Why A One-Size-Fits-All Gen Z Marketing Strategy Doesn’t Work

By Carol Alves

It’s Time to Dispel Myths About College Student Spending and Loyalty

Anyone who grew up with a younger sibling will relate to this scenario. Your little brother or sister always insisted on tagging along no matter what you were doing or where you were going. It was obvious that your maturity level, interests, and choice of friends were far different than your younger tag-along’s. You wore your age group’s clothing styles, played your top video games, and shared your inside jokes. Anyone younger than you clearly didn’t get it.

Now keep that scenario in mind as we talk about Gen Z, which includes anyone born 1996 or later. In other words, a newborn and a 23-year old both fall beneath the same generational umbrella. That’s why you can’t assume a blanket Gen Z marketing strategy will efficiently connect with the 18-to-22-year old consumer. In fact, it could alienate them.

A laser focus on the college consumer will optimize your brand’s opportunity

Reaching this demographic during their college years as they build their adult brand relationships can help you form lifelong relationships. College students experience several shifts or life changes throughout their college journey. Identifying which events are triggers for your product can be the key to efficient and cost-effective college marketing.

This is how Point of Marketing Opportunity (or P.O.M.E.) comes into play. From college acceptance through to graduation, and all the years in between, there may be several P.O.M.E. opportunities for your product. It begins with the acceptance letter when soon-to-be college students start shopping for dorm supplies, and it runs through graduation when needs shift to career clothes, new cars and apartments. Nestled between these endpoints are many “brand entry points” that align with homecoming, exam time, prom season, spring break, and all college milestones, big and small. A sharp focus on the 18-to-22-year old is the only way to successfully leverage your brand’s P.O.M.E.

Now, before we go any further, let’s dispel a few myths about college students.

Myth #1: College students don’t hold the purse strings.

Whether it comes from savings, summer jobs, their own businesses, or their parents, college students are managing their own finances and choosing to spend with brands that align best with their values. In fact, 43% of full-time college students hold jobs and 81% of part-time students are employed. Entrepreneurship provides spending money too since 11.4% of 18-to-24-year-olds are starting or running early stage businesses and 16+% intend to start a business within the next 3 years.

If those stats aren’t enough to get your college marketing started, consider this: U.S. college students have total spending power of $574 billion, with $212 billion going towards discretionary products like clothing, food, automotive, personal care, and electronics.

Numbers aside, college students are smart, savvy shoppers who consistently look for deals, promo codes, and reward incentives to spur their purchases. Including these components in your programs will help your brand cash in.

Myth #2: College students are not brand loyal.

Gen Z encourages and respects individualism and believes that everyone has the right to be their own person, expressing him/herself however they wish. Making personal brand decisions is an avenue of self-expression for this group and your brand can be part of this process.

Case in point when we talk about VSCO Girls/Guys and their fierce loyalty to a bundle of beauty brands. These consumers are popularizing what could be described as a basic, no frills niche of brands that include Mario Badescu facial sprays and Burt’s Bees lip balms.

Their loyalty does not come freely, however. College student brand loyalists demand a lot from their favorite brands. They will drop a brand without hesitation when its core values stray from theirs or when a company does not authentically live their values. Similarly, when a brand has not kept its product and style variations fresh and vibrant, it will fall quickly out of favor. So, if a brand loses the 18-to-22-year old consumer’s loyalty, it needs to look internally for possible causes.

Want even more reasons why this Gen Z sub-set is a powerful market force?

They’ve got a massive and diverse circle of influence with a huge multiplier effect.

For the first time in their lives, the 18-to-22-year old is a member of more social circles than ever before. Consider Kelsey, a college sophomore at a 4-year state school. She’s a member of the Class of 2022, a resident of the Stanley Dorm, an officer of the Spanish Club and on the women’s rowing team. She has multiple social media groups, across several social platforms, made up of new college friends, former high school buddies, followers, and acquaintances—near and far. With each of these groups Kelsey can both influence and be influenced. When Kelsey loves your product, she will make it known to all. She’s also on the lookout for new brands that her friends love. It goes without saying what happens when these young adults fall out of love with your brand.

College life spurs creative needs translating to frequent purchases.

College students thrive on new ideas and new experiences. They’re in a 4-year learning mode and want to be the first to consider new products and ideas. If it’s done right and meets a need, college students will become your strongest advocates. They’ll stick with you if you align with them over their changing college years, meet them where they live and study, and show that you relate to what they’re going through.

Want more marketing tips to reach the 18-to-22-year old Gen Z college student? Check out our blog here.

Sign up for our newsletter

Don’t let your college marketing opportunity pass you by. Barnes & Noble College’s Z360 college media platform can tailor sampling programs, targeted emails, web advertising, social media and events to seamlessly execute your brand’s college strategy. Let’s Talk.

Get Started

Create experiences that drive brand awareness and acquire new customers for your brand.

Partner With Us