Advertising to Students – The Complete Guide

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For years, advertisers across the globe have targeted students as part of their various marketing campaigns. This demographic is becoming increasingly popular with every passing year too, particularly as those currently turning 18 are now part of the lucrative Millennial demographic.

Make no mistake; the world’s two billion Millennials are now coming of age, with the youngest members of this demographic now entering adulthood and contributing to the world’s most powerful consumer group.

Whilst students may represent an increasingly lucrative target for advertisers, however, effectively defining and engaging this demographic is far easier said than done. In this post, we’ll consider the challenges associated with advertising to students, whilst asking what steps brands can take to overcome them.

What are the Main Challenges Associated with Targeting Students?

One of the biggest challenges facing advertisers is the fundamental way in which the student demographic is defined.

More specifically, university students are generally perceived to be between 18 and 21, and this often informs the type of messaging, imagery and narratives that are used to target them.

Whilst it’s true that the majority of university students fit into this age bracket and are part of the Millennial demographic, however, the statistics show that more than 40% are 21 or older. This is a deceptively large number, which includes mature students and those who study part-time alongside their career.

Of these, 50% of students are aged between 30 and 50, creating a more diverse and mature age range that demands an entirely difficult marketing approach.

There’s also the question of heritage, with a growing number of the UK’s student demographics currently heralding from overseas. In fact, nearly half a million existing students are visiting from abroad, and whilst this number may diminish if Britain exits the EU it creates a significant cultural challenge for marketers to overcome.

Even when targeting younger students that exist within the traditional age range, modern brands face considerable issues in terms of the trust. This is part of a wider issue, of course, with just 36% of all shoppers currently claiming that they’d trust established brands to do what’s right in any given scenario.

In the case of Millennials, a staggering 89% of individuals trust recommendations from friends and family more than claims by a specific brand. This is partly due to the fact that Millennials typically prioritise experiences over material goods and wealth, whilst it also hints at a growing cynicism when it comes to brands.

Advertisers face an even bigger challenge online when targeting students, despite the fact that this demographic is thought to be amongst the most tech-savvy of all time. The issue here is that younger students and Millennials are becoming increasingly sceptical of online advertising, with around 57% claiming that they’d never click through a banner advert.

Not only this, but Millennials are also investing heavily in ad-blocking software across their devices. In the UK, this trend is most prevalent amongst consumer aged between 18 and 24, with a whopping 34% of this demographic choosing to prevent online advertisements from appearing on their screens.

Ad Blocker

A further 19% of those aged between 25 and 34 (who may also be full or part-time students in the UK) utilise similar software, whilst the average across the whole of Britain is far lower at just 15%.

This creates an interesting juxtaposition for UK advertisers, as whilst students are incredibly active online and across social media they’re increasingly resistant to advertising in these spaces. It hardly helps that firms in Britain increased their digital ad spending by 15% to £6.4 billion in the first half of 2018, as this will lead to further market saturation and potentially alienate student consumers further.

Even on a fundamental level, students (particularly those who study full-time) typically have tight and restricted budgets.

This means that it’s hard to effectively engage them without providing a viable value proposition, and there’s no doubt that selling to students requires you to have accurate margins and a detailed pricing policy.

Outdoor Advertising and Something for Nothing – How to Target Students with your Marketing Campaigns

With these challenges in mind, two things are abundantly clear.

Firstly, students remain an attractive demographic for advertisers, despite the diversity of this group and the restrictions placed on their spending power. Even accounting for this, students represent a £22 billion opportunity for brands in the UK, whilst those at the younger end of this demographic also boast extended lifespans as consumers.

Secondly, effectively engaging students is an increasingly difficult challenge, and one that demands the use of structured and integrated marketing campaigns.

So, here are some tips that will enable you to target students more effectively with your future ad campaigns!

Embrace Outdoor Advertising

Let’s start with out-of-home (OOH) advertising, which is an increasingly popular marketing method that boasts tremendous value and improved marketing ROIs.

Make no mistake, the OOH ad spend in the UK has increased incrementally since 2011, whilst this is set to peak at an impressive £1.31 billion in the year ending 2020.

This medium is also particularly effective when targeting students, especially in relation to some of the challenges that we’ve already discussed.

When it comes to trust and cynicism, for example, a recent study by Nielsen revealed that more than 56% of all consumers inherently trust OOH as an advertising channel. There may be many reasons for this, including the non-intrusive nature of billboards and the fact that they meld seamlessly into the natural environment.

There’s also ample evidence to suggest that OOH advertising drivers greater trust across online and social media channels. This enables marketers to circumnavigate the impact of saturation through these mediums, as they leverage outdoor ads to build trust and awareness before driving targeted traffic online.

According to one study conducted by Rapport, brands which allocated 15% or more of their marketing budget to outdoor advertising also witnessed a significant increase in social media engagement.

Of these brands, 48% used OOH channels to drive brand awareness amongst customers, whilst a further 24% published billboards to optimise sales conversions and increase turnover.

So, if we assume that students are typically cynical of online advertising and paid messages published through social media, the use of OOH media can help brands to build trust with this demographic before directing them to trusted online channels and web pages.

Remember, students also spend a great deal of their time on the move (either off or on campus), so they’re more susceptible to outdoor ads than other demographics. So the opportunity is there, particularly for brands that develop relevant and targeted messages that can engage students of different types and ages.

Provide Tangible Rewards to Engage Students with your Brand

We’ve also spoken about the importance of offering a viable value proposition to students, particularly those who are younger and increasingly cost-savvy.

One way in which your business can achieve is to encourage students to engage directly with the brand, by providing tangible rewards or free samples in exchange the promotion of products through social media channels.

According to some figures, around 44% of Millennials are willing to promote products and services through social media in exchange for rewards, whilst providing them with free samples for review is also part of the business model that underpins the fast-growing influencer marketing industry.

Social Media

This is not only a relatively cost-effective method of marketing in the digital age, but it also enables businesses to target a huge student audience by using trusted influencers that can communicate messaging directly to their peers.

This approach can also be extremely rewarding in terms of your marketing ROI, with businesses that boast a keen understanding of influencer marketing capable of earning £18 in media value per every £1 that they spend through this channel on average.

In some instances, you could even hire students to work for your brand as part of a promotional event. This is a more traditional method of encouraging students and target demographics to engage with your brand, so long as you commit to paying them a wage or providing another form of tangible (and legal) reward.

Drive Word of Mouth by Creating Targeted Discounts

On a similar note, you can also engage students by providing concise and simple discounts that deliver obvious financial savings.

Even from a practical perspective, this opens up your brand to students with minimal fiscal resources, whilst it’s also an excellent way of boosting sales volumes and driving effective word of mouth marketing.

There’s also an inherent link between outdoor advertising and effective word of mouth advertising, with channels such as billboards incredibly engaging and capable of presenting striking messaging.

To put this into context, local restaurants could look to target students by investing in strategically placed billboards that promote a considered and clearly-defined discount for students.

This offer should strike the ideal balance between incentivising students and protecting your overall profit margins, as you don’t want to drive a successful promotional campaign that increases sales but ultimately loses you money.

Similarly, try to use a concise and active tense to promote the offer and create a sense of urgency, whilst by the same token you may also want to consider making it available for a limited time only.

News of your offer can also spread like wildfire across the campus, meaning that your message is able to build brand awareness even amongst those that have not seen one of your adverts!

The Last Word

As we can see, advertising to students is a deceptively complex and challenging pastime and one that requires a great deal of forethought if you’re to actively engage your audience.

Hopefully, this guide will help you understand the challenges surrounding student advertising, whilst enabling you to create winning strategies and campaigns that successfully overcome them!

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