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5 Tips To Reach The College Student

The college community represents a huge opportunity for marketers. Think about it. Where else can you find a densely focused group of individuals sharing social, economic, and intellectual experiences? Reach students through the correct medium, and you can influence thousands of young, like-minded individuals. The college experience can be an amazing four years for the student and an amazing time to be a marketer if you know where to focus your attention (and dollars).

The first step is understanding what doesn’t work when trying to connect with college students -- a notoriously hard-to-reach bunch. Ask any group of students the following questions and you’ll get an idea of why most advertising strategies are falling short:

  1. What were the last two advertisements you saw on Facebook?
  2. What were the last two advertisements you saw on Google?
  3. What company is advertising on the giant billboard (14 ft x 48 ft) outside your classroom?
  4. What was the last advertisement you saw on a Web site? How did it “feel?”

These questions are typically met with a lot of “ummms” or “well…” or a straightforward, “I don’t know. I can’t remember.” Students cannot answer these questions. And for many advertisers, this presents a big problem. Students are tired of lackluster ads. Marketers are hacking away at this puzzling problem, dedicating not only dollars but significant resources and time to making advertisements more memorable. And yet marketers still run into walls when it comes to engaging with students. They practice unreliable tactics, attacking campus centers, classrooms, dorm halls, dining commons, athletic facilities, and libraries with message-laden materials.

Today there are solutions that do not involve investing in massive amounts of labor costs, printing costs, or event costs. Instead, the message is delivered right to a student’s dorm room through their laptops.

5 tips on how to market successfully to college students

  1. Look toward innovative ad units: Students grew up in the digital age. They have been trained to ignore flat banner advertisements. Explore new ad units that offer deeper levels of memorable engagement. What happens to the ad unit after it is clicked? Is there a deeper level of interaction? The future of advertising within this demographic will be delivered with these new units, not outdated banner ads. In fact, the IAB recently approved a new set of ad guidelines for the first time in three years, recognizing that ad units need to become more engaging in order to be effective.

  2. Deeper experiences: Look for online advertising partners who offer multiple products that provide a deeper experience rather than an “impression” or “viewing” of an ad unit. Combining advertisements with contests and games is a phenomenal way to drive action and is actually something students remember. Begin thinking of advertisements as experiences that can be modified, changed, altered, shortened and extended within the same creative and ads that connect with “college” in a memorable way.

  3. Use student-generated content: Some of the most successful online campaigns, in terms of being memorable, have included some component of content that is generated by fellow students. Pieces of content that generally do very well include: Halloween costume photo voting modules, wild party night storytelling, Valentine’s Day memories, and embarrassing dorm room situations. 

  4. Give students a challenge: Allow students to challenge their friends, fellow students and students at rival college campuses. Students are in a world of competition. They are competing against their fellow students in class for good grades. They compete for scholarships and in athletics. They compete with who can eat more in the dining commons. Allow students to challenge each other online, and you are creating a level of engagement that is destined for success.

  5. Online simulated campus rep programs: Although successful, physical ambassador programs require a substantial infrastructure and costs. Think about working with organizations that are bringing the “campus-rep” experience online. Eliminate the labor costs, travel costs, print costs, and event costs, and replace those costs with opportunities that provide a similar experience without all of the administrative hassle.

There is no better advertisement than a positive memory. Luckily, there are many companies on the cutting edge of developing what these new experiences look like. The early adopters of these technologies will be on the fast track of the learning curve. And this is one learning curve where finishing last will leave you among the forgotten in the college world.

Ryan Durkin is COO of CampusLIVE.

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