Monday, August 09, 2010
Capturing college students' cash
Blue Ridge Business Journal
- Browse the archives, issue by issue, of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which ceased publication in December 2010
- Browse the 2010 Blue Ridge Business Journal Book of Lists
- See other special issues produced by the Blue Ridge Business Journal
The Roanoke Times
Ron Beverly, CEO of Vision Marketing in Lynchburg, presented "Marketing to College Students 101" to the Lynchburg Retail Merchants Association earlier this summer. After serving on the staff at Liberty University for eight years, Beverly now provides graphic design, printing and promotional products for businesses.
There are more than a dozen colleges and universities in Southwest and central Virginia. As the time nears for students to return, Beverly talked about how to grab their attention.
Why is it important for businesses in this area to market to college students?
For a number of reasons. First one, they're big spenders. If they want it, they got it, they go after it. Sometimes people think, "Well, they don't have a lot of money," but they do spend a lot. As a whole group, they spend a ton. At Liberty University for instance ... the average student spending was about $480 a month, their average time in Lynchburg was about nine and a half months, and their average student spending was about $4,500 a year. So the total student spending for Liberty, which was 13,800 students, was $62.4 million a year. ...
They're also impulse buyers. They're also highly connected and social. Obviously they're talking about things they are purchasing. They're also not yet loyal to any particular brands, so you can win their loyalty over. No doubt they are consumers of tomorrow. Many of them stay in the area, and will live here and then go on to buy other services and products.
What type of businesses need to market to students the most?
If it's a student-oriented business, they're going to be the top of the list. Entertainment businesses, dining and restaurants are huge. I would say insurance businesses. Retailers should be advertising to them. It could even be automakers.
We put out a student survival guide years ago for Liberty students and we had a wide range of businesses advertising to them. Even people selling houses would advertise to them. People are getting married, wedding business is huge in Lynchburg ... lots of people are staying in the area. ...
I was recently talking to a jeweler, who was like, "Oh I didn't know I should be advertising over there," and I was like, "Sure you should be, tons of students get married." Liberty probably more than most schools, but there's students getting married all the time. The wedding market is huge as well. A broad range of services and businesses could advertise.
What kind of marketing techniques would you suggest for some of these businesses to try to appeal to students?
There are three things that motivate students. We call them our cardinal rules.
Fast: A student should figure out your ad or whatever you are marketing to them in a few seconds, especially if you do advertising.
Free: Students will go out of their way to get ahold of a free product.
And food: The surest way to a student's mind and wallet is through food. You can say, well I don't sell food. Well there's creative ways to do that, or maybe you can appeal to them through free or fast.
Fast, through recognition -- it's just making sure your message is straightforward, clear and grabs their attention. It's designed well. Whatever you do should be professionally designed. Students have an eye for design. ...
They're also very fickle, they have a few set ideas or habits. They're hyperactive, short attention span, they're unimpressed with typical advertising. They're hard to please sometimes and very visual, they don't necessarily read ads. So whatever you're trying to get to them, it needs to be professional looking, be able to deliver that message quickly, and of course free. If you are marketing something free ... it will drive them into the door.
How important is it to encourage students to buy local rather than online or from a chain?
Right now the Retail Merchants Association here in Lynchburg is trying to do a big "buy local" campaign with the local college students. As a business owner, of course we want them to buy local. We're trying to get them to buy local to keep their advertising dollars here. As a businessperson, I think we understand the value. But as a student do they really understand the value of buying local? ... The advantage to them is you see the person you're buying it from if it's a local person, or if it's insurance, or even if they buy from a franchise they are still buying local. That money does help out the local economy. If you're talking online services and providers, it's just the benefit of local customer service.
To the student, they might not get it until they actually live here, but some do. Some like that personal, local feel.
But the students can also be driven by the deal and by the one that can communicate it best. They are also online. So the local person needs to be online. They need to be marketing to the students where they are.
Any final advice for businesses that might be looking to tap into this segment of the population?
We've been doing college marketing for years, particularly in this market. And it's really not that hard -- it's just being creative, and a lot of it comes down to asking. You have not because you ask not. Some businesses just don't know who to talk to, who to ask. You don't have to feel like you have to give away the farm. You can ask and sometimes you have to negotiate. It's a give-and-take.