For years, advertisers have targeted college students. As new entrants into the desirable 18-30 demographic, this group of consumers still hasn’t formed unbreakable brand loyalties. This means that if a business can connect with them, that business has a chance at continuing to connect with that group of people as they graduate, start careers, begin families of their own, and progress toward retirement.
The good news is that this same segment of the population needs, above all things, to be informed about their future… they would love to buy a car, or open a home, or keep their parents in the style befitting their age, but they aren’t sure how or where to start.
The industrial revolution has modified the patterns and processes needed to effectively execute marketing strategy. In the same way that the auto industry benefits from carefully constructed strategies and the subsequent efforts put into each, marketing to college students should be equally well managed. In this instance, it is imperative to know how to quickly determine what students want and what that means for your marketing strategy.
Of course, all college students want to be heard and enjoyed. However, I believe that most fall by the wayside because they don’t understand the economics of marketing.
College Students Want to Be Heard
College students love to be heard. Almost all students have told you they love to be heard and believe their education doesn’t prepare them for the real world. In fact, among the same group of people, students will always tell you they want to be heard above anybody else. This makes sense. The problem is that being a student in college is not the same thing as being a successful adult in life. It is a transitional place that, at times, resembles a bad neighborhood and is run by a bunch of people who aren’t good for the students.
I am in no way suggesting that college administrators run this toxic place. However, I am suggesting that students forget about being a member of a clique in college. Instead, as they are transitioning out of college, they should be reminded of their value as a student and as a person – a value that can be ingrained in their values.
In order to do that, marketers must begin by ensuring they understand the current and future goals of each student they market to. It is a mistake to follow a strategy that focuses on trying to fit each student into a box. Instead, marketers must begin by understanding the characteristics of each potential audience that they are marketing to.
I believe the best way to do this is by providing students with a custom brochure outlining their individual prospects.
What Students Want
The best way to start working through these brands of college students is to start off simple. Some of the things students want are: they want to be respected, they want to feel smart, and they want to be loved. These physical, emotional and intellectual needs are represented in the graph below.
Beyond the above provisions, students also want opportunities to make money, but I would argue they want to make money in order to gain more money, not to be spending it as freely as they are now. This is represented in the graph below.
It is easy to see that young people in college are starting to develop into people who are more willing to spend their earnings. However, it is still important to remember that the economic millennial is in the minority among this population.
Therefore, everything should be set up by college to ensure the students enrolled are making a sound choice.
College students are eager to do something with their college education. In most cases, this something involves working toward making money in their career. If a student isn’t being prepared for his future by college, that most likely will be a reason for him to look elsewhere for his needs. What a business must understand is what it’s prime customer wants and why. This requires the college marketer to ask at least three questions: Why should business be in touch with this student? Which specific piece of advice would you give to your prospective customers?
The three-part graph below helps provide an easy and clear path to take with your college students:
The above graph shows the three basic groups an organization working with the college market can face in the future.
The Red Boxers need to be marketed to both using their homes and cars. In the graph below, you will see the way I break them down into sub-categories. The important thing to remember is that each category maintains a specific target audience. Colleges marketing directly to students should be concerned with students with the highest percentage of disposable income.
In the Blue Boxers, the target audience is primarily focused on their houses. In the 21st century, the option of owning is more prevalent than buying.
If you are planning to sell college students stocks or mutual funds recommendations, then experts use a different vertical break down. This includes students looking for educational outcomes and financial returns.
Besides focusing on each college student, you should also be aware of the car market. Many colleges have well-established trends that will determine how cars are marketed to that particular group of students. As a result, it is imperative to consider those trends as you take the above steps.
In the early 1990s, colleges found that new cars were wildly popular among students. At the time, the importance of a college education had not yet been fully realized in the eyes of the public. The trend for this particular demographic continued until the current economic boom. You can still find it on college campuses.
New cars are meant to be sold to as many students as possible, and are not meant for the marketing or selling of cars.
Today, Boston College and University of Maryland are prime examples of colleges that have actively pursued student car purchases. In the immediate future, for both colleges, the trend will continue their current strategies.
This is important to consider from the perspective of the car-dealer and the college, because a car-dealer must understand that a large segment of that market is using it as a part-time activity. Coincidentally, college students also use cars in part-time settings, such as at the work site or during vacations and/or irregularly.
College Students Are Not a Single Person
There was a time when most college populations wanted to establish themselves through their connections. However, not many people today want to do this.
According to marketing expert Mark Estrin, listenership and receptivity are near impossible to achieve when interacting with the public directly. With this in mind, it is a mistake for colleges to try to approach the public directly or have a college-branded shopping mall.
College students could be the most poorly marketed group in town. There are students who are easily identified as the ones who want to be heard. The next step is to recognize the important characteristics of such a person.
A recent study, published by Worth Magazine listed the twenty most influential people in every college across America. From the information provided, it is identified that the people who want to leave college with huge amounts of money are the reason for the mass-transit-oriented economy we have on campuses today – the whole reason for college being at walking distance of your work site. Tim Donaldson wrote an interesting story for Worth Magazine titled A College Is a Place Where People Come to Get Rich.
Additionally, colleges can be where students learn for the benefit of society. Students are still the best, yet unaware, marketers. When running a promotion for your college, you are missing out by not utilizing students to market to them. In fact, the best college marketers have made a living by providing them with free promotions.
A recent example of giving students free promotions was Steve Magdalinski who in 1971 enrolled at Widener University. The university had an award-winning marketing department, but Magdalinski didn’t want to work for a division of a large company. He had a different plan in mind.
Early that year, before class began, Magdalinski gave out 60 free tickets to the upcoming Bicentennial Concert on the Green. Even though he didn’t have any money, he used the tickets to get people to come.
Later that month, he charged tuition for the first time, selling tickets to that very concert and had a group of people wanting to attend the concert. Instead of being disappointed that no one showed up, Magdalinski decided to give his student body something to compensate for their disappointment. He gave away a lot of clothing and watches during the semester at no cost to the student in order to gain credibility in the student body.
When signing up for WPI, a lot of students will sell themselves out to get free stuff. The best thing to do is try to understand this stereotypical student. Estrin and Magdalinski are a good example of how colleges should be giving promotions to their student body, instead of being disappointed in their lack of efforts.
If you don’t have anything to sell, why should people give their time, money and/or enthusiasm to get it?
College Students Don’t Be an Offer You Can’t Refuse
Magdalinski and a few others, as well as a television show named Bob in Your Dorm; all are just a part of the millions who have been engaged in this type of adventure. Most schools don’t have an alumni magazine, so the more that alumni can become involved, the better they will find their experience at the school.
There is an interesting trend in colleges in that alumni can put in as little as $40 to participate. If the college should have an effective alumni program that makes it worthwhile, this is one of the best ways to do it.
The best colleges understand that the business school, unlike the career school, is geared highly toward the career decision. Therefore, a computer link will be required to connect all of the colleges that have a school for a particular career to one computer system. After that system is established, all the students from the areas are linked to one career-based message.
Being able to immensely market to all of the students in the school, independent of geography, provides a tremendous opportunity for competitive advantages. These advantages include:
Don’t forget that the Internet can be a strong force in the daily lives of the students.
That’s exactly why colleges don’t want to offend their students by asking for a donation. Instead of asking for money, you should invite people to register for free stuff, which then could be given away. By doing this, the college comes to provide the students with a benefit that could save them money and time.
This next phase of marketing must be in perfect coordination with the school’s sports programs. The last thing that you want to do is invite the athletic department into the academic arena. If the school has football and basketball programs, they should have a great opportunity to gain participation from students in the current sports, but first, they need to introduce the concept of academic athletics.
Estrin and Magdalinski experienced enough success within their college to get the attention of the hundreds of thousands (millions) of other students who never got the chance to participate. However, they did not win the game by killing each other. If you’re going to win the game, you must cooperate. This is the biggest weakness in today’s business. The problem is who will separate the cooperative and competitive businesses. If you want to win, you have to compete. If you’re not going to compete, then you won’t win. Either way, do not involve the college in the competitive community.
Does your school provide a computer system that will connect all of the students from each college together? If not, you should take a look at your membership before putting the school to work as a reseller for a consumer product. At this time, most college houses are scattered in some manner and amount to a huge paper lunch.
If they are, they will be a great asset to your business, increasing traffic and brand awareness for the school. What if you can get them to become a reseller for a product? Additionally, you can create a cross-marketing chain that will give the school a way to make money.
If you have a computer system connecting all of the colleges together, this is a fantastic way to create a big push for your school. You can start by linking all of the colleges together so that you can target the students for one instant message. This instant message could be used to drive in tons of new customers.
You can put these students into one department and then put all of their information into one system. You can then be able to go to their school’s web site and target their students properly, as well as all the students in their program. This is something that you can start.
Being able to pull from other colleges in the world makes the system all the more powerful. Moreover, it will be a positive distraction to put your college on the map.