Home Blog Talent Management 7 Things you need to know about marketing and PRing to students
18
Feb
2010
7 Things you need to know about marketing and PRing to students

This article was in a recent newsletter from Do Your Own PR.  Written by Emma Champion, a student at the University of Hertfordshire, who is working for Do Your Own PR for 2 days a week, it confronts the stereotypes and gives lots of clues about how to appeal to students (of all ages).

1. Don't make assumptions

It is easy to pigeonhole the UK Student population following years of stereotyping and spoofing via modern media. The common assumption is that a typical student:

  • is aged eighteen and straight out of school
  • follows a distinctly "grunge" dress code
  • is lazy and sponges off the government
  • follows a strict diet of canned-goods on toast
  • binge-consumes copious amounts of alcohol on a regular basis
  • spends all their spare time in pubs and clubs.

However, whilst there will be some students who commit to this list religiously, not all students are the same, and their interests, hobbies and lifestyles as individuals differ tremendously, and these common presumptions are often inaccurate.

For example:

  • With regards to age, not all students go into higher education straight out of school. For example, students over the age of thirty make up a third of the student body at Oxford Brookes University alone (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/facts/mature_students). Understandably, there is a huge leap between what appeals to a teenager compared to that of a person in their thirties. Therefore, promotion which involves free entry to clubs or free booze might not be of interest to the slightly more wizened scholar.

  • Fashion seems to be high on the agenda nowadays for modern students. The days of getting away with being as scruffy as possible are entering their final death rattle, with websites like ASOS proving popular with young people, and student discount offered at retailers like New Look. So, promotion via platforms which largely attract the "grunge" crowd, such as music festivals, might not have the impact you'd expect.

  • It is a myth that students are spongers. Every UK citizen is entitled to three years-worth of student funding via the Student Loans Company. That money is there for the taking if you are climbing the education ladder, but it isn't much in the grand scheme of things and, if you live away from home to study, doesn't stretch very far. Most students are forced to hold down a part-time job alongside studying full-time - quite a feat considering the amount of coursework required of them, and the tight deadlines which must be met. Therefore, students are not always lazy, and they do have money to spend, but they will want it to stretch as far as possible, because they work hard for the little they have.

  • Most of the money students accrue will be spent on food. Most discussion forums suggest that an average student spends around £25-£30 per-week on groceries. That's £100-£120 per month, which is a lot when you have to pay rent, utilities, and buy books for study. Therefore, promotion incorporating discounted supermarket shopping would reach a wide student audience.

  • Alcohol consumption amongst students is high, and most universities boast pub and club facilities with subsidized bar pricing. Going back to the issue of age, this will not appeal to all students, as mature students may feel that part of their lives has been done to death. Socially, students spend a lot of their time at the computer, in the library, at the cinema, or shopping - just as much, if not more, than being in a pub or a club. The best approach is to fully research the age range you are playing to, and create ideas which people of all ages will find alluring. Bear in mind student habits and routines based on fact and not assumption, and you will be ten steps ahead of the competition.

2. Fresher's Fairs and freebies

A great way for students to get familiar with your brand is the Fresher's Fair. Held on-campus during the week that students register with their university, these events often have rows and rows of stalls and stands, set up by local businesses who wish to capitalise on the population of students new to the area at that time of year.

Often, students will be given a bag to fill with the many flyers, business cards, vouchers and freebies that these companies are eager to hand out. Flyers and leaflets are light and easy to carry, and a student at an event like this will find these easy to slip into their carrier bag of goodies.

However, what the students really look for are stalls which are giving away free items, such as sweets, sample groceries, and promotional items like t-shirts or hats. This would ensure that your brand is remembered by the students who attend throughout the academic year, as Fresher's Week occurs right at the beginning of a student's journey, and they are nervous, impressionable, and will stick closely to anything that feels familiar.

If your way of doing things is the first they encounter at such a vital, life-changing time, they are likely to adopt that way for the foreseeable. Contact universities directly for information on the cost of acquiring a pitch for the day.

3. Utilise Social Media

As mentioned earlier, students spend the vast majority of their time in front of a computer screen. Spending hours on a three-thousand word essay brings with it the inevitability of looking for a quick distraction. So, if your average student is stuck and wants to ask a friend for help mid-essay, or is in search of some moral support, it is often the social networking sites that they will wander to. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now so essential in the world of communication. They enable the public sphere to gather in one place and discuss that which is relevant in their lives.

Many companies have taken to setting up Facebook Groups and Pages, as well as Twitter sites to create awareness for their brand or business. If this is where your target audience is spending much of its time, then it makes sense to have a presence there. Also, this is a great way to generate word-of-mouth advertising too, as sites such as MSN, and Facebook's Live Chat option enable people to swap information they've acquired online instantly. University campuses are like small villages - once word gets around, it spreads like wildfire. If people on the computers in the vast, university libraries swap info over the web whilst working, then chat to each other about it, pretty soon it'll be the talk of the campus.

4. Gossip is good: Viral Campaign

On the occasions when advertisements are discussed, it is often the ones that kept people guessing until the last minute. Television campaigns such as the Cadbury's "Gorilla", or film teaser campaigns such as the "1.18.08" posters for the movie Cloverfield (2008), are the ones that stand out in people's memory, purely because they maintained an air of mystery surrounding the product.

Why not consider a set of flyers in the colour of your brand's logo, featuring only the date of your launch? Or, an email to students with just a place or a time, leading them to you? They say curiosity killed the cat, but I say curiosity peaks your audience's interest.

Students love to gossip, and have access to so many discussion forums that everyone will be speculating as to what it all means. It's a great way to create buzz and have a strong impact all at once.

5. Student Sites and in-house publications

Most modern universities produce their own media by which to communicate to attending students. The University of Hertfordshire, for example, boasts their own website entitled StudyNet. Exclusively for the use of registered students only, StudyNet is an essential part of student life at this university. Tutors mostly communicate with their students via StudyNet email; university events and offers are advertised on StudyNet's homepage, and there are also links to student union and academic referencing sites via Studynet.

It is a central hub for students at this establishment - an epicentre of information accessible to students only. It is a great place from which to promote if you are looking to market exclusively to students, or running a student-based offer, and other universities now have similar websites, so this will become a more common platform in time.

Often, a university will run their own in-house newspaper, which will largely be produced and distributed for free by the students themselves in conjunction with the student union. An advertisement cleverly placed, or a promotional article in such a publication would reach a large number of students at any given campus. Again, contact the university direct for information on how to achieve this.

6. Discounts

Students are always appreciative of the companies who offer to save them a pound or two. The more they save on the mundane things they need, the more they have to spend on some hard-earned down-time. Students spend £10.00 on their NUS Extra Cards - a card that allows them discount at certain retailers, restaurants and websites. With students being so careful with their cash, the fact that they are willing to spend money in order to save in the long term shows how important discounts are to them.

If your product/venue/service is something that will primarily interest university and college attendees, then consider a limited-time discount offer of some sort, or perhaps make it possible for them to save money elsewhere by using your product/visiting your venue/utilising your service. Promotional tie-ins with local businesses might provide the perfect opportunity for all to benefit from such an offer.

7. Outside the Box: Gaming

A relatively new idea which is emerging is the idea of gaming as a means to promote your business. Most recently, a gaming application called FooPets on Facebook - where the gamer must adopt and maintain the health of a digital pet dog or cat - used real-life pet food brand Purina in its graphics, which boosted their sales. Also, gamers on FooPets are encouraged to spend real money on FooDollars - the currency with which you first adopt a pet and then buy it food and drink - making it a lucrative business in itself. Other example of gaming as a means to advertise is online real-time, alternative-reality game Second Life. Shops within this game sell digital wares for real money, as well as configuring their digital retail space to place advertisements for the gamer to see.

A popular game amongst students at the moment is a Facebook application called Bejewelled - a Tetris-style, "match-the shapes" game which has proven highly addictive to players. It might be worth looking into how much a simple game like this would cost to program and produce. Bejewelled is something which has proven popular with Facebook users (a vast number of which are students) and has everybody talking - now imagine that with your company logo running on it, or along-side it - it would certainly drum up some awareness for your brand - perhaps even without the gamer even realising it.

Even with having 2 daughters who have spent 9 years as students between them, I found this fascinating and learned lots. 

How could you use these ideas to market to or attract the people you want to buy your products or join your organisation? 

 

 

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