Thursday, 3 March 2016

The golden rules of student marketing

The long wait is finally over, it’s the end of the summer holidays and the University is back in full swing!

In the last week, thousands of new students descended upon The University of Sydney campus for fun and festivities. The start of OWeek provides a great opportunity to make new friends, join new clubs and societies, and of course we can’t forget about all those fantastic promotional freebies!

Today’s student is tomorrow’s customer; so marketing towards students is crucial for many businesses' long-term success. In the past few years working in youth marketing I have learnt some golden rules to successfully connect with the student audience.

Perhaps the most important rule of all in student marketing is to first understand that there is no such thing as a typical ‘student’. The student body is not a homogenous group, so marketing that is not targeted simply will not be successful. Brands hoping to connect to the student audience must take the time to fully understand how they think, feel and behave. While there may be some shared similarities between student groups it is important to also recognise that there are also many differences. Even narrowing down students to those of University age presents a vast plethora of different nationalities and cultural norms.

Although there is a vast array of differences between students, one thing is very clear, students are clever, involved and aware. This means that marketing needs to be genuine and truthful if it is going to resonate with this audience. Students are also well informed particularly when it comes to issues such as the environment and human rights. Therefore brands need to be transparent, open and honest in the ways that they interact with the student body.


 Warren Buffett once famously said, price is what you pay, but value is what you get. While price may be a very important factor for many students value must not be forgotten. Value must be demonstrated in ways that are tangible and easily recognisable. Therefore for campaigns to be successful they should look to educate student customers on value and not just price alone.

Brand image is also incredibly important when looking to attract the student population. However, for many brands the default option is often to try and look ‘cool’. Unfortunately, this sometimes backfires resulting in the brand looking too contrived or simply just trying too hard. Hijacking trendy Internet phenomena and memes is a sure fire way in which many brands try to be ‘down with the kids’. But this begs the question, should everything be cool? For example, many banks and financial services in recent years have attempted to take on a ‘cool’ persona to attract younger customers. However, it’s worth considering if this is really an image you want to portray in your product or service.


One thing that cannot be underestimated is the role that social media plays for the younger generation. The digital natives of today embrace new technologies and digital channels quicker than any generation before them. Experiences from these technologies are becoming seamlessly integrated into the lives of these consumers. However, it is important not to forget the multiple offline marketing channels that can also be utilised to connect with the student audience. 

Robert Brunning
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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