College students are a huge entry-point consumer segment, but creating on campus advertising strategies that reach and influence them at scale can feel like navigating a minefield. Between campus restrictions, fragmented media options, ever-changing technology, geographic differences, and a generation that’s always changing their preferences, it can make any marketer throw up their hands and resort to a mass media advertising plan. 

Luckily, there is a better way. For the past 30 years, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. We’re here to tell you that marketing to college students on campus can be done—and when it’s done right, converts this audience of young people into loyal customers for life. Here’s how to run an on-campus product sampling campaign that’s optimized to drive brand awareness and win loyal, lifelong customers.

What is product sampling to college students? 

Product sampling is a marketing tactic that involves getting free samples of your product into the hands of potential future customers – in this case, college students meandering through their college campuses. In general, this tactic works because it removes the primary barriers – access and price – to customers trying your product, allowing them to try and like your product easily. This results in brand awareness at minimum, and ideally, repeat purchases and customer advocacy. 

And on-campus product sampling works especially well with college students. Having not entered the workforce full-time yet, college students are more motivated than most demographics by anything given away for free, and brands can use this to their advantage. There are so many success stories of brands that have used freebies or deals to give college students a taste of their product, and in doing so, locked in loyal customers for life. A few examples of brands who have done this are Robinhood with their free stocks to college students, and Spotify, with their college student discount.

And using freebies in conjunction with experiential marketing will only amplify your results. Setting up booths or demonstrations in high-traffic areas will disrupt college students’ routines and prompt them to engage with your brand.

Read next: Advertising to Greek Life On-Campus: Your Brand’s Guide

1. Understand your target audience

According to Refuel Agency’s Gen Z Explorer Series™, this generation encompasses 21% of the US and each year their buying power grows. Total teen income is $95.7B, but if you consider the fact that teens are often still financed by their parents as well as influencing family purchasing decisions, that spending power shoots up to a whopping $265.6B. And don’t forget – this consumer audience is made up of teenagers who haven’t started working full-time yet.  

Gen Zers are the most diverse generation yet, value authenticity over everything, and care deeply about social issues. Research also shows that they crave interaction and experiences (especially in a post-COVID landscape), and they’re looking for brands to accompany them out of the digital and into the real world by creating experiences they can engage with. 

Gen Z college students may seem mysterious – but we’re here to solve that mystery for you. Our proprietary studies dig deep into the inner workings of the modern college students’ minds: what motivates them, what influences them, and how they prefer to be reached. 

Read next: 5 Reasons Your Brand Should Offer College Student Discounts

2. Recruit student ambassadors

We’re sure your team is good, but no one can infiltrate a college campus like the students themselves. When it comes to driving results for your on-campus product sampling campaign, enlisting the help of college student ambassadors will supercharge your efforts. 

Student ambassador program is a type of influencer marketing, and this word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer marketing is extremely powerful — 92% of people say they trust their friends’ recommendations over direct advertising.

At Refuel, while we have an organic database of current college students interested in becoming potential brand ambassadors, but we also find it important to custom recruit for each campaign. Your campus ambassadors need to mirror your brand DNA, and our team of specialists ensures that happens.

When you’re looking for ambassadors, you’re going to want to look for some of the following characteristics: 

  • Well-connected and involved on campus
  • A well-established online presence
  • Some experience with marketing or interest in developing their marketing skills
  • An eye for design and ability to create engaging content
  • Alignment and interest in your brand’s purpose and values
  • Enjoys connecting with and spending time with other people – a social butterfly

Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Marketing to Gen Z

3. Timing is everything to success with on-campus product sampling campaigns

When it comes to product sampling on college campuses, timing is everything. Think about it: you can’t just show up on any day of the week and expect results. College campuses are transitory by definition, full of students that operate on a school schedule. 

So for optimal campaign results, get cozy with the campus calendar. Theme your product sampling around the big game, spring break, or the start of the school year.

Read next: Your Complete Guide to Advertising to College Students

Are you ready to get your youth advertising campaigns off the ground? At Refuel Agency, we’ve been crafting strategic youth advertising campaigns for over 30 years, and we’re invested in ensuring your campaigns make an impact. Contact us today to get started.