Market Your Startup to College Students

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

Did you know that college students are the best target audience to market your startup to? It’s true.

The desirable 18-30 year-old demographic has always been a highly targeted group because they haven’t formed strong brand loyalties yet. Businesses try to reach this demographic at different points in their life, such as when they graduate from high school, start their careers, have a family and plan for retirement. As they go through these milestones and have a need for different products, they are open to a wide variety of messaging. And for some lucky businesses, lifelong relationships will be secured.

But how can your small startup compete with the many big brands that are out there, stealing your thunder? Is there a way that you can cut through the noise and successfully connect with college students?

There is.

While reaching the college demographic isn’t the easiest thing you will tackle, there are many effective ways to get through to students and leave an impression.

Let’s explore some of the best ways to market your startup to college students.

Step Into Their Environment

One of the best ways to reach college students is to go directly to them. This is something that many big brands don’t do because they have the resources to market heavily online. But since your budget is more limited, you can afford to send yourself or a few other staff to local colleges in your area.

Offer to speak to business classes, participate in special events or help out at job fairs. As a startup, you have a lot of useful information to offer blossoming entrepreneurs, and you can market your products or services while you’re there.

Be Considerate of Their Budget

Sure, college students are spending tens of thousands of dollars on their education. But because of that, they’re pretty much broke. Be considerate of their budget and how to make your product affordable to them. If you can do this, you’ll have an instant way into their hearts.

Many companies market to the college demographic, but they try to validate why students should spend money on their product. If your product is naturally expensive, you’re going to have to take this approach as well. Back up your product features with valid research for why spending the money is worth it. Or it’s possible that you can come up with a slightly different version of your product that is less expensive and geared toward the college market.  

Place Targeted Ads on Social Media

You know that your audience is largely on social media, but every other business is competing for their attention, too. To help your startup stand out on social media, invest in some targeted ads. You can easily manage your budget, so you don’t have to spend a lot. But you can ensure that what you do spend puts the ads into the right hands. Also, thanks to enhanced targeting tools on Facebook, you can reach the right types of students within this audience.

Hand Out Free Products

What’s better than cheap? Free! And let me tell you, college students LOVE free stuff! Remember, they’re broke, so they will be open to just about anything you have to offer. A flashlight. A pen. A water bottle. Investing a bit of money into promotional products to hand out on college campuses is definitely worth it, even in an age of digital marketing.

The only thing here is to make sure that you hand out items that are valuable to this demographic. Also, it’s better to spend a little more money on promotional items to reach some students, rather than handing out junk to a whole lot of students. Word travels fast on college campuses, and a higher quality product leaves a better impression.

And of course - don’t forget to put your website on the item so students can visit you!

Make an Entertaining Video

Today’s college students have more or less grown up online. They are always open to being entertained, so in a way, you already have their attention. What’s difficult is that this demographic is rarely impressed because they have seen so much online.

Creating a video is an effective way to reach the college audience. The ingredients for a successful video include fun, entertainment and information. Find ways to fit your product into the video. If you sell products for the home, create a video on the best ways to decorate a dorm room. If you own a health food store, film a video on choosing healthy foods at the cafeteria. Get it? Good!

Scout Out Student Ambassadors

College students are always looking for ways to beef up their application and make a little extra cash. Hire a couple of student ambassadors to help promote your products, such as by handing out samples or promotional items at sporting events and campus hangouts. Not only will you be putting your products into the hands of college students, but also giving your brand a positive image in your community.

Offer Attractive Student Discounts

Because college students have a limited cash flow, they are always seeking out ways to get things for a discounted price. That’s why many local businesses will offer discounts on food, books, movie tickets, etc. These discounts drive in more college students while giving them a small reward in return.

Find ways to incorporate attractive student discounts into your own startup. Keep them easy, too. College students can be wary of discounts because there are often loopholes (minimum purchases, specific hours, etc.) so let them know that your discount applies to all students and purchases.

Conclusion

The college audience is a very viable market, and one that you should most certainly tap into as a small startup. Yet in order to effectively reach them, you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and step into their world a bit more. With a combination of online and offline marketing, you can make a name for yourself and build loyal, lifelong brand relationships.

About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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