Get ‘Em While They’re Young: Four Ways to Hook College Students

By: Guest | October 30, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is by Leah Bell.

Planning your marketing strategy for 2013?

In most cases, it is more costly to acquire new customers than to keep the business you already have.

This can be especially true if your customer-base is made up of college students due to their high lifetime value.

If your customers are multi-generational, I challenge you to make your youngest consumers your priority next year. Even if they don’t have significant spending power today, they soon will.

In fact, at about 88 million strong, Millennials have a purchasing power estimated at $170 million, and by 2017 they will have more spending power than any other generation that has come before them.

Here are some tips to make college students obsessed with your brand at a young age, and be more likely to stick with you for the years to come.

1. Offer your product for less while they are still in college.

J.Crew has done a great job creating loyal, college going fans with their student discount. Students who are loyal in college will most likely buy their first professional wardrobe and maybe even a wedding dress from J.Crew.

Other examples of brands who invest in college students, include Apple, Volkswagen, and 7-Eleven (a UQ client).

2. Connect with them online in an unexpected and meaningful way.

College students love innovation and will reward brands willing to try a unique approach. Most marketers are afraid to take chances in a medium that is unproven, but no risk no reward – right?

Warrior Lacrosse found a way to connect with Millennials on Instagram with the help of VenueSeen. Warrior fans can enter a contest to win a free Rabil lacrosse stick by taking Instagram photos.

Warby Parker allows customers to measure their pupillary distance simply with a video camera and a credit card – this kind of innovation surprises and delights college students, encouraging them to share the story with their peers.

3. Make them feel good about being your customer.

Seventy percent of students say they are more likely to buy from a brand that supports a charitable cause. Companies who do good, such Toms and Pure Charity, appeal to college consumers.

4. Connect them with their peers.

College students today don’t know a life without the Internet and can’t imagine living without their smartphones, Facebook, or Twitter. To put it simply, they love being connected with their peers.

Target does a great job at taking advantage of this behavior by putting their brand front and center while creating opportunities for students to connect.

During the first week of school Target busses hundreds of students to their stores for an after-hours shopping party. These events are less about shopping and more about creating a memorable experience for students excited to meet new people on campus.

Acquiring new customers is important, but do not forget to take advantage of the low hanging fruit; optimize the customer base you already have to increase their customer lifetime value.

Leah Bell is the president and co-founder of UQ Marketing, an agency headquartered in Columbus, Ohio that specializes in building brands on college campuses. Before UQ Marketing, Leah held sales and marketing roles at two Fortune 20 companies, where she saw firsthand how big brands were struggling to connect with her generation.

  • I did some research, while working at GEICO (where a 15 minute call, could save you 15% on your auto insurance), and learned that the Latino community is heads and shoulders above other groups, with regards to brand loyalty. If you get a young Latina to like your product, you will likely have her as a customer, her future children, and possibly their children.
    Thinking about more than just today’s purchase, certainly makes sense.
    Go Buckeyes!!!

    • @ExtremelyAvg I never disliked the Buckeyes until they hired John Cooper away from my Sun Devils. So it is now equal. I hate them and the wolverines.
      Which is a great point. Do you know I started hating the Buckeyes? In like 1988 over a coaching hire. I am still bitter. So hook em while they are young….BUT make one misstep and you can lose them for life.

  • I used to feel this way. I have a very slick collegiate marketing service I could never get funding for. Then the Ad Contrarian in his blog keeps saying ‘Why do advertisers waste time on young people?
    So I counter with your points here. But then I think also….does it matter if a brand wins you over when you are young because it is so easy to lose them later on. Brands lose people along the way very easily. Times change they go out of business or kind of die (AOL, Blockbuster etc), incomes change. I drank so much budweiser in college. I haven’t bought bud on my own in the store in 15 years. (proof of lack of spending power for young people). Or taste buds change. Only young people drink really sweet stuff like Mountain Dew (for the most part)I am about to be 45 I bet very few people my age still wear Vans Skate shoes like I do.
    This is a very complex discussion. And all valid all around. But Bob’s points of go where the money is makes a very strong statement.

    • @HowieG Brands (or even companies that don’t think of themselves as brands) can never take their customers’ loyalty for granted. Because no matter how good you are, someone will always emerge who is somehow more plugged into a market, a market segment, a community, an age group, a cause — whatever. Like Howie say, loyalty is fleeting these days. 
      It seems to me there’s a great contradiction: Brand professionals talk about “Brand loyalty” more than ever it seems, yet it seems to me people are always looking for the next new thing. Am I wrong about this?

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