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3 tips for marketing to university students

Sep 27, 2017
3 tips for marketing to university students

Students, and young people in general, are a notoriously difficult demographic to market to. As trends continue to change at lightning speed, social media platforms fall in and out of favour and influencer marketing rules the roost, it can feel like this generation is almost impenetrable when it comes to building brand relationships and engendering trust.

Yet as this group becomes ever more influential in buying power and society at large, the question of how to engage young people is becoming ever more acute. University students are one such subgroup and given their potential to become the CEO’s and politicians of tomorrow, marketers would do well to tap into this market early on.

Now that we are on the cusp of a new academic year, here are three tips for marketing to students 

1. Timing is important

Fresher’s Week is a hectic time for new students, as the pressures of moving cities, learning to cope away from home and settling in to a new academic routine all compound to create a whirlwind few weeks. Clearly this can be a stressful time and so knowing where and when to engage with students is an important lesson to learn.

According to an article by The Drum, the frantic nature of Fresher’s Week means that ‘there is very little time for brands to make meaningful connections.’ Although the many fairs hosted by universities can seem like an ideal opportunity for brands to make their presence felt on campus, in fact The Drum pointed out that ‘most of the students we spoke to said they didn’t read any of the branded literature handed to them in Freshers’ Week.’

Instead of rushing in to be the first to engage with students, being there for them when they need it most could pay better dividends for your marketing strategy. According to The Drum ‘a significant need arises around the middle of the first term, when 30% of the students we spoke to experienced a delayed sense of homesickness.’ Once the excitement of a new environment ebbs and the reality of the university workload kicks in, students are more likely to be receptive to a brand offering them a well-timed pick-me-up, an in-store gift, a useful life hack to get them through the week or a sample of their soon-to-be-favourite new product. 

2. It’s all about the experience

Although students have significantly more expendable cash than is frequently presumed, many are more likely to spend this money on memorable experiences and events than tangible products with little emotional value.

The trend towards experiential marketing has been growing in recent years across all demographics, with many brands increasing budget allocations for such avenues in a bid to boost ROI and shareability. Last year Campaign Live spoke to Managing Director of experiential marketing agency Sense Nick Adams, who argued that now is an exciting time for the industry. He explained ‘experiential marketing has become mainstream and it is incredibly aligned to how brands now are looking to connect to consumers.’ Pointing to Heineken and Innocent as good examples of brands boosting investment in a bid to be ‘relevant’ and ‘meaningful’, the trend is only set to increase in coming years.

This trend is highly adaptable to working with the student demographic, as organisations like Campus Media have realised. Specialising in ‘experiential marketing services that are designed to grab the attention of students across the country, challenge perceptions and influence their behaviour,’ many brands could draw inspiration from their ideas. With a self-declared aim to ‘be original, be influential and be memorable,’ those brands looking to engage students must consider how they can tick each of these boxes if they are to leave a lasting impression on this difficult-to-impress generation. 

3. Don’t underestimate serious concerns

While university is at times renowned for its party atmosphere, presuming that these students are not engaged with the outside world, or simply easily-offended liberal “snowflakes” is a perilous mistake to make.

Some of the most socially conscious, environmentally friendly and politically aware members of society belong to the student demographic, and they have serious, legitimate concerns about their future and that of the world. Ensuring that your brand fits all or some of these CSR sectors is vital if you want to build trust between students and your brand.

At the beginning of the year, Marketing Week wrote an interesting article about the evolution of university marketing in a post-Brexit world. The article argued that ‘the high price tag of education, fierce competition within the sector and the Brexit vote have combined to mean universities need to work harder than ever to attract Gen Z students.’ Marketing Week suggests that even universities themselves need to find new and innovative ways to engage their students, both current and prospective. 

Marketing Week points out that since ‘the vote to leave the European Union in June sent shockwaves through the university sector,’ campaigns like #WeAreInternational were both a timely and necessary intervention to engage with students worried about the impact of the referendum both on their degree and their experience of living in the UK in the coming years.

By treating students as active and engaged members of society and listening to their legitimate concerns in the university environment and beyond, brands can ensure that they win the hearts and minds of students. There is little doubt that such trust can go a long way in the future, and so giving thought to timing, experiences and tone of engagement are essential elements of any student marketing strategy.


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