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Marketing to College Students

Updated Apr 19, 2023

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Why market to college students?

Students are teaching enterprising marketers some valuable lessons about their future customers. Among them are several reasons why they are worth a slice of your offline and online marketing budget:

  1. College students are educated, brand-loyal consumers.
  2. The college market is geographically stable.
  3. More than 15 million U.S. college students spend more than $200 billion annually.
  4. Consisting almost exclusively of 18- to 24-year-olds, the college demographic is remarkably age stable.
  5. Marketing to college students is cost-effective because they respond more favorably to grassroots messaging than to flashy ads. 
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College students spend more than $200 billion annually and they can be extremely loyal to brands they love. That’s why it is critical to develop marketing campaigns that specifically target this demographic.

What to keep in mind when marketing to college students

As you promote your company to college students, you should consider the following:

  • Use the internet and social media. Gen Z uses social media quite often, just as they do with messaging apps and other internet platforms. As such, social media marketing can be a highly effective way to reach college students, but it also requires tact. College students often spend more than enough time on the internet to see a myriad of ads, meaning they can distinguish what’s legit from what’s authentic.
  • Be genuine. Authenticity is key to college-age shoppers. There’s no faster way to turn off Gen Z shoppers than to try to relate to them only to come off completely out of touch. Don’t fall into the “how do you do, fellow kids?” marketing trap – identify the value you could bring to a college student’s life and create honest and valuable content promoting that.
  • Factor in what early adulthood is like. College is basically early adulthood. University students are living on their own and covering at least some of their own expenses for the first time. They were doing this with having their parents around all of the time to guide or discipline them. That means they might be looking for ways to make life work on their own. To market to them, figure out how your offerings can help with this goal and orient your marketing campaigns.
  • Consider how busy college students can be. Between loaded class schedules, extracurricular activities, social lives, homework and the inevitable all-nighters, college students are a busy bunch. You should respect their time when marketing to them – long videos or blogs might miss the mark. Short content can be quite effective.
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You should also guess when college students are likeliest to be scrolling, maybe between classes or before bed. Try promoting your content then.

How to market to college students

When marketing to college students, your chances of success can be higher if you keep the below tips in mind:

1. Profile your student targets.

The needs and buying habits of a student at a four-year university, for instance, will differ considerably from those of a student at a two-year college. Similarly, reaching students that live on campus requires different strategies than one might use to reach students who live off-campus. As such, decide what type of student you want to reach with your product or service before you begin marketing it.

2. Get online.

College students are extremely media savvy. Their medium of choice, however, is definitely the internet. Modern-day college students grew up with the world wide web and spend hours at a time online studying, surfing the net and socializing with their friends. Smart marketers can not only to advertise to their young customers but interact with them, too. Create a well-designed website that appeals to the college demographic and link it to your social media profiles for maximum effect.

3. Turn campuses into ads.

Enterprising marketers can literally decorate a college campus with their message. Use sidewalk chalk to create eye-catching ads on campus thoroughfares and post flyers on campus bulletin boards, where they’re sure to catch receptive students’ eyes.  

4. Buy ads in campus media.

Every college has a newspaper, and many have student-run TV stations and magazines. Advertising in them is both an inexpensive and an effective way to reach college students.

5. Sponsor student events.

Lending your support and your money to on-campus events can get you valuable exposure within your target market and can also build your reputation as a student-friendly business.

6. Make students feel special.

Businesses often ignore – or even reject – their student customers. Companies that make an extra effort not only to accommodate college students, but to cater to them – with special student discounts, services, etc.– can therefore easily lay claim to their cash.

7. Build buzz.

College students talk. A lot. Companies can, therefore, initiate a storm of free marketing just by giving them something exciting and inventive to talk about.

8. Send both snail mail and email

College students change addresses often, but love to get mail nonetheless. Direct mail, then, is an easy and effective way to get them excited about your company. Don’t neglect students’ email inboxes, though, as most students check their email at least once daily. [Check out our reviews of the best email marketing software.]

  • Students aren’t just students. Consider your college customers’ other attributes – their interests, for example – and target them through appropriate non-student media.
  • Because they grew up in an ad-saturated world, college students are harder to reach with traditional advertising. They are more likely to respond to word of mouth, including recommendations from their friends.
  • College students are “trial receptive,” meaning that they are open to new ideas and have yet to develop strong brand affiliations.
  • Remember that while the college market is incredibly stable and static, individual student consumers are moving targets, changing both attitudes and addresses frequently.
  • Don’t just sell stuff to students. Instead, focus on building relationships with them.
  • College students are trendsetters. Even when they’re not making purchases, they’re influencing them.

9. Promote affordability

Additionally, according to The Pollack Group, another method of marketing to college students is by providing products and services that are affordable. Although college students are no strangers to splurging, they are also often on a tighter budget than most. Therefore, by marketing products and services that are affordable, they will be more likely to become a customer.

10. Provide incentives

Moreover, by providing them with incentives, this will also make them more likely to shop with your company. For instance, if you provide college students with discounts, this can be a great way to attract new college customers and maintain existing ones. Additionally, you can also do things such as provide free trials or samples, which can also be a great way to attract college customers.

11. Be funny

Also, by making your marketing efforts funny, this is an excellent method of making your marketing memorable in the minds of your potential college customers. If they find your ad to be especially hilarious, you have a greater chance of going viral. This would not only mean exposure to college students but to potential customers of all kinds.

Max Freedman
Contributing Writer at
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.
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