Back To (Brick-And-Mortar) School -- Time To Rethink Strategies

It has been a difficult year for people who like to socialize in person -- especially college students stuck in a room at home trying to advance their degree and prepare for the rest of their life. Many require interaction and socialization to make the most of their learning.

The Back to School Report, released today, suggests that regardless of where students live, most value sharing their college experience with peers. SheerID partnered with Riddle & Bloom in March 2021 to survey 900 college students in the U.S. and Canada, and more than 400 students from France, Germany, and the UK.

Across all markets, more than three in four students said they connect with their friends virtually. Many also see their friends in person. In the U.S., 63% of students said they frequently or occasionally saw friends, and in the EU the percentage of students was even higher. In the UK, the percentage was 66%, while in France it was 79%, and in Germany, 70%. 



While students remained social, when activities involved larger groups or indoor activities, the number of students participating dropped significantly. For example, study groups were kept to once a week for all markets, and most, if not all, school activities were done virtually.

In the U.S., 81% of students participating in the study said they connect with friends virtually. Some 63% said they see friends in person, 59% go to stores or venues and other public places near the campus, 48% participate in school programs in person or virtually, 40% go to bars and restaurants near the campus, and only 35% use school fitness facility in person or virtually.

Where and how will advertisers reach this demographic once COVID-19 restrictions lift?

When asked what they will do when social distance guidelines are relaxed, every student’s top choice was to visit family and friends. In the U.S., more than 7 in 10 students ranked that first.  Many plan to go to a restaurant or a bar, travel on a plane, and go to a concert or indoor event. 

As the percentage of people who have been vaccinated increases, brands that anticipate student participation in these activities will have an advantage over the ones that don’t.

Students agreed the pandemic would affect the Fall 2021 term. More than 8 in 10 students in all markets felt COVID-19 would have an effect. In the U.S., about 85% said it would have an effect, compared with France at 89%, in Germany and UK at 83% each.

And while all students planned to alter their behaviors in response to COVID-19, students in the U.S. said they would be the most diligent. Half of U.S. students plan to minimize contact with others, and 60% said they plan to take extra safety precautions. Nearly 50% of US students also said they would minimize contact with others.

Widespread eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has made students hopeful about returning to back to campus this fall, but uncertainty about what the future holds has made schools cautious.

For marketers, it means having to parse student buying behavior with even fewer points of reference. And while marketing to college students has been challenging, marketing to them now requires brands to understand how student behavior has shifted and been reshaped.

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