Why You Should Market to College Students

Published: Aug 21, 2016

The goal of any business is to grow and to provide goods and services while maximizing its profit margin. Of course, they need consumers to sell those goods and services to, and fewer consumers than you’d think will simply wander through a business’s doors out of the blue.

This is where marketing comes into play. Marketing is all about knowing your target audience and appealing specifically to them.

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And every business’s target audience should be millennials — especially college students. Young adults, ages 18 to 34, now number just over 75 million in the US, making them the largest age group in the country.

Narrow that field to only college students, ages 18 to 22 on average, and you’re looking at a population of just over 20 million.

Think about that for minute: 20 million tech-savvy, incredibly connected, energetic young men and women who will soon be in the driver’s seat of the nation’s economy, security and scientific advancements. They are living in a world that’s changing a very rapid pace, moving into a true information age.

It is imperative to understand today’s college students, because they are tomorrow’s decision-makers. Some of them have already graduated to that stage in life (pun intended).

So, before you write off today’s college students as lazy, entitled binge-drinkers, consider that they will soon be the parents and professionals you will so greatly covet as customers. You might as well start marketing to them now.

Businesses that have embraced the change and have begun marketing to college students have seen an increase in growth, while the ones who haven’t quite cracked the equation are slowly fading into oblivion.

As it stands now, college students are the priority age group for businesses to market themselves to, and there are quite a few reasons for doing so.

College Students Are Multiplying

Remember that this age group is now the largest in America. That’s not changing anytime soon — in fact, that population is only going to grow. By the year 2051, the US population is expected to reach 400 million.

If the number of college students relative to the total population remains the same, the US could be looking at upwards of 27 million college students in 35 years. By that time, today’s 20 million college students will (hopefully) be functioning adults making real-life decisions.

That’s a lot of potential customers. Marketing to the largest age group in the country simply makes sense.

College Students Are Segmented

Part of formulating a marketing plan involves zeroing in on your desired audience. In the past, this was easier said than done, as test products and focus groups were the most effective ways to get accurate figures for brand or product interest.

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Now, you can just check any social media site to find out what or who college students are interested in. Next time you’re on Facebook or Twitter, check out which of your friends follow or “like” any brands or businesses. You might be surprised by how many brands they keep tabs on.

Nike’s Twitter page has over six million followers. Their feed is jam-packed with promotional material —  nothing personalized to any individual, yet each tweet has hundreds of retweets, and some even have thousands. How have they accomplished such a feat?

Nike has branded itself as the “just do it” company, the product that will make you great, that will make you a champion. Nike wants to inspire you every day. Nike believes in you.

Millions of athletes love Nike products and identify with the company — they feel that Nike’s got their backs. This type of connection is what endears consumers to certain companies and products.

Nike has aligned themselves with athletes, promising to help them along to greatness. As a business, you have to find your niche in the college student ecosystem.

If you run a coffee shop, set yourself up in the campus library and help students push through all-nighters. If you sell sports equipment, head out to the campus intramural fields and hand out free Frisbees to whoever is running around out there.

College students are already divided into interest groups. Figure out which ones could benefit from your product the most, and position yourself as a no-brainer for them.

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College Students Are Intellectuals

They don’t just let anyone in. You’ve got to have high enough test scores, good enough grades and, in some cases, a family connection to get into college. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

While some might not apply themselves, it’s safe to say that most college students are quite smart. And they are the future leaders of America.

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College students want to make informed decisions, and in this information age, gathering the resources to make those informed decisions has never been easier. And when they search for your business category online, the first thing they’ll see is your website or social media page.

In today’s world, your online presence is your front door.

Nothing turns away a potential customer faster than an outdated webpage or a social media page that shows little to no activity. This likely doesn’t detract from what you have to offer, but how are they expected to know that?

Caring enough about your online presence to keep a clean, crisp website and at least one active social media account shows college students that you care about your customers and potential customers. By announcing a sale on Facebook two weeks before it happens, you are leaving consumers informed without them having to pick up the phone or leave the house.

Convenience and efficiency are the names of the game, and researching businesses online accomplishes both. Make every effort you can to stand out.

College Students Are Competitive

College students enjoy competing with one another — in intramural sports, for jobs and for the best grades. Likewise, they like to see businesses compete with each other for the greatest market share and for their individual patronage.

If you have a direct competitor in close proximity, always make sure you have a presence on campus. Hand out free stuff, engage students and show them that you care about them.

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College students love free stuff and they love authenticity, which means that, when they perceive that you’re the real deal, they’ll reciprocate in kind.

It is imperative to relate to college students on a competitive level, showing that you are willing to fight for their business. This is accomplished by actively pursuing them and their specific interests, especially the ones that closely align with what you have to offer.

College Students Are Trendy

Have you ever seen a viral video on Twitter and laughed about it for three days until the next one surfaces, only to have your dad show you the exact same video two weeks later? That’s a reaction time that needs to be improved.

In general, the ability of most people over the age of 40 to stay current with popular trends is staggeringly slow. Of course, it’s not fair to expect adults who spent the majority of their lives without smartphones to follow, or even care about, what 18-year-olds find interesting.

Attempting to connect to college students through their most current interests will, in turn, put you at the front of every trend.

The most brilliant marketing strategies deployed over the past three weeks have involved Pokémon Go, the augmented reality mobile app that’s taken the world by storm. The basic premise is that creatures called Pokémon inhabit the world around you, appearing on a GPS-generated map of your surroundings.

You have the option to catch any Pokémon you come across, and certain landmarks in every single town and city are called “PokéStops.” PokéStops are used to stock up on important items, and can also be used to attract rare Pokémon.

Businesses that have been tagged as PokéStops by the game developers are taking full advantage of the game’s ability to get players outside and walking around. Some businesses have offered discounts to players for showing them pictures of Pokémon caught inside the store, while others have used the PokéStops to attract wild Pokémon and, subsequently, real people.

Using a popular game as a marketing tool is just one of the many proven methods to grow your business. Whatever you decide on, however, remember what the goal is: to make your brand relevant to an audience that is quickly becoming a vocal majority in the United States. Don’t miss your chance!

Lexie Lu is a designer and writer. She constantly researches trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.