How brands can improve their engagement with new students


We're delighted to present a guest blog post from Youth Marketing Strategy event partner UCAS Media. Read on for their thoughts on timing your brand engagement right with students:

Going to uni is a huge step – especially for those just coming out of school or college. The transition between A level results day and freshers’ week will often be the first time many young people have made their own purchasing decisions – engaging with products and services that previously they wouldn’t have needed.

This critical period only lasts around eight weeks, so for brands it’s very important to get their messages and timing right. We wanted to explore the concept that this transition period results in different behaviours from this market. We could see it in their engagement with campaigns we sent on behalf of clients, but we wanted to explore it further to help us provide additional insight when we plan client’s post results day campaigns with them.

We asked 1,800 students about their purchasing behaviours in a survey – including a number of students who were already studying at university as well as group who were current applicants and waiting for their exam results.

But we wanted contextual insight too – to add colour to our findings but to also allow us to understand more fully the trends. So we established a student panel and asked 10 students to outline their experiences week-by-week from A level results day through to the first few weeks of uni in a series of blog posts.

These panelists came from different parts of the country, and wanted to study different courses at different types of universities - for example, we have Martin studying Television & Radio at Salford, and Munibah studying International Relations at Birmingham.

We then analysed both the qualitative and quantitative data – looking at the statistical facts to define the buying behaviours themselves, but just as importantly the language used and the themes and trends in the weekly blogs to uncover the buying pattern.

This gave us an ‘emotional journey’ in the run up to starting uni – something that impacts students’ buying behaviours, and which can be broken down into three emotional phases.

1. Celebration

2. Preparation

3. Realisation

Celebration – after results day euphoria.

Their place has been confirmed and they’re feeling an overriding sense of relief. This period lasts about a week and their response is to reaffirm their success as they make tactical and easy purchasing decisions. Respondents spend an average of £117 on room accessories and £118 on kitchen items during this phase – it’s the uni pile in the corner of the room that proves they’re going.

I bought pots and pans, books, books and more books. And packing boxes... as soon as I had my place confirmed.
— Paul


Reality hits and decisions need to be made. This is the longest phase, around five weeks, which reflects the fact that these decisions are bigger and have a longer term impact. During this period students draw on external influencers to help them, again acknowledging the relative importance or level of commitment needed for the decisions.

Things like discounted rail cards, free NUS cards and the like are the most popular freebies which my friends have switched banks to enjoy.
— Lily

We found that in this period 37% of respondents opened a bank account with a new provider, and 82% opened their account in-branch following advice. 67% admitted that a free gift may incentivise them to move banks, though many stuck with their current provider as it was simple to just upgrade to a student account.

I’m rather ashamed I did zero research. I was sent an email by my bank to turn it into a student saver account. When it’s that easy - why not?
— Catrin


A life-changing transition. Leaving what’s familiar is the final phase and takes our students from the last week at home into freshers’ week.

Moving home, making new friends, living in a new area, budgeting and managing their own lives…these all now influence purchasing decisions. These choices shift from services or kit to purchases that will help them make a social impact – buying new clothes, things to decorate their new room and items that will define what others think of them.  

But reality will hit as they begin living and supporting themselves.

‘Went food shopping at uni and planned to spend £30, got to the till £94.87. What happened?!’

So with hundreds of thousands of young people starting uni each year, the student market is a key audience for brands. Early engagement is key – our findings made it clear, that leaving brand awareness activity to the point at which a student has got a place confirmed is too late – they are simply not in the right frame of mind to hear it.

Build awareness before they get results but are highly engaged, and then provide them with relevant and targeted products and services that resonate with their emotional stage at a single point in time. That is how engagement with this audience has the maximum impact. The brand decisions students make now can mean brand loyalty through university, out into work, and beyond.

Join us at UCAS Media’s panel speaker session, #YMS16 to hear more.

UCAS Media is an event partner for Voxburner's latest event, Youth Marketing Strategy London 2016.

To find out more about UCAS Media, head over to the UCAS Media website.

Haven't gotten your tickets for YMS LDN 2016 yet? Head on over to our event page for more information on the biggest youth marketing conference in Europe.