College students represent an exciting market opportunity for many brands. These students, usually aged 18-24 years old, are just starting to create what could be life-long relationships with companies and brands in a variety of industries. It’s an ideal connection for brands because while students’ brand loyalty is typically low, it’s when they are forming new relationships with brands, and also when they are about to embark upon becoming financially independent. Plus, being educated makes them ideal target consumers because they will often have more spending power.
But, how do you reach these tail-end millennials and early members of Gen Z? I turned to Kieran Mathew, a 21-year-old entrepreneur and youth marketing leader, who founded Amplify Solutions while he was still a student. Because of his youth and entrepreneurship experience, Mathew has a keen insight on what it takes to connect with students right now. Here is some of his best advice.
1. Ditch the old playbook.
Mathew is emphatic that traditional marketing and advertising is dead within the student market. He says that as a brand, you can’t expect to drive marketing through traditional means, as the demo doesn’t typically watch traditional TV or listen to the radio, but prefers streaming services instead.
He also warns against using a traditional social approach in terms of launching ads on Facebook and YouTube. As Mathew says, “The average 20-year-old student observes over 15,000 marketing messages a day. It is crucial for brands to invest time into understanding their consumers in order to stand out.”
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2. Embrace word-of-mouth marketing via the right influencers.
Mathew says that based on his research and experience, the new influencer marketing returns are 11 times the ROI of traditional banner advertisements in this 18-to-24 demo. However, he warns that you cannot simply pick someone with a big following and ask them to take a picture with your product for some cash, as that will not drive conversions.
Instead, he advises, “Popularity among social groups is a key factor in this market. If you can build a base of popular influencers using your product or service, others will tag along. That means you need to have a deep and thorough understanding of your target market. Once understood, find an influencer who best reaches this audience.”
He says this requires looking past the traditional numbers and searching for someone who is engaging with them and who has clout on campus as well as online. As he says, “Just because a student goes to a certain school and has amassed a large following does not mean their following is made up of consumers in that market.”
This also means getting more intel on interactions, both from the students on campus with a sense of who's influential and the key members of campus groups that have online groupings on Facebook, for example.
This approach is very cost effective. Mathew says that influencers with strong followings of 5,000 to 20,000 are willing to work for reasonable rates, usually $50-150 for an engagement. This is a good value to them, as it beats making minimum wage at the campus pizza joint and is a good value to the brand, too.
3. Allow for unscripted messaging.
Mathew also stresses the point of having influencers speak in an authentic voice that doesn’t sound too brand-specific. A great way to do this is to create some general guidelines for the influencer to follow, such as taking a photo with your product in certain places and giving them some hashtags to use that they can choose from.
As he says, “The minute students begin to sound like a corporation or influencer marketing and appear like traditional banner ads is the minute you have lost all value in these peer-to-peer marketing campaigns.”
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4. Build real relationships.
Mathew says it's important to make sure that the influencer is being used in a way to help build real relationships with the followers. When working with a bank, for example, it's good to have the influencer host an event on campus related to financial literacy and post about it online.
Adding value to the students instead of just selling products and services is a key way to make those connections and have real engagement with this market.
5. Bridge offline and online efforts.
Once you start building the relationship, make sure that you are touching influencers and their peers both offline and online. For example, Mathew says, if you hold an event like described above, then collect email addresses for follow-up. Also, encourage posting of photos for the event. If you draw 500 people to an event online, the posting about it and sharing the messaging afterwards can reach exponentially more target customers.
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6. Get bang for your buck with social ads.
Finally, if you have a tiny budget, you can still use the above tips in tandem with social promotions on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. For a $1,000 budget, Mathew suggests engaging just one influencer and then splitting the remainder of the budget between on-campus marketing (like traditional flyers), coupled with the outreach from the influencer. Then, spend the other half on social ads that tell a clear, demo-focused story.