In the fall of 2016, some 20.5 million students travelled 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. By engaging with as many students as possible during the impressionable few years they spend at College, you can create a meaningful, long-lasting relationship between your brand and the consumer.
These students are the first generation of ‘Digital Natives’ raised in a world of mass connectivity and social media; their affinity for technology has reshaped how they engage with retail. As consumers, they are more aware, more informed and more empowered than any generation before.
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 that demands 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 to say that they are completely resistant to marketing. 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 in excess of $50 billion dollars each year, here’s a breakdown of where they spend it:
So how can you win over these new consumers? As with all marketing campaigns, timing is crucial to maximising audience engagement.
College places are often accepted in the Spring (around April), which causes a huge demand for educational content. Future Freshmen spend the Summer months leading up to their first semester trying to discover as much about the college experience as possible. So this is a perfect time to open your relationship up with these young people and offer them some much-needed advice.
Responding to the needs of these Freshmen at such a crucial time fosters trust and repeat custom for the future. You can capitalise on this demand for information by offering educational pieces of content focused on the practical issues of beginning college life. By allaying such concerns as what items to buy for their first dorm room and advice on weekly budgets, you can create a good rapport with students at the start of their spending lives.
Paying close attention to the rhythms of college life is imperative, should you wish to take advantage of the major marketing opportunities that pop-up throughout the academic year. The ebb and flow of the college semsester is permeated with major events and key moments that a large majority of students will gravitate towards. From orientation to homecoming week to Varsity sports games against rival college teams and the build up to exams; these are perfect opportunities to engage with students and provide them with the tools to succeed in their studies and engage with your brand.
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 to marketing to students: You have to get on campus, engage them directly, and get them involved!
The key here is to use all the tools you have at your disposal – for instance, we 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).
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 a 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 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.
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 spending choices and loyalties that can last a lifetime.
Of course, the relationship between your brand and your average student doesn’t stop when they graduate. The transition into post-college existence is another key moment in a student’s life when their financial situations can potentially improve for the better and they find themselves in need of investing in consumer items that could potentially last them for much longer than just a single term.
At this point, students will need advice and aid in applying for jobs, moving home and learning how to adapt to the working world. Just like the beginning of their college experience, by being present at the end of their student lives, brands can generate good will with consumers that will be entering a new phase of their life as spenders.
To find out how we can help you with your marketing campaigns, get in touch using the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Alternatively, you can call us on (212) 386-7617.