job, is a plus,” says Subrizi. “Free stuff aligned with the classroom is a nice added value,” he adds. For example, a video that comes with book-support materials might help a teacher make the decision to buy it.
Alicia Orr Suman is the former editor in chief of Target Marketing and Catalog Success magazines. Presently, she is a direct marketing writer based in Maple Glen, Pa. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.