Library Red Bull-infused all-nighters. Sticky campus clubs and £1 apple sour shots. Waking up at midday hungover, only to repeat the cycle again. There’s an endless supply of student stereotypes to choose from, propelled from both cultural output, such as films, as well as a general misconception of the current student demographic.
In reality, students, more so than ever before, are a much more astute, conscientious and proactive group, so it is unsurprising that almost three quarters (71%) of 18-24-year olds feel misunderstood and often stereotyped in the media. It’s time the student stereotypes were dispelled.
It’s an undoubtably valuable demographic, leaving home and making their own purchasing decisions for the first time. Marketers know this, and as a result are increasingly trying to classify them in order to figure out what they like, what they don’t like and how to engage them.
So, what can brands do to target, engage and sustain a relationship with the elusive demographic that is students?
Brands and students: knowing your audience
To begin with, students are not brand loyal just yet. But this life stage is the perfect time to show them why they should choose your brand. This is why targeting this demographic should be an integral part of numerous brands' marketing strategies; engage them now and you might have a customer for life. But that’s not as easy as it once was.
They are a generation that is increasingly willing to resist brands, for a wide variety of reasons. They differ greatly from previous generations due to being born in the technological era, effectively being the first truly digital native generation.
As such, a world without social media is alien to them – these platforms are fundamental to their lives. But cutting through the noise to get their attention and earn their trust is a challenge.
Whilst price point and quality are still important, as conscientious consumers, they’re happy to spend more with brands that align with their moral compasses, ranging from ethically sourced supply chains to brands that value CSR and social causes. They value authenticity above all else and are the first to spot when it’s missing.
With all this in mind, there are some key things brands seeking to engage students need to be aware of.
The dos and don’ts of targeting students
Focus on and clearly communicate your values. Whether these are sustainability and commitment to environmental protection or dedication to supporting your community through diversity and inclusion, showcasing sincerely how you go about acting on your values is vital. Being truthful is not just an asset, it’s a necessity when it comes to this demographic.
If you are touting sustainability, for example, you need to ensure that every level of your supply chain reflects that. Students today have great access to information and time to check these things, so your business needs to live and breathe sustainability before you can make statements about it. Lie or embellish and this generation will find you out and splash it all across their social channels. Define your positioning and ensure it is fed through every campaign, every touchpoint, even the smallest communication you undertake.
Consider the student mindset. By showing you understand their day-to-day lifestyle and their needs, you enable them to develop a sense of trust and build positive associations with your brand. Think of what is important to them at each key life moment, such as the end of term, and how your brand fits into it.
Treat them as individuals. They’re young adults and they respond best to being treated as such. A patronising tone of voice will see them abandon your brand in a split second. Personalisation of messaging is more important than ever – as a generation growing up publicly on social, they’re keen to express their individuality.
Adopt a social-first approach. Students are never far from their phones, and social platforms like Instagram are a huge part of their lives. Brands know they need to tap into social themselves but making sure they are on the right platform with the right content is key to successful engagement. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to social, and it should never be an after-thought or add on, particularly when it comes to younger audiences.
They are influenced much more peer-to-peer. User generated content can therefore go a long way. In order to ensure positive output from users, brands need be act as an extension of who their followers are and how they want to be seen in the world. This helps build trust among the demographic and encourages greater engagement.
They value live experiences. Brands these days know they need to craft experiences to be instagrammable. Students want experiences, but also content that can be shared online with their peers. Taking a clever approach to ensure events have the highest levels of reach possible should be a priority from the earliest planning stages.
Authenticity is paramount for this generation, while experiences and forming memories are prioritised far above ownership. Developing sincere, personal relationships is the key to success for brands.
As students grow up politically and socially engaged, with unparalleled access to information and a commitment to social good, think of engaging them as a long-term investment. They might be on a tight budget now, but still spend £21bn annually, which will only increase they as they enter the world of work post-graduation.
By Jessica Mann, account director, Campus Group.