Ask the Experts

School Spirit

I am building a new website, that I think is a great idea. What are some creative techniques for marketing to college students?

This is an intriguing question, since we all know about wildly successful college start-ups such as Facebook, Reddit and WordPress. We would prefer to list innovative new ideas just waiting to be implemented. A more helpful approach would be to overview past successes and tell you why they worked, so that’s what we’ll do here.

Marketing to students has a number of inherent hurdles. Your customer base is skeptical and transient. However, students are also tech-savvy, connected, and flush with more discretionary purchasing power, than in high school.

One common marketing mistake is trying to be too ‘cool’. College students are critical thinkers and often cynical, especially towards advertising. Boston-based CampusLIVE is an online portal for academic and social interests, aimed at students. They understand the fickle nature of students, accelerating the rise and decline of many social media sites.

Word-of-mouth is a great tool in the college community; it can also work against you, causing your market to collapse. Focus on product development for a long time before marketing it, advises entrepreneur Boris Revsin. To become mainstream, the students have to sell the product themselves, spreading the word on campuses.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is a thousand pictures. Use video. Cable TV is not free or mobile, so students opt for YouTube and Netflix. Flippze, a local campus marketplace for students, has been releasing how-to videos to help introduce and market their products. These informative, short films cover subjects of interest to students: decorating a dorm, cramming for a test, etc. The product is seamlessly promoted within the video. Others created an online fashion show, encouraging students to buy costumes for parties and holidays.

The life of a student is complicated with schedules, classes and social life. Simplicity is the key when communicating with them. Leave room for creativity, some sarcasm and wit.

Radio marketing has been around the longest of all, but has seriously benefited from more recent technological innovations. Radio continues to reach millions daily and has become even easier to target specific demographics. Targeting the college market with online radio and podcasts offers one of the least expensive ways to reach students. Direct response campaigns thrive there, getting customers to make an immediate action that allows you to track the success of your campaign down to minute details.

Social media is the best platform and every brand name uses it. Students are overwhelmed by the amount of content on social media every day. However, a well-targeted ad campaign can pay dividends.

Advertising in the campus newspaper can also lead to successes, as studies have shown 72-80% of college students read it. Investing in college newspaper ads will directly target your audience and generate product awareness. This is expensive for each student you reach, but yields a large response, confirms a college marketer of surf watches.

Following other examples of success can work well. The best success is innovating your own marketing plan.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, Thomas A. Edison.

Nadeem Ghori is the President of Webplex, a digital analytics agency.