How To Hook Generation Y: Pointers for Marketing to College Students, From An Actual College Student

Study. Work. Play. Party. Sleep (maybe). Repeat.

In an article from USA Today, Bruce Horowitz divides college life into these five very basic categories, which sum up college life pretty perfectly. Horowitz’s point is simple; whatever product or service is being offered must fit into at least one of these categories. Well, I can personally attest to the fact that sleep is the first to go if one need be sacrificed, so the safest approach is adapting your product or service to the remaining four. The more applicable it is, the more necessary and relevant it will appear to the college demographic, and the easier it will be to sell. If you can’t make the product fit into these categories, chances are college kids won’t bite.

Only after the right category has been determined can you then think about strategies for keeping attention and creating a relationship. Below, I’ve compiled a short list of tactics that I’ve found to be successful, either because I’ve used them, or because they’ve been used on me.

  1. Get connected.

According to the PewResearch Internet Project as of September 2013, 70 percent of adults use social media sites and in that percentage, 90 percent are adults ages 18 through 29. Therefore, if your company is not accessible on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, among others, college students aren’t going to care. By participating in the social media network, it demonstrates to college kids that you are part of their world—the digital world. Moreover, it shows that your company is in tune with the modern age and what is trending on the Internet. Facebook, the primary social media giant, is the most essential way of connecting with your audience, followed by Twitter, and then LinkedIn—a social media platform more conducive to the professional sphere. The bottom line: If you can’t connect to Wi-Fi, then you will be unable to connect with college students on a more personal level.

  1. I don’t want free stuff…

…said no college student ever. Leah Bell, from the Huffington Post, claims that free T-shirts aren’t enough anymore to secure college consumers. In my experience, this is inaccurate. Incentivizing is key when it comes to attracting college students. It could be a shirt, a coozie, free sunglasses or student discount coupons. As long as it is free merchandise, the company information can be on it as conspicuously as desired and you will leave a favorable impression. Further, never ever underestimate the appeal of free food. If college students are anything, it’s hungry (largely on account of dining halls which provide unvarying and often mediocre meal plans). Just remember, it’s better to send students away empty-handed than to distribute tri-fold brochures that they won’t read anyway, which brings me to my next point.

  1. Go paperless.

This is not just for bank statements anymore; it’s true for just about every aspect of college life. Most college students view paper advertising as a huge inconvenience and will resort to digital methods whenever possible. This applies to taking notes in class, buying tickets to an event, and even purchasing required textbooks for classes. Paper copies have become just another scrap that will get lost, torn, or thrown away. Whatever you do, don’t hand out flyers! Though well intentioned, flyers are undoubtedly the most annoying form of advertising. In the past, I’ve begrudgingly taken them to avoid seeming rude, however, as soon as I round the next corner out of a sightline, that flyer is going directly into the trash in a crumpled ball.

  1. The Name Game.

Recognition can be established in two ways: through your brand and through a college student’s network of friends. Branding is everything. You need a catchy slogan, a cool logo, and a name that is everywhere—as ubiquitous as Apple or Starbucks and as viral as Jenna Marbles. If your company can boast associations, whether with prominent other companies, public figures, or celebrities, utilize these! Name drop. If you brand it, they will come. The number one source from which college students get their information, recommendations, share opinions, and find out what’s trending is through their own personal social network—their friends and peers. If dissatisfied, their friends—along with everyone else on their Facebook newsfeed—will find out much faster. Negative feedback spreads the most virally.

  1. Less is more.

No, seriously. In the most literal sense, something that costs less is going to be much more marketable to the college population. This doesn’t mean the product or service has to be necessarily cheap, but students must recognize that they are getting this product or service for the cheapest price possible. Two words: Student discount. Further, while many college students are frugal on account of their financial status (usually broke), they are worth astounding billions of the consumer market and Generation Y is “estimated to be the largest consumer group in US history” (Skalleburg). That’s a lot of spending power for such a young age group.

It’s also worth noting that products must not solely target the students, but also the people often writing the tuition checks: their parents.

  1. Integration versus interruption.

Everything begins and ends with those five basic categories of college life. If you are marketing a product or service that can be seamlessly integrated into the college lifestyle, then college students will make room for it. But, if your method involves interrupting the daily grind in any way, they will immediately associate your company with an interruption and disregard future attempts at building a B2C relationship. This follows conversation etiquette; it’s simply rude to interrupt.

Really, college students are like cats. Most of the time, they want to be left to their own devices and you have to let them come to you. The metaphor is cliché, yes, but fitting. They are smarter than given credit for, will become irritated with excessive attention, and will probably spend their free time napping, to make up for the above mentioned lack of sleep.

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