Pivot Now. How to Adjust the Course of Your Gen Z College Marketing Program for Fall 2020 Back-to-School.

By Barnes & Noble College

PIVOT. It’s the latest buzzword these days. PIVOT. It’s what we as humans are doing to carry on in this new world and what marketers should be doing too. After the abrupt halt of everyday life, brands must keep moving forward, even in this uncharted territory.

Like all generations, the 18-to-22-year old Gen Z consumer has been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This “new normal” has altered the way they learn, discover new products, consume media, socialize, and spend their free time.

This as an opportunity for marketers to connect in new ways with college consumers and to forge stronger relationships. This is a time to shed the old and go full speed ahead – innovatively and creatively. Our world is forever changed, giving marketers the green light to change for the good.

As brands assess their situation, their college marketing should pivot to adapt to consumers’ new needs. Marketing plans moving forward should allow for agility and flexibility, and be prepared for multiple pivots, or strategy adjustments, as our social, health, and economic recovery takes shape and the world begins to reopen.

It’s imperative that marketing programs and customer communications remain in place –in some shape or another – and here’s why:

Customer communications NOW can protect brand equity that was built prior to COVID-19.
Studies analyzing the 2008 recession and other downturns show that when brands continued to advertise and connect with consumers during those difficult times, they fared much better than brands which halted programs. “Those advertisers that maintained or grew their ad spending increased sales and market share during the recession and afterwards,” according to Forbes Magazine.

Gen Z consumers expect and reward brands that are helping in this crisis.
Gen Z consumers have always been focused on making the world a better place and that commitment couldn’t be stronger than right now. As Gen Zers do their part to contribute during COVID-19, they look for brands to help them, as well as their local and larger communities. These young consumers gravitate towards brands that align with their values and are authentic and sincere in their efforts.

These 10 tips can help brands PIVOT and adjust their marketing strategy during these challenging times.

1. Stay connected.Gen Z wants to hear from their favorite brands. Only 8% of global consumers feel that companies should stop advertising right now. Gen Z expects companies to stay in touch with them and the community at large. With everything turned on its head, familiar brands will help bring a little normalcy to everyone’s shelter-in-place days.

2. Know your context. Every facet of our lives is anxiety-filled—fueled by economic, social, health and safety concerns—and changing by the minute. The context in which brands are now viewed is uncharted, yielding new emotional and tangible needs. Keeping a pulse on this fluid situation – whether it be product shortages, virus statistics or protests – will help ensure that communications messages and timing are appropriate and relevant.

3. Adjust your message and tone. Gen Z wants comfort, support, and empathy from brands. And, brand communications must come across as authentic and not self-serving, while still aligning with each brand’s unique voice. Some brands like Dunkin Donuts have adjusted their tone and message to reflect stay-at-home life, while still infusing light humor into their “not wearing pants” tv ad. Other brands are using language of the day like “contactless payment and delivery” and “curbside” as in “Introducing CarMax Curbside Online shopping and a socially distanced pickup at CarMax.”

4. Be agile and flexible. What college students need today will be different than what they will need next week and next month. Be prepared to pivot again and again.

5. Show contribution to our global community. Gen Z consumers love brands that are helping consumers and adding value in the fight against COVID-19. Great examples of this are Charmin’s partnership with the United Way, CVS and Walgreens offering free shipping, and distilleries retooling production lines to produce hand sanitizer.

6. Brand-building vs. activation? Adjust strategy based on business type. If you’re primarily an online business and have that channel running smoothly, then focus on activation. If you’re a retail enterprise or sell mostly through brick and mortar stores, focus on brand-building messages as you weather the COVID-19 storm and build online capabilities.

7. Know the value of key segments and know what they want. Stay in touch with your top consumer segments via research and social media to understand what they want, how their needs are rapidly changing, and how their economic and mental states are impacting purchases. A dynamic dialogue with your consumers will strengthen the ties you have with them and help focus your efforts.

8. Adjust your media mix and look for the most efficient ways to spend marketing dollars. For the short-term, consider moving away from outdoor and experiential and put it into direct communications and digital alternatives. For college marketers, explore new ways to connect with your 18-to-22-year old consumers as they sit at home in front of their devices and long for college life – send emails to their school email address, use mobile ads and social media posts.

9. Consider these times as an opportunity for innovation and creativity. From communications to marketing strategy to product development, these times demand that we assess everything we have always done in the past. It’s also during these times that new ideas are born and when we should be more willing to bring them to fruition.

10. Lastly, by all means, DO NOT go dark or stop marketing activities. Brands that keep the lines of communications open with Gen Z will fare much better during these dark days and long after COVID-19 has been conquered.

Want to know more about how to reach Gen Z college consumers while they study from home and prepare for fall back-to-school? Let us know. We can help your brand pivot its college marketing strategy.

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