In the fall of 2015, some 20.2 million students traveled to their colleges for another semester of studying, socializing and, of course, spending. This massive national student body stretches across every state and unites a vast range of young people from all social and economic backgrounds into a diverse, unique and economically powerful consumer group.
These are the students of ‘Generation Y’, of the ‘Millennials’; a generation estimated to be the largest consumer group in U.S history, a generation roughly 92 million strong more of whom have or will have attended college than any previous American generation. The first generation of ‘Digital Natives’ raised in a world of mass connectivity and social media, they are naturally tech-savvy and as consumers they are more aware, more informed and more empowered than any generation before with their affinity for technology reshaping how they engage with retail. Millennial students spend more time together than most other social or professional groups and in many ways exist in a social and technological space out of the reach of traditional media at a vitally important time when they are beginning to recognize their purchasing power, setting trends and habits that will last a lifetime. They are big, they are connected, they are aware and they are a wholly new consumer entity requiring new marketing tactics.
This is the challenge marketers and businesses are facing: a massive consumer demographic of untold potential which cannot be reached with – or engaged by – traditional media. This is a challenge, but it is a challenge that is being taken on using well thought-out, well planned and well-executed marketing campaigns tailor-made specifically to reach college students; possibly the most important consumer group in America today.
While students may not be reachable through traditional media, that is not by any means to say that they are resistant to marketing. Also, though students may have a smaller amount of expendable income than some other groups, they have discretionary money and they are willing to spend it on items or brands they can relate to and have an appreciation for. College students today annually spend $21 billion on food and beverages, $21 billion on smartphones and electronics, $10 billion on entertainment, $6.5 billion on footwear and apparel and $6 billion on health and beauty.
Present-day college students may be a uniquely astute group, but they are still just like any other consumer: the challenge is simply to capture their attention and engage them with a product. At Campus Solutions, we do this by engaging with students face to face. We do not simply present our clients’ products and services – we create imaginative and original activities and events which students want to be a part of and are drawn into engaging with the product. This is the key of marketing to students: You have to get on campus, engage them directly, and get them involved! This face-to-face mobile marketing, through the events and campaigns we carry out with our on-campus brand ambassadors, is a big part of everything we do, whether on its own or in combination with other mediums. Through close contact, and by partnering with student groups and universities to execute on-campus events, we are able to have a presence on-campus and successfully engage the student population.
When it comes to the digital side of things, social media campaigns are used to pre-promote events, to generate a call to action and to build anticipation and excitement on campus. Our events are also engineered in a way which encourages the students who participate to share their experience on social media, spreading the word about the event and, of course, the product. That way students are reached by someone they trust: their fellow students. This means that the campaign reaches even further, beyond the many who attend the events and out into their wider social circle. More than ever before the consumer is part of the dissemination of any marketing campaign, and this is especially true amongst students. Although reaching out to students through social media does not work on its own, it does as one part of a wider campaign.
During college, students are establishing their spending habits and brand loyalty, making this a competitive and rewarding time to gain their custom. As with any consumer, the majority of college students make their spending decisions based on perceived value for money. They have money to spend and are willing to spend it, but pricing strategies are invaluable when engaging them with a product or brand. Wherever possible product trials (free samples) are to be encouraged, as are campus-exclusive coupons, discounts and special deals for students. All of this is designed to drive future purchases and encourage repeat custom.
In student-orientated marketing campaigns, involving organizations which are already close to students can be very helpful. This can mean working with Colleges or College clubs and organizations, but also engaging in the ‘Greek System’ of Fraternities and Sororities. These groups are ready-made social networks through which a marketing campaign can spread, and certain Greek system groups can also offer the opportunity for direct contact with particular demographics such as The Latino Fraternal Organizations and Black Greek Letter Organizations. It can also be helpful to engage local businesses – the aim of any student-oriented campaign is to engage directly with students, and although not essential they certainly can help. If, for instance, the brand is a national retailer then our team ambassadors will be able to direct students to their nearest store.
The key here is to use all the tools you have at your disposal – for instance, we aim to use dorm distribution of door hangers and products to get brand names and products into the daily lives of students. Our College Street Teams target those areas on campus which see large amounts of foot/pedestrian traffic to distribute product samples, posters, door hangers and promotional material (these and other non-traditional direct media tactics continue to be the most successful methods for targeting college audiences). Our student union events, managed by our brand ambassadors and team managers, ensure that our clients are represented in the college calendar, from summer orientation and welcome week through to homecoming and finals. Through Sorority and Fraternity marketing, clients can form relationships with many generations of students and become part of one of the most important aspects of their college life. All of this culminates in large on-campus events in which students engage directly with the product and brand in a memorable and fun way.
Using these approaches, with the addition of unique ideas and creative strategies developed specifically for each project, we can build a campaign which draws students in and connects them with brands and products on a personal level. This approach empowers businesses to reach out to and connect with the modern student consumer group as they are forming consumer choices and loyalties that can last a lifetime.