College Campus Marketing: How Brands Score a Win

Show up. That is the first piece of advice college and university professors often dole out to incoming freshers (freshmen in the U.S.). Students often have flexibility when it comes to class attendance, allowing them the chance to succeed even if not they’re not present for every class. But those who wish to maximize their experience, and their investment, should be there. And, since they’re going to be there in body, they might as well be there in spirit, too. Even the experts’ advice is simple: students  should “attend class, take notes and engage with the material, the faculty and their classmates.” It’s the most straightforward path to a good grade. But, showing up to class also comes with other benefits related to relationships.

When students show professors they’re serious, they can earn extra support, whether that is with difficult material or even a job reference in the future, for example. On the other side of the lectern, working with classmates can ease “anxiety, depression and social isolation,” a side-effect that many Gen Z members report upon entering college or university. Engaging with diverse groups helps these students feel connected through a shared sense of purpose. Researchers say these feelings are in close alignment with students’ “personal growth, as well as their academic purpose.” 

College Campus Marketing Should Align with Students’ Needs

Brands may be tempted to launch advertising campaigns to reach students, a group that, last year in the U.S. were reported to have $574 billion in spending power. But, an Adweek article shares that “traditional ads aren’t necessarily the best way to reach this demographic.” A study tells that students are “less likely” to see TV, magazine, and radio ads” than in recent years. And while brands may have more luck with ads published on social media networks, a strategic college campus marketing approach helps brands “show up” and get farther with university and college students. In doing so, brands create awareness, build relationships, and have a unique opportunity to help students feel connected to each other – and the brand. 


6 Ways Brands Show Up for University and College Campus Marketing

Look to these brand activations to score big points with students.

Experiential Activations.

Experiential activations can deliver big results when it comes to university and college campus marketing. One simple idea is a scavenger hunt. Many institutions will hold them for incoming freshers to help them get familiar with campus in a fun way. But, when brands host experiential activations, students get to know the brand, build camaraderie, and ease anxiety. Experiential activations can allow students to not only engage with the brand, but each other, too.


Product Sampling.

CPG brands have long known the worth of college sampling programs for engaging students. Keurig gave out cups of coffee. On move-in day, Proctor & Gamble distributed product samples, from deodorant to laundry detergent. And, Green Giant even served up veggie tots on game days. Samples are a proven way to engage students, and are also backed by a U.K. survey that finds 67 percent of students attend Freshers Fairs for the product samples. And, in the U.S., a survey reports an overwhelming 87 percent attend bookstore events for the same reason, showing the immense draw of putting products into consumers’x hands.

Pop-up Shops or Mobile Tours.

The pop-up economy is booming, just a few years ago estimated at over $50 billion. Pop-up shops give brands space to combine the power of experiential with sampling programs, product demos, and a wide variety of engagement tactics to maximize their presence. 

Online retailers and manufacturers use these temporary spaces to get face-to-face with consumers to build relationships. Retailers with a physical presence can do something different than what shoppers are used to in-store. A pop-up can show a new side of the brand or perhaps meet consumers in new areas. The latter is what Target did with a pop-up shop for college campus marketing. During move-in week, the retailer erected a pop-up dorm at five U.S. campuses. Inside, experiential event staff greeted students, who played digital games and designed a virtual dorm room filled with Target items. The staff also helped students engage with one another to win prizes.

Some college sampling programs forgo a static pop-up setup for a mobile tour. Mobile tours allow consistency across multiple stops – even across geographic boundaries. Such was the case for which traveled to several California universities. Visitors to the brand’s trailer could see its latest fashions, play games to win discounts, and enjoy photos opps with influencers.


Scale brand events with brand ambassadors

Brand Ambassadors or Street Teams.

When marketing to Gen Z, an Inc article points to their peers as a critical influence. It says these consumers seek the opinion of peers “before (and after) buying.” That makes grassroots marketing efforts, such as college brand ambassadors, useful for brands to create awareness or build loyalty. Red Bull found early success with its college marketing program, under which fellow students gave out Red Bull drinks to keep peers going for parties or get them going for classes. Similarly, in the U.K., the Lucozade brand of sports and energy drinks helps brand ambassadors set up stations to hand out samples. Other brands target student segments to touch the right people. Examples include Under Armour for fitness-minded students and Victoria’s Secret PINK for sorority members.

Still, brands don’t have to enact full-scale brand ambassador programs to realize goals. Activating street teams during campus events or on game days – places where crowds gather – allow promo staff to engage with students. Then, they can share brands’ messages or get products into consumers’ hands.

Connecting with university students doesn’t have to be complicated – it just has to be engaging. Elevate provides you with peer-level event staff who identify with these consumers and make a meaningful impact on behalf of your brand.

Author: Nick Riggall


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