When there are social media channels dedicated to mocking brands that are shoehorning terms like “bae” and “on fleek” or co-opting the latest trends into marketing efforts, you know you’d better be careful when reaching out to the college audience. And if your team is diving into Google to search slang terms to find out what they mean in the first place, a word of advice: don’t.
The typical College Market Consumer (CMC) is ultra quick to jump on trends and just as fast to leave them. Students sniff out insincere pandering and for a brand to suggest one tell a friend a look is on point using those phrases only flags it as late to the party, or worse, incites a "jump the shark" moment. So how do brands get into the college party in the first place? The answer is all in the timing.
1. Real-Time Means, Well, Real-Time
Taking too long to plan, analyze, test, and then execute will make you miss the party completely. Brands fear making mistakes with marketing and can occasionally go down the analysis paralysis hole. If possible, plan and test in the real world. Tweak, expand and adjust in real-time, and use data balanced against real-world reactions. Don’t be a wall flower waiting for the right moment.
In fact, when we run focus groups and test campaigns through our national campus audience network, we look for feedback instantly so that we can listen, react and build quickly.
That next Tweet, Snapchat or Instagram post – not your outbound one, but the inbound photo or comment coming in reaction – could be pure marketing genius, if you catch it in time.
2. Add to the Conversation, Don’t Just Say “Me, Too”
The brand that is part of the conversation is going to win over the one that just nods and agrees. When Pokémon Go hit, companies scrambled to incorporate the trend, particularly on social media. Those that made in-the-know connections – referencing team colors, or winking at qualities of beloved characters – drew fans. Those posting, essentially, “We like Pokémon, too!” drew eye rolls. If you see a trend, ask two questions: Does that idea or trend make sense for my brand? If so, how can it extend our personal connection with customers? No matter how popular, if an idea’s not right, move on.
3. Listen. And Learn.
Checking their devices all the time means students love offering opinions and reacting real-time with brands. They want to be heard and as one of their favorite brands, or one hoping to be, your attention and interest back is flattering. Snaps, Instagram photos or a Tweet they share with feedback or thoughts on your brand is marketing currency and you should listen, reshare and interact. However, remember they also watch for the outcomes. Brands that listen and incorporate input assure customers they are valued and strengthen loyalties.
Listen to feedback from bloggers or Reddit communities that engage your customers. Consider a dedicated on-the-ground college program using strategically positioned students in relevant schools with the sole purpose of reporting feedback on your brand/product, lifestyle ideas, and other trends.
4. Live in the Real World
Given today’s digital lives, students love and appreciate actual, real-life experiences all the more. On-the-ground programs still deliver brands into customers’ hands and minds, allowing you to see how your brand is received in action. College students document their lives with “selfies” all the time and brands that can help create authentic and honest experiences for them where they live and play can win. Knowing the latest phrase isn’t necessary as long as you “get” their world and engage with them in a real way.
Top brands work hard to actively engage with understanding and commitment in the moment, every moment. They don’t wait to react or get in front of this audience. And they seek marketing inspiration from the source: real students in real-time.