Marketing to the Back-to-School College Crowd

college student looking at phoneBrands have a unique opportunity during the late summer/early fall months to capture product loyalty for the 18-22+ demographic, back-to-school college crowd. Those entering college are likely getting a new car, buying electronics, shoes, and clothing. Creating brand loyalty at this critical stage can help businesses solidify a lifelong relationship between customer and brand. There are ways to strategically market to this back-to-school college demographic around three key verticals.

1. Automobiles

While some college kids may plan to live on campus and forgo the expense of owning a car, most will want to remain mobile. And just as the smartphone has created an instantaneous link to the world, having a car still equates to a sense of freedom. Many college kids will purchase a used car with help from their parents, but the low-cost, new car market is still a big draw for those in the 18-22+ age range.

Brands may want to consider creative financing options to market to this group. If automotive brands were to create a tailored loan that combines a low down payment, relaxed credit qualifications (provided a parent or co-signer is on the loan), and a scholastic discount (.50% rate reduction for a 3.5 GPA or higher, skip payments over the summer, etc.), parents would be more likely to buy. Students would love the lower car payment, while also realizing the tangible benefits of skip-a-pay programs, etc.

To effectively implement demographic marketing with this group, automotive brands must create excitement around their vehicles, while keeping the target demographic in mind. Reliability, fuel economy, and a purposeful marketing statement will capture attention quicker than a rebate. Additionally, a carefully curated website optimized for mobile, a strong social media presence, and an excellent brand reputation will provide an ideal user experience to engage today’s college students.

2. Electronics

New college students need laptops. Yes, tablets and smartphones can be used to access e-books and websites, take notes and even record lectures, but the experience is far from ideal. The traditional laptop offers the processing power, battery life, and software flexibility to support college students at all levels.

Brands should look to differentiate their collegiate-level laptops from those designed for existing working professionals. Tech brands should market their offerings in a way that satisfies the needs of prospective/current students, while allowing their computers to emulate the ease at which students already interface with their mobile devices.

Touchscreens, solid state drives, and fast recharging/long battery life will deliver real-world familiarity and the necessary speed to keep up with a fast-talking professor. Price is a factor, yet traditionally expensive brands like Apple have been able to sidestep their inherent price inequalities by offering student discounts.

Since parents will likely be involved in the purchase process, laptop brands should reinforce the notion that their computers are reliable, inexpensive to operate, covered by a warranty, and will satisfy the needs of the typical student.

3. Clothing/Shoes

The idea of the “Freshman 15” is a reality for many college students, yet being forced to refit one’s wardrobe after too many pizza-fueled, late-night study sessions may not be a possibility. Clothing and shoe brands can capture the 18-22+ back-to-school college demographic by creating purpose behind the brand, understanding alternative delivery methods might be the key to connecting students with clothing or shoes, and striking the ideal price point.

Looking at purpose, clothing brands like Zady, People Tree, Everlane, Reformation, and Patagonia do far more than sell clothing and shoes. They’ve created targeted marketing campaigns that capture the 18-22-year-old demographic’s inherent quest to support brands that aim to make a positive difference in the world. From sourcing cruelty-free materials to environmentally-conscious manufacturing techniques, leading brands attract the attention of college-aged individuals by unabashedly flaunting these ideals.

Brands can also capitalize on the operating modes of the typical college student. Long gone are the days of the CD-crammed visor case holding a student’s favorite tunes. Traditional paper books are quickly being phased out in favor of e-books and online research. College kids (and adults, alike) store their music in the cloud or possibly just pay for a streaming service, and a closet full of clothing is seen as less of a status symbol today than it once was. To capitalize on this generation’s affinities, clothing brands should look to the Trunk Club, Le Tote, and Stitch Fix model and offer a monthly subscription option.

A manageable fee could cover the cost of “filling in” one’s wardrobe with fresh clothing options, instead of forcing the student to lay out serious money for new clothing all the time. And, the Freshman 15 phenomenon isn’t as much of a factor when the student can simply order the next size up. This incredible deviation from the traditional retail store model is the future of marketing.

With back-to-school time upon us, brands must consider how to most effectively market to use demographic marketing in order to capture the attention and wallet share of this important segment.

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