It’s the reason college students need to become your brand’s new priority.
Remember your college days? From the moment you received your acceptance letter to the day you walked off stage with your diploma, everything felt exhilarating. You were excited by new experiences – many that would stay with you for a lifetime.
We all know college is a rich experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lived from new social, psychological and educational perspectives. For marketers, understanding the underlying dynamics of the college experience — this one-of-a-kind phenomenon — is critical to seeing the potential of the Gen Z college student demographic and the key to their loyalty.
College life, and all of its related opinions and decisions, occurs within a “closed” system.
College students live and breathe in their own dimension, so to speak. One in which everything is viewed with wide eyes and where peer group influence and campus context are paramount. Step outside of the college environment and these dominant forces lose their power. These 18-24-year olds acquire new friends, new knowledge, new responsibilities, new loyalties, and yes, new products — all within a contained environment.
Each event spurs a series of sub-events that influence brand opinions and purchases.
Whether it is big or small – each event like homecoming, athletic games, laundry day, or final exams – triggers its own set of activities, social interactions, opinions and purchases. Rituals tied to these events, which include significant spending streams, occur and thrive only during the college years.
Consider college sporting events, each comprised of several sub-events and their associated rituals. There are pre-game parties, campus rallies, tailgates and watch parties, stadium events, contests and online social discussions, all prompt related brand discussions and purchases. Student fans’ must-haves include apparel (team shirts, jerseys, sweats and hats) and spirit items (think pom-poms, banners, horns, posters and stadium blankets). One big surprise is the shopping lists – for girls and guys alike – face paint, make-up and hair color in collegiate team colors.
These rituals get repeated every game during the school year — at least weekly during peak athletic seasons. Calculating the impact across 20.4 million college students enrolled in US colleges and universities* makes the potential of this market something that can’t be ignored. Consider also, contrary to popular myth, that college students have considerable discretionary dollars to spend, all to the tune of $212B spent annually on food, entertainment, travel, and more.
The power of peer opinion has critical impact during college years.
During their college experience, students form opinions about brands they are consuming for the first time, seeing their friends purchasing products or are talking about in class, on campus or on social media. Away from their parents’ influence, these men and women become first-time decision makers for a multitude of items. Their social connections with friends exert more influence over their brand purchasing decisions than their families.
Only those brands that are placed within context will make inroads.
Reaching college men and women off-campus, when they are physically outside of their college context, will fail to align on relevancy and will not break through to this demographic. To impact brand opinion and purchase decisions — and to penetrate this college sphere — marketers must connect with them in real-time within the college experience context.
Only brands that are omnipresent throughout all college years will resonate.
College years are proven to be a critical time to win and lock-in loyalty of this consumer. It’s the optimal time to make connections as students are open to new experiences and social influence is at its most powerful. But their loyalty doesn’t come easily and can’t be won with intermittent on again, off again programs. Only brands that are consistently present in these moments will successfully connect with college consumers and forge the foundations for lifelong loyalty.
Understanding the social and contextual dynamics of the college experience will equip your brand to build lifelong loyalty with the collegiate consumer.