Market to College Students

Despite what most marketing consulting groups will tell you, marketing something to college students is not that easy. Sure, we have thousands of dollars in disposable income (for the most part). But, here’s the kicker: we don’t want to spend it on you…

…yet. It’s becuase today’s 18-24 year old still fits the ‘starving student’ model. Yes, some may have more of Daddy’s money to play with than others and that’s fine. There are also a number of students that work while maintaining little-to-no liabilities. I might fall under that category (and I might have just bought a 24″ LCD monitor). But I digress…

My point is, students look for value and they typically find it on a price tag. I can’t begin to explain how many friends will tell me “Wal-Mart is evil”. The second I tell them where I bought my $20 bookcase I’m pretty sure I can actually hear a paradigm shifting. They think to themselves “oh no…” because they just realized they can save their money when purchasing trivial things like a bookshelf. Sure, it may be essential, but as long as it shelves books they’re happy. Student’s like cheap.

What if you’re not in the “cheap” business though? How do you market yourself to these same individuals? Free stuff. It’s so simple, really. You attract people by providing the most value for the least money. Say you hand out slices of pizza all day at the student union. From my perspective I see the following: Value: $3, Cost: $0. Let’s do some math:

3 / 0 = Error

Handing out your $3 slices of pizza is so valuable that modern mathmatics can’t even compute it! I’ll let you ponder that for a moment…

19Seriously, we’re smart people. We notice little gestures like this. The majority of us are loyal to those who treat us well. Coupons are great but we’re not going to go looking for them. You have to hand me the 20% off discount as I’m looking to buy something. Dell has mastered this art and, well, you know the rest of the story. But, keep in mind: if you hurt us, we’ll be sure to let people know

In fact, we’ll let them know pretty freaking fast. Facebook, MySpace, AIM, GIM cellphones and blogs keep us connected to our friends even when we’re asleep. Friends trust each other, too. Why else would Dave Balter be making so much money?

Our constant connections coupled with high levels of trust result in powerful word of mouth marketing. Students are busy. It’s easier to have a friend-who’s done the research-to let us know what he found. With that said: your first impression may end up being three, four, or a hundred.

Let’s review:

  • Students have money, but they need a good reason to spend it.
  • Students are, for the most part, cheap. They like free.
  • Once you impress some students with cheap, they’ll tell their friends.
  • Their friends will make a decision based on the message you provided the first student with.
  • You will then reap the benefits of impressing just a few, influential students through additional sales.
  • You don’t want to violate trust, college students are smart. Many even smarter than you.

So, no, it’s not as easy as putting an ad in a college paper. It’s certainly not going to help you if you mail us some crap (email, facebook messages, direct mail). What’s the best thing you could possibly do? Host an event.

It’s as simple as a party. Show me a good time and I’ll show you my wallet. Talk to me as if I’m a real person, I’ll tell you the truth. Show me a movie for free and I’ll have money to spend on your concessions. Give me great prizes to win and I’ll pay attention. But, the second you abuse any information I give you… we’re through.

[tags]college, marketing, students, word of mouth[/tags]