College is a truly unique time in a person’s life, one that will ultimately influence everything that comes next. Fresh out of the nest, these young people are developing new skills and exploring their personalities, setting the foundation for the rest of their careers. They’re also meeting many new people and becoming exposed to unique experiences; it’s an era of experimentation, which is why college students are often incredibly receptive to novel ideas and opportunities.
Startups and college students go together quite well: it’s no wonder that many young adults founded startups or began working for one during their studies. However, this doesn’t mean that you can rest on your laurels when it comes to promoting yourself to this particular demographic: you need to work hard and come up with unique ways to differentiate yourself from others lest you be ignored. Today, we’ll discuss some of the best ways to promote your startup on university and college campuses, as well as one major pitfall to avoid.
Startups especially need to be highly intentional with their advertisements because they’re often on tight budgets, so you should find ways to get others to do the work for you: in other terms, use word of mouth to inspire curiosity about your company. A great way to do this is to pitch your product to a group that will be highly receptive, then encourage them to speak to others about your company.
To do this, consider what your perfect user will be, then find a college organization that matches that user base. For example, are you a party planning service? Reach out to a local sorority to share your value proposition. Once one sister has an excellent experience with your service, they’re more likely to recommend you to others, creating a loyal following that will quickly grow.
One of the most enjoyable things about the college experience for many students is the constant presence of booths or tables hawking different wares; it adds variety to their day and can turn them on to new products they may have never considered before. This also means that they are highly receptive to what you might be offering, especially if you provide giveaways.
In addition to cards and pamphlets about your services, consider setting out some branded accessories that might prove useful to a college student. It’s no secret that many coeds love a bargain, and there’s nothing better than free; it’s also true that they likely have some free time to spend, and they may be happy to perform an activity in order to get a nice prize. You might offer lanyards and pens as free giveaways, then encourage students to complete an action in order to receive something a little pricier, like a promotional wine opener or tote bag. Given that many students don’t have a lot of disposable income, they will use your giveaway for a longer time than someone more established in their career, all the while building brand recognition and loyalty.
No matter how large or small a campus, there will always be popular and well-liked students who have sway with their fellows – and this presents an incredibly powerful opportunity for the savvy startup company that knows how to build good relationships. Pay close attention to the social media trends amongst college students in the area, then reach out to those with large followings that might be receptive to your offers. You might trade a promotional package for exposure on their accounts, or you could develop a long-term partnership where they create sponsored posts for you on a regular basis.
If you don’t want to work with one particular influencer, you can try recruiting brand ambassadors: this has been a wildly successful tactic for Red Bull on college campuses across the country, as they work with college students to hand out free drinks and build goodwill with the community.
One thing you shouldn’t do is try to exactly mimic the way that college students speak or act, as it will usually come across as out-of-touch and ignorant. Rather than building goodwill, your startup will look like the tryhard company that didn’t get it quite right; this is especially true because youth trends change in an instant and you can easily become passé within a few weeks or even days.
A better approach is to develop relationships with college students and allow them to translate your message for their peers, relying upon their knowledge of their generation’s culture. You should keep your own messaging professional, avoiding slang that could be misconstrued by others; this will also help establish legitimacy amongst your potential customers and demonstrate that you respect their judgment.
It’s difficult to find the pulse of any demographic, but college students are a highly mutable group whose tastes and needs change quickly. However, by relying upon word of mouth and time-tested tools like promotional offerings, you can easily ingratiate yourself with this community and develop loyal customers that will remain with you long after they graduate.