Going For Gold

4 10 2010

They say that college is the best 4-6 years of your life. You party. You have fun. Party. Sleep. Party. Study. Party some more.

And go in debt up to your eyeballs.

But from a marketer’s perspectives, there’s gold in them there college students. How much gold, you ask? Well, $76 billion worth. With 19 million full- and part-time college students hitting the books this year, that’s about 6% of the US population, with an average discretionary income of $4000.

It is also a very lucrative 6%, because these folks are the future wage earners, the folks who, if they finish their degree, will likely go on to earn about $22,000 more per year than those with only a high school degree.

The only problem is reaching them.

How’s that again? Aren’t they all in classes? Aren’t they hanging out in idyllic ivy-covered campuses? Or in nearby sports bars?

Well, yes they are. It’s just that college students can sniff out a marketing campaign faster than they can slam down a pint of their favorite brew. And they are no big fans of intentional efforts to relieve them of their money.

While $4000 per students may not seem like a lot of money now, it is those future earnings that marketers are trying to tap into. Any effort that can land a customer today will likely pay benefits well into the future. Sure, students will grow up (and out) and quit wearing AE clothing 7 days a week, but it will be quite a few years before they are content to just buy a pair of old-man Dockers.

Still, the difficulty comes in reaching these tech-savvy students. Accustomed to living in an ocean littered with the jetsam of so many ad agencies, young adults can filter out or ignore messages with aplomb. For a marketer to cut through the clutter and the defense system takes a willingness to speak the language of the recipient.

Which often involves guerilla tactics.

Naturally, it involves a lot of technology. Facebook. Text messaging. But it also involves more clever efforts like simply lending a hand at times of need (like move-in weekend). Many companies are developing college-specific Facebook pages intended to directly target students in one location. This makes perfect sense, because FB is free, and better yet, it is entirely an opt-in system. Give students a reason to Like a page, and then you can bombard them with marketing messages, promos and coupons.

And outbound text messaging is a great way to hit students where the technology gets the most traction. Nothing gets attention more than a message that pops on the user’s screen.

But while leveraging technology is definitely in, we can see with equal certainty that print is dead. Newspapers. Why? Magazines. What’s the point? Direct mail. Are you kidding me?

I also wouldn’t bet too heavily on the airwaves either, unless it’s during Glee.

To say that there are huge generational differences between Gen-Y college students and their Baby Boomer parents is an understatement. In fact, I could argue you have missed the point. No, there is an ever-widening chasm separating them, a techno-social-credibility gulf that is far greater than what Boomers experienced with their Greatest Generation parents. Ours was one of ideology. But our kids’ is one often built on a patent distrust of anything old school, including ideas, technology and otherwise.

Reaching today’s college student may well be the biggest challenge marketers have ever faced, but it is a challenge that can be won. Just be sure to send it to their phones, because they’re probably not going to see it in this morning’s paper.

Dr “Text Editor” Gerlich

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