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.
Why on campus advertising?
When teens leave their parents to go to college, college campuses quickly become their new homes, learning environments, and social world. College students are surrounded by like-minded peers, respected professors and mentors that influence students in a time when they are learning what they think, what they believe, and how they will navigate the world.
The college campus is where young minds are shaped—and your brand needs to be a part of that.
From our research and 30 years of on campus marketing experience, here’s our complete guide to creating on campus advertising campaigns that influence your target audience and win them over for life.
College students are highly motivated by experiences. After all, they’re young and away from home for the first time, so many students are open to the exploration that a college campus provides. Your brand can easily cater to this desire and influence teens through memorable and shareable live experiences.
Utilize out-of-home in high-traffic areas
Out-of-home media is a highly effective media choice for influencing college students. According to Refuel Explorer Series: College Edition, teens are 39% more likely to recall on campus out-of-home ads, and 78% of students look at posters and media boards on their campus at least a few times a week.
Enlist college brand ambassadors
A college brand ambassador (also known as a campus rep) is a student on-the-ground at a campus that serves as a representative for your brand. Implementing a student ambassador marketing program allows you to hone in on your target audience with a grassroots approach, build trust with students through their peers, increase brand awareness through strategic integration, and drive sales. Students live in extremely social communities, and they trust the opinions of their peers and community.
College Club™ is Refuel’s peer-to-peer college ambassador marketing platform that includes both face–to–face and online influencer activities at over 100 of the largest campuses nationwide. College ambassador marketing programs catalyze powerful influence that drives significant behavioral changes on campus.
Learn more about how college brand ambassadors can help your brand make an impression on college campuses in our post here.
Track by geographic region by college
Jack Klauber, CEO of Everyday Dose, explains that, “It is important to track a region specifically, because many students within the same area have the same needs.” For example, students in the Northeast will be shopping for snow boots, while students in Southern California will be shopping for wetsuits. Where campuses are located geographically will likely impact the success and performance of your campaigns.
Leverage trials and samples for student
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.
College students want to feel like your brand understands who they are, what challenges they face, and what excites them. Stay away from generic, mass market messages that aren’t relevant to today’s college students. Instead, use surveys, focus groups, and college marketing experts to craft messages that speak to real, current college students’ experiences.
Use the right kind of technology
When it comes to leveraging the above tips and creating effective college marketing strategies, any friction in your campaign can cause you to make a poor impression and lose the interest of college students. One example of friction in your campaign is using technology that slows your target market down and makes taking the desired action more challenging.
Quincy Smith, founder of ESL Authority, shares that, “If you’re collecting information, make sure to use an iPad or something similar—we found students to really dislike having to write down their information and giving them a digital device was much more well received.”
Support your campaigns with technology that makes it easy for students to engage and give you their information—not more difficult.
Today’s college students are extremely aware of the pressing social and environmental issues around them. They’re well-informed, well-connected, and highly motivated to make a difference in the world around them.
And one of the ways that teens actually seek to make a difference is through the brands they support. Teens view their purchasing decisions as an extension of their values, and they expect brands to align with them on the stances they take on the causes that matter to them. If you don’t stand up for what you believe in, you will lose Gen Z’s support.
Ready to get started on your on campus marketing strategy? Contact us today for your custom media plan.