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How Brands Can Reach College-At-Home Consumers

The college experience is changing rapidly, perhaps forever. Less frat parties, more Zoom. Fewer lecture halls, more…Zoom. Like it or not, Generation Z (18-23) remains bunkered up at home. As of this writing, only 21.3% of colleges have opted for a fully or primarily in-person class model for the Fall 2020 semester. And even with this reduction, there have been major issues across the nation’s top academic institutions.

As a result, college students are largely at home, in front of their phone and computer screens. Knowing this, it is important for brands and marketers to better understand this rapidly evolving landscape. How do we appeal to Generation Z college students in a way that is welcome and unobtrusive? Market ourselves authentically and compassionately? Address their immediate cares and concerns?

To illustrate, we lay out a day in the life of “Amanda,” a college student dealing with the realities of living at home and attending school online.

college home consumers brand engagement7:15 AM – Wake up

Amanda’s alarm goes off and she fumbles for her cell phone. A push notification reminds her of the activities that will filter through her day. She gives her social feeds a cursory glance.

7:32 AM – Breakfast

Amanda reaches for the cereal she likes (not the healthy one this time). It reminds her of a video she had seen on Tik Tok involving a PR stunt with a free box offer. She makes a mental note to send in her receipt and heads back to Tik Tok and social to see what’s new.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: High-visibility social videos and clever promotions can keep a brand top of mind and grow affinity and loyalty. Creative direction, strong execution, and the involvement of others (influencers, brand partners) will help grow the reach exponentially.

10:43 AM – Break

First round of courses complete, Amanda is feeling motivated today. A virtual yoga session fits her mood. She unrolls her yoga mat, pulls up YouTube on her computer, and searches for a yoga workout. She scrolls through a mixture of organic and advertiser-sponsored videos, pausing for a moment on a Fabletics workout gear advertisement. The ad is well made and she watches it all the way through. She chooses a popular yoga influencer’s video. She knows it will be good.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: Utilize video advertising by placing your branded pre-roll commercials on platforms like YouTube. Be strategic and intentional with well-made advertisements that mimic the programming in theme and quality to stand out and be relevant. 

12:34 PM – Lunch

Having completed another class and a quick virtual instructor one-on-one meeting, she takes a breather and checks Instagram. A chef-crafted entree from a better-for-you casual dining chain pops up, followed by a paid ad from GrubHub. The dots connect, reminding her that it is lunch, and she is getting hungry. Within seven minutes, lunch is ordered and on its way.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: Think about running your social media advertisements and posting content at times your audience will most likely interact with it. Also, use geo-targeting to ensure you’re hitting the right areas for ad placement.

1:50 PM – Study Group

Getting set up for her study session, she pops in her AirPods and sees a push notification from her favorite podcast. The newest episode features the founder of a company she adores. The first few minutes are the perfect backdrop to her prep, and she’s already hooked.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: Guesting on trending podcasts can be a savvy way to integrate into the daily lives of your audience and give your brand a definable personality, speaking to your own inspiration and values.

3:04 PM – Quick chat

As the virtual study group ends, a new message pops-up on her screen. A friend from the group wants to chat about an assignment where more help is needed. Amanda recommends an online course and tutoring system she uses herself. She sends her friend the link and her personal referral code.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: Word of mouth is still alive and well. Having easy and memorable ways for brand loyalists to share your content is key, along with a reward system to thank your valued customers.

5:36 PM – Dinner

Amanda’s friend group on WhatsApp is bombarded with messages. A couple of friends want to find a place to grab a bite. She Googles it. The first thing she sees is a well-crafted ad for an up-and-coming burger chain. They have WhatsApp for Business Messenger, so she sends the burger place a message, asking if they are open for dine-in. An autoresponder provides her with the answer, along with a link to frequently asked questions.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: As restaurants and other venues reopen for dining, close, and open back up, it is important to stay current with Google Ads and other paid media. As students search for their needs on Google, use these tools to communicate with your audience and uphold your reputation during times of uncertainty. If you have a service-based company, consider adding a personal touch with one-on-one message services like Facebook’s WhatsApp for Business.

9:17 PM – Downtime

The end of a long day. Amanda settles down to a recent movie on Hulu. Before the movie, a series of commercials appears. One of these is clever and entertaining and reminds her of that car she’s been thinking about. In fact, the commercial turns out to be better than the movie. So she browses the automotive company’s website and starts customizing her favorite model. She saves it for later and decides to look into it more over the weekend.

Brand Touchpoint Opportunity: Branded video advertising on streaming services like Hulu and Peacock may be a great way to capture audiences while they are enjoying their favorite shows. Branded media can also be a powerful way to associate your product with a popular show or celebrity. 

Reaching Coveted College-Age Consumers

Amanda’s story is similar to that of many college students who are dealing with the new reality of life (and college at home). Without Google, social media, apps, and other platforms, college would be a very solitary experience. As a result, students are more dependent than ever on screen time for entertainment, social interactions, and education.

Even as campus life becomes a reality again, it’s likely that the college experience will look very different: smaller class size, custom tailored academic tracks, and less of a centralized “campus” experience than generations prior. So for brands and companies looking to reach younger consumers, evolution is absolutely critical.

Get in touch with Double Zebra

Fortunately, our team is here to help champion brands grow and evolve.  It’s what we do.

Consult with a senior brand marketing expert who will evaluate what’s been happening recently with your existing approach (with kind yet honest feedback). Together, we will put together a high value, actionable plan for the coming year.

PS: Want more? Here are three quick foundational tips to help engage with the coveted college-age demographic:

Utilize Social Media Content

To reach a specific group of people, your best move is to go where they already are. In the case of younger consumers, that means having a strong social media presence for your brand, and devoting time, budge, and energy towards it as a priority. A well branded and curated social channel, with fresh and interesting content throughout the month, will put you in a better position to interact with a younger demographic.

Use Text Messaging

People open their text messages fairly quickly. If you have a customer’s phone number, and they have opted in, you can text them with offers, incentives, and requests for feedback. Using text messages makes it easy for customers to give feedback to your business so you can make it better. It’s quick, easy, and convenient. All of these are important to appeal to younger audiences who often feel like they already have too many demands on their time. Make it as accommodating for them as possible.

Stand for Something

Younger consumers are loyal to businesses that take a similar stance on issues relevant to them. Because of this, cause marketing (when it comes from a place of authenticity) can draw an affinity audience. Opt for causes that naturally align with your company’s brand. Produce media that helps get the word out without the hard sell. When done well, the result will feel genuine to those involved in your business, including team members, customers, and other stakeholders.

These three approaches (maximizing social media, using text messaging, and taking a vocal stance) are a good starting point to draw younger consumers, and to keep your brand fresh and relevant over time.