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How to build brand loyalty with college students

How to build brand loyalty with college students Shannon McCoy

College students seem to be a controversial subject in the marketing world. Some crave the attention of the budding crowd, while others throw them to the side in favor of short-term (and easy) spending power.

How to build brand loyalty with college students

The truth of the matter is that college students are tomorrow's consumers. Targeting this demographic proves fruitful for long-term benefits. Since this is the time when students are most influential, you need to capture their loyalty now in order to reap more benefits when they start their careers.

What you need to know about college students

There is a myth that college students are a useless demographic. People say that they have no money, but that isn't necessarily true. In fact, college students spend more than you think. There are 21.6 million college students in the U.S. of all varying types -- and they spend several billions every year.

Are you sold yet?

This audience isn't like any demographic you've worked with before. Unlike Generation X, this group is not a cookie-cutter consumer. They're more complicated than what you've worked with before, and there are some things you should become familiar with before you begin:

Media usage

Although students spend approximately 75 percent of their time with their electronic devices, don't assume that you can only reach them digitally. A surprising amount of the college crowd prefers print.

Their values and beliefs

They're confident and individualistic. Even though they are open-minded in nature, this group is carefully skeptical. If you get past their leery barriers (and fast), you'll find an extremely caring consumer. They're proud of their way of living and are looking for connections that add ease to their daily activities or give them a sense of belonging.

How they spend their money

College kids spend the majority of their money on food ($50 billion), automotive ($32 billion), clothes ($19 billion), and technology ($15 billion). If you're in an industry like this already, your battle for attainment is just that much easier. If not, you'll have to get creative in how you pursue.

Grabbing their attention

There is a lot of clutter to cut through. It makes it easier if you know what your target is looking for. Female students prefer entertainment-based ads (followed by beauty and fashion), while men find video game promotions more appealing. However, word of mouth is still the number-one influencer in consumer purchase.

Overall, the key to market success in this group is engagement. Create an environment, whether online or offline, that connects everything that your brand is about with the ideals of a younger generation. Set a standard of communication that allows for opinions of all colors to flow naturally, not just the negative ones users are more likely to share. Engage them and you will retain their loyalty.

Leveraging this information in your own strategy

If you want to transform your brand with the power of college students, you need to connect with them on their level. Establish a sense of relevance in terms of their individual lifestyle. Research what magazines they read and what websites they use to reach them where they already are. Immerse them in your message by relating to their values and beliefs. Make your product or service an experience they can't live without (or don't want to).

Leah Bell suggests a few ways to hook students. Understand that they are on a budget and offer your product at a student discount. Once they realize the quality of your products and service, you'll have them for life. Don't let it stop there. Connect with them online, and generally make them feel good about buying from you. Invest in them now, and they'll return the favor.

How you'll benefit from college students' brand loyalty

By 2017, Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation. It's plain to see by facts alone that college students are important to brands. They have such an impact on the current role of business -- shaping company direction, among other things -- that it would be a mistake to ignore them.

Several brands have already benefited from scholar-specific campaigns. Apple takes advantage of their love of technology by offering a plethora of appealing electronics like laptops, MP3 players, and cell phones (plus, student discounts don't hurt). Companies like Denny's embraced social connections by creating content suited for Millennials' tastes. Finally, where would Facebook be if it weren't for their college-centered beginnings?

College students are unlike any group you've advertised to before. They behave differently, so they buy differently. If you want to reap the long-term benefits this market can provide, you need to connect with them in their space, their way. If you happen to master the art of online promotions and quirky communications, you'll get college students to become brand loyal -- and your business will be set for life.

What have you noticed about millennial marketing? Are you trying it out for the first time? How do you expect it'll affect your company? Let us know in the comments below.

Shannon McCoy is a digital strategist for Signazon.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"group of students or teenagers with laptop and tablet computers hanging out" image via Shutterstock.

Shannon McCoy, otherwise known as the Dallas Ad Grad, is a digital strategist for Signazon. Shannon loves writing about social media, consumer behavior, advertising, and more.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Bill Kaplan

2015, May 05

Great overview of the $100+ billion dollar college market, which perennially has been one of the toughest for marketers to reach, understand, and crack. Fortunately with the rise of social media, the college market (21.6 million U.S. college students) is not nearly as diffuse as it once was.

Companies like Her Campus Media (www.hercampus.com), the leading community and mouthpiece of college students (250 on-campus chapters, 6.5 million monthly unique visitors, over 1 million articles to date written by college students for college students), now enable marketers to reach and speak to college students wherever and whenever they want. Whether it's through Her Campus's website, Twitter, Facebook, email newsletters, Instagram, or other social media vehicles, college students across the U.S. and throughout the world are now readily able to be engaged.

As Shannon states, grabbing the attention of college students these days requires connecting "with them in their space, their way." But isn't that's what marketing has always been about? Figure out your target market, understand their needs and wishes, speak to them in their own language, and offer them products and services that they really need.

Approximately 25% of the college market churns every year so it's important to maintain your visibility in this fast-changing channel. Building brand loyalty now will reap many rewards, both while students are in college and for many years to come as they build their careers. Apple is a prime example of a company that understood the value of the student market and continues to reap these rewards. Who else could come out with a larger phone that can barely fit in your pocket and sell 75 million of these in a quarter?