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.
Read next: 6 Examples of Brands That Got Gen Z Marketing Right
Why advertise to college students?
While college students might not be the first target market you think of to target with your next marketing campaign, the benefits of marketing to college students might surprise you. The over 21 million college students enrolled across the country boast a whopping $593 billion in spending power—and that’s before they’ve entered the workforce full-time.
College students are impressionable, and your brand has the opportunity to make a lasting impression. Winning over college students now is a recipe for a loyal customer base in the future. Get ahead while you can.
What to know about marketing to Gen Z college consumers
If you’re wondering how to target college students with strategic advertising campaigns, you’ve come to the right place. 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.
Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Marketing to Gen Z
1. Stand for something
The first step to marketing to college students? Stand for something. Members of the youngest generation are keyed into the issues facing our world—and they expect brands to care.
According to Refuels Gen Z Explorer Series™, 48% of Gen Z are progressive on racial issues, 47% are progressive on gender issues, and 45% are progressive on environmental issues. Gen Z is highly socially conscious with a “big picture” mentality, and research shows that they value brands who support the causes they want to support. Just like Gen Z views their digital lives as an extension of their physical lives, they view the brands they support as an extension of their values and beliefs.
Gen Zers view their consumption choices as a way to support the causes they believe in, so don’t be shy about your brand’s beliefs and values. From championing diversity to raising awareness for a cause to implementing sustainable practices—invest in cause marketing and be transparent about the good you’re doing and Gen Z will take notice.
Take Lyft for example. They used their unique positioning in the mobility market to launch an initiative called “LyftUp”, focused on bringing transportation to those in America who need it most—providing grocery access, voting access, and job interview access. And to drive their campaign home with Gen Z, they leveraged the power of influencer marketing to amplify their message. Bette Ann, director of influencer marketing, shares that, “At Lyft, we’re really a mission-driven company, and we are trying to make transportation accessible for all.”
Read next: 5 Examples of Brands That Got Cause Marketing Right
2. Enlist college student ambassadors
College students are back on campus so take advantage of it! 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.
Read next: 5 Steps to Build A Student Brand Ambassador Marketing Program That Drives Results
3. Leverage experiential marketing on-campus
Also referred to as engagement marketing or guerilla marketing, experiential marketing is a marketing tactic that immerses your target audience in an experience related to your brand or product. Instead of just learning about the brand, your potential college customers are able to actually experience it in real life.
Gen Z wants to collaborate and connect with brands—they want brands to cultivate experiences with them and enhance their personalities. If you remember Starbucks’ “White Cup Contest” campaign from 2014, then you’ll understand the power of interaction and experiences for Gen Z. Starbucks encouraged customers to decorate their white cups, and they received 4,000 entries in three weeks. The winner was a 20-year-old college student from Pittsburgh. This campaign was so successful because it encouraged customers to creatively engage with the Starbucks brand.
This same concept can be applied to your on-campus student marketing campaigns. Create undeniably attractive experiences, and Gen Z students will participate.
Read next: 3 Experiential Marketing Tactics for College Campuses
4. Offer student discounts
College students are known for their knack for finding a discount. Eighty-six percent of students have said that they would shop at their favorite stores more often if they offered student discounts. And research from Refuel’s Gen Z Explorer Series™ shows that college students are actually loyal to brands that offer discounts to students.
Our research found that 43% of Gen Z consumers report being loyal to brands that offer student discounts, and 29% are loyal to brands that offer rewards or loyalty programs. Personalize your college marketing strategy and let your college target market know that you’re tailoring your brand just for them.
In person shoppers can easily show their student ID for discounts but online retailers have struggled with that in the past. New companies like SheerID are now easy solutions to verify who is eligible for your promotions.
Read next: 5 Reasons Your Brand Should Offer College Student Discounts
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.