The 4 pillars of marketing to students

In our latest guest post from our YMS19 LDN partners, student marketing experts BAM Agency share their knowledge of the market they know best, and why brands who aren’t engaging students are missing out on a valuable demographic.

Student marketing, a niche boutique market in its own right, understood fully by few and overlooked by many. Brands that spend the time to understand how important students are, how they can become lifelong customers and how they have the ability to drive advocacy, experience the advantages of this incredibly lucrative segment.

But why is this segment so lucrative and why is it so critical for brands to dedicate energy and investment into it? It comes down to the simple foundations of this segment of youth marketing: The 4 pillars of marketing to students.

Pillar 1 -  Early Adopters by Nature

Firstly students are in nature, generally Early Adopters. The power behind this statement is delivered by them experiencing a milestone in their life, that being a true and real taste of independence. 

For many students the first moments at university allows or even forces them to make their own choices. They decide what they think, what they do and more importantly for brands, what they buy and who they invest their time with. They are now, for the most part, outside the protection and constraints of their parents or guardians. With this new found independence, they try the new, they experiment and open their horizons to what the world has to offer. They are also seeking and gaining emotional securities with brands that will build their own identity as they journey through university life and beyond. This really is a key milestone in an individual's life where old brand alliances formed during childhood can and do change. 

At BAM we conduct national Freshers Fair exit polls. One of our key insights, that on face value may seem hard to believe, is that close to a quarter of students attending Freshers Fairs were not familiar with some of the big brand names such as Domino’s, Gregg’s and Virgin Media. Of these students, over half stated they would go on to purchase from these brands as a result of learning of and interacting with them during the Freshers events.

This statistic may seem far-fetched, but let's not forget that students arrive at universities from across the country and the world, and so many are experiencing a new way of life. Students may not have had access to these brands due to parental/guardian guidance, geographical location, or their country’s culture. 

Pillar 2 -  Instant Community Environment 

All students live in a Community Environment, which forms the second pillar. All universities form a campus-based community for their students, some more so than others, but in general, they all provide this.

So why is this beneficial to brands? A community environment allows for brand activations to spread like wildfire. Being in a community of like-minded individuals all going through a similar journey at the same time simply allows for early adoption and uptake to happen more rapidly.

Over the years we have witnessed the power of this pillar in the UK with several brands:

  • Red Bull - their well-established student brand ambassador program has been running since the late ‘90s

  • Domino’s - consistently dominate the student pizza market 

  • Facebook - started at Harvard University in the US back in 2005

  • Tinder - launched a college advertising program at the start of 2012 and built their brand with 80% of their audience being 18 to 24-year-olds

To gain a serious advantage in this environment and under these conditions, brands must get their message and timing right.

Pillar 3 -  Access to Expendable Cash

The third pillar is their Access to Expendable Cash. There are many sources out there that show just how big the spending power is of students in the UK market. All sources roughly deliver the same figures, give or take a few 100 million. Overall it is perceived that students inject approximately 23 billion into the economy each year. The bulk of this is spent on accommodation, however, they spend approximately 3.5 billion on food, 2 billion on socialising and another 2 billion on non-essential items (clothing alone accounting for 1 billion of this figure).

Every year, this segment has an influx of 600,000 new students arriving from all corners of the UK and globe, embarking on a key life-changing milestone period in their lives, where they seek out the new and find their own personal independence and identity, all of which they do whilst having access to cash, expendable cash. If you are not marketing to students currently, what are you waiting for?

Pillar 4 -  Brand Loyalty

The final pillar is Brand Loyalty. After the first three months of university life, the golden 100 days, students start to settle down into their new surroundings. The choices and decisions they made during their first few months have started to take form and take hold, which resonates with their new identity, their independence. 

We see year-on-year brand loyalty forming during the Freshers period and remaining throughout their lifetime. The start of university life is one of those rare crossroad points where a potential customer resets their brand allegiances and forms new, stronger allegiances which they find difficult to reset thereafter. 

Marketing to students is definitely not just about the here and now, it's about creating life long brand advocates and customers. If you yourself went to university, think back to the brands you connected with when you started, how long did you stay with them? More interestingly, are you still with them today?

Whether considering investment into the student market for the first time or reinvesting into this sector, brands should understand that this market is a must if youth and Generation Z are a core buying demographic. Here at BAM we advise and guide brands on how to maximise this market and create new life-long customers who will become excellent brand advocates.

Catch Tim Bodenham, Managing Director of BAM, on the YMS19 LDN Main Stage alongside Pizza Express, presenting their student marketing journey.