Micro-Marketing to the Collegiate Crowd

By Adam Ingraham (@adamingraham)
Published: November 15, 2012

WEST MICHIGAN – When I was growing up, my mother would sit down at the dining room table and peruse through the Sunday morning periodicals. Nowadays, I am hard-pressed to find someone that still receives a newspaper. The method to reach a target audience is changing, and it becomes increasingly hard to choose the most appropriate distribution channel.

As a college student in the 21st century, I receive emails, texts, feeds, tweets, notices, pins and diggs to find out what’s happening in the world. The over-stimulation forces a marketer to advertise through every outlet possible, but sometimes it’s best to keep it simple.

No marketing technique is stronger than word of mouth – or rather ‘text of finger.’ Peer influence is strong where students live and work with each other, share a passion for the same subjects and embrace a tolerance for everything from culture to politics. Word of mouth undoubtedly prevails.

How do we market to a peer influenced audience of tech-crazed young professionals? While there are many strategies to effectively reach a student audience, I recommend these methods:

Define the Parameters

  • “College students” is not a target market. Narrow your search to specific colleges inside a university or individual programs. e.g. A new restaurant locator app may not appeal to the dormant engineering student, but it may be exactly what the international students are looking for to find their way around town.
  • Time frames are important. Creating urgency [with deadlines] spurs action, and it will give the students less time to cram their brain with competing information.
  • Identify an appropriate delivery method. Students are looking for ways to be entertained, and humor is a hook for many websites and businesses appealing to a younger audience. e.g. Running around the quad in a bear suit with a website pasted on its back will raise some curiosity.
  • Maintain a competitive price point. While young, culture aficionados shell out billions of dollars each year for the latest technology and trendiest fashions, they can still be frugal about a $1.99 iPhone app.

Advertise

  • Not much can beat feet on the street. Student advocates who name-drop and promote are an asset.
  • Enlist the help of student organizations who have a common interest. e.g. Greek organizations can champion philanthropic programs because their national boards and host schools encourage volunteer activities.
  • With university permission, offer trials, samples and special offers.
  • Partner with a well-known campus hang-out or event. e.g. Sponsoring sporting events.
  • Discuss programs with professors to offer as extra credit or part of the class. Speak with them well in advance of the semester’s start, but keep in mind that if they do not teach in the summer, then they may be slow to respond. Professors are also good promoters; despite student attitudes, they listen to their professors.
  • Provide a scholarship to earn brand recognition.
  • A website with effective SEO is a must. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and social media are free marketing outlets (plus labor cost).
  • Don’t discredit mass email, banners, flyers and announcements. These methods can still attract a percentage of students especially depending on the campus (high on-campus residency rates and rural schools mean students spend more time on campus).

Review

  • Track how students heard about the product or program.
  • Celebrate small victories. Depending on the regularity of the event, offering or program (annually, semi-annually, weekly, etc.), getting 1-5% of the targeted students may be a victory. Of 20,000 students, 3,000 might see an advertising, 500 will be interested and 50 may finally take action or buy. Those 50 buyers influence 20 more buyers and the momentum gains mass.
  • Use web analytics to monitor traffic. Compare web activity to the promotion timing.

Marketing strategies will vary for local business products and university office sponsored events, but refining the target audience, utilizing student advocates and employing new technology in advertising are consistent for any type of collegiate marketing. Just as my mother remains a steadfast follower of the weekly periodical, we as marketers must find our 21st century Sunday Saver that reaches the growing buying power of the college student demographic.

Adam Ingraham is an MBA ’12 student and graduate assistant. In addition to his role as Editor-in-Chief for NEU vol. 5, Adam markets the student-focused programs for CEI. Tweet your thoughts about this article with hashtag #sundaysaver

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