Marketing To College Students

Small side businesses are great for helping you cover bills or just as an extra form of income so that you have more to spend on than necessities.

You could sell snacks, books, stationery items, laptop accessories and so much more to college students – especially those that live in dorms.

This is a very profitable niche considering college students have a need for your product.

This article will touch on marketing plan ideas for college students that will ensure your marketing efforts are spot-on. If you have a large or small business that is focusing on marketing to college students to expand your customer base, then this post is for you.

#1. Use interactive tools & mediums

There’s one standard rule of marketing: the characteristics of your target audience determine your market strategy.

Since college students are aged 17 to as old as 28 (considering those that are studying advanced education) your target audience consists entirely of millennials.

And if there is one thing that millennials love, it’s social media.

With that being said, you need to pick and choose which platforms to market your product on.

88% of millennials have a Facebook account, which makes it the most popular social media app of 2020.

However, Instagram is the second most popular social media app with 50% of users aged 15-29, making it more popular among millennials.

They may have accounts on Facebook, but they are definitely active users on Instagram.

Facebook is no longer a trending app and its usage has fallen considerably in the past few years, with more than 1 in 4 people deleting the app.

What makes Instagram more trending?

The fact that it is more interactive. It is a visual platform with images and video posts rather than text.

According to a HubSpot survey in 2018, 54% of consumers wanted to see more video content from their favorite brands, making interactive content one of the biggest marketing trends of 2020.

If you want to refine your visuals, check out HootSuite’s guide on creating engaging social media visuals.

#2. Take advantage of underutilised platforms like SMS

Another great medium to use when marketing for college students is SMS.

The reason why an SMS marketing campaign trumps social media marketing is that a number of students go on social media cleanses, especially during exam week.

SMS requires no internet connection, it is inbuilt in every phone and it is personalized.

If you own a burger joint or coffee shop right next to a college campus, how convenient would it be to just send out a text at midnight when students are pulling an all-nighter to study for a morning test and need the energy to stay up?

This brings me to how crucial timing can be when marketing to college students.

#3. Make sure your timing is right

If you sent out the same text marketing fast food to college students at say, 10 PM, you wouldn’t get a great response.

This is because 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes of receiving them.

That’s pretty fast, which means that if those students don’t have an immediate need for the product, they won’t give a second thought to your text.

If you’re marketing food, you need to do it at lunch, dinner or midnight when students are craving meals.

Apply this strategy to your product offering and market it at timings when customers need them the most. Suppose you sell stationery items.

The best time to invest the most in marketing for your products is at the start of every semester.

Create awareness so that students know about you and come to you for whatever they need before classes start.

You’ll also need to market regularly during the semester, but you can invest less.

It would also be a good idea to target social media ads for pens or notebooks before finals week to college students.

The bottom line is, if you invest in marketing during summer breaks, you will automatically yield a lower ROI because customers are not in need of your product.

Thus, invest in Research and Development even if you are a small-sized business with limited resources because it is crucial to figure out the right time to market your product if you want to ensure success.

#4. Sell affordable products

This is a make or break for your marketing strategy.

The majority of college students are price-conscious customers that are on a very limited monthly budget so they won’t necessarily prioritize the best quality over low prices.

If you are a business that sells premium product offerings, you can still appeal to college students by offering student discounts.

A lot of high-end brands like Apple, Nike and Toni & Guy offer student discounts:

Apple’s 20% student discount is very popular considering that the company never puts its items on sales.

Yet, due to this very discount, you’ll see most students in any university across the US using Macbooks.

Apart from this, you can also offer discounts on specific days.

For example, if you own a bar near a college campus – you can offer discounts on weekdays to college students (above the legal age) to boost your sales because these are slow days.

If you have a low-cost advantage, then you’re in luck, because you can capture this entire segment as loyal customers as long as you offer good quality and services.

#5. Use student ambassadors to promote your product

Since a lot of brands (large or small) are run by individuals that belong to Generation Y, there can often be a communication gap when marketing to millennials.

You need to understand their values, thought processes, lifestyle etc. and a great way to do this is to hire student ambassadors from each college that you plan to target. This is like network marketing for college students.

A few years back, I was also hired as a student ambassador for a local NGO when I was in high school.

Since then, I’ve learned that recruiting student ambassadors can be very effective for a business entity. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Market the opening for a student ambassador through social media, SMS and other platforms. You can create a Google form where interested students can sign up
  2. Review applications and shortlist students based on the percentage of criteria they fulfill for your brand
  3. Interview shortlisted candidates and pick those that you feel understand your brand personality and can market it effectively

So this sums up the process of hiring the right student ambassadors.

It won’t cost you much and it’s a great investment that will help you understand your target audience better as well as boost sales.

You can always compensate your student ambassadors with free or discounted products rather than cash compensations.

It is also a good idea to provide them with certification to acknowledge the internships in marketing for college students as a brand ambassador because it will look great on their resume.

Not only will these tactics motivate them to put in an effort when marketing your business but it also works towards their career development, so it’s a win-win!

#6. Be ‘cool’

By cool, I mean trendy.

There is a difference between high school and college students as a certain level of maturity comes with age.

When marketing for college students, you need to ensure that you know the latest trends going on.

This could be an Instagram hashtag, a popular influencer that they follow, a new song, a viral video – basically, anything that they as a segment like.

A perfect example is Tik Tok.

My personal favorite was the recent dance challenge to the song ‘Oh Na Na Na’, along with many others that went viral:

The song replays in my mind for days on end every time that I listen to it, making it the perfect example of brand recall.

Get your student ambassadors to perform a dance challenge, or better yet, create your own dance challenge that customers and followers can take part in.

This will go a long way in creating brand awareness. Plus, it makes your brand look trendy.

Brands that start these trends become way more popular than brands who follow them.

So take a bigger leap; be creative and come up with an innovative marketing idea that will go viral.

If you’re marketing for college students, adding humor to your idea can never go wrong.

One of the greatest examples for this is of a brand that never fails to amaze me – McDonald’s.

Despite being around for 3 decades now, the company always comes up with the greatest products and marketing strategies.

It still hasn’t lost its charm, which brings me to the point.

Back in 2014, the company ran a ‘Bad Lip Reading’ campaign which not only resulted in the funniest phrases being said out loud but it also engaged customers.

The NFL also participated in this, making it go absolutely viral and creating a hilarious NFL series:

#6. Hand out samples

Nobody loves anything more than free products.

If you’re a new brand in the market struggling to gain a foothold in the market, this is your go-to.

Put in the effort of going up to student dorms and handing out free samples of your product to each student.

If you don’t have access inside the campus, you can always station yourself outside it.

However, we all know how annoying it can be when business representatives in malls and other stores keep badgering us to try free samples.

It is, quite frankly put, an awkward interaction and most of us accept the samples for the sake of formality and being nice.

With that being said, you need to market yourself in a way that college students want to come to you instead of you running after them.

Create hype through your student ambassadors about how great your products are before you hand them out.

You could also use your student ambassadors to directly hand out samples because this way, they won’t be receiving them from strangers and they will consider trying the brand out because someone their own age and from their own college referred to it.

You can also make it enticing by using affiliate marketing for college students. You can offer a commission to students when they refer other students to try out your products.

Another idea you can incorporate is guerilla marketing.

It’s one of the only traditional marketing ideas that still work.

If you don’t already know, guerilla marketing is basically an ‘unconventional’ method of marketing.

It grabs the attention of viewers immediately and is practiced outdoors on streets, benches, transport vehicles etc.:

I mean, don’t you absolutely love this?

However, of course, I understand that only a few businesses have the resources to go this big.

You could always keep it small and opt for an ATM machine or a sidewalk which would cost you much less.

When marketing for college students, place your guerilla advertisement somewhere near college campuses.

As long as your idea is creative, trust me, your customers will do the rest of the job for you.

The reason why guerilla marketing is still so effective is because of social media. Before, it was limited to the locality it was placed in.

Now, all it takes is one picture or video to make it go viral.

If you come up with a trending hashtag, it’ll go viral even faster.

Once you create a buzz around your brand name, handing out samples will become even easier.

Students will be willing to come to you or your ambassadors to get them, which makes your strategy a huge success.


There are innumerable ideas out there for you to try, but it takes two things to lead to success: a creative idea and the right execution.

As long as you get these two elements right, you can guarantee success and a great Return on Investment on your campaign.

Brands that have the best marketing internships for college students will receive more buzz among students across various colleges.

The biggest advantage is that smaller businesses have all the required resources and execution tools available online that are highly cost-effective and help them to survive and expand in the long run.


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