Students and Brands

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Students are hard to reach but can be very brand loyal for the right brands Photograph: aberCPC / Alamy/Alamy


There is a perception that the youth market is hard to reach and even more challenging to engage. Young people are usually clear on what they want and have fully-formed perceptions on different products, services and brands, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be brand loyal. Consultant Joeri Van den Bergh noted at a recent conference that youth are not so much disloyal to brands, but loyal to many – there is a difference. Indeed, research indicates that with relevant messages delivered through their preferred platforms, 18-24 year olds can be a highly engaged audience for brands and gaining that loyalty is indeed possible.

According to a recent Freshers Marketing Report (disclaimer: it was conducted by my company, The Beans Group), students spend more time online than they do watching TV and socializing with friends. 33% of students say they spend more than 20 hours a week online while at university. This generation expects services ‘on demand’ and they want choice – brands can capitalize on this time of year when students are beginning a new journey as independent consumers and are defining themselves through the brands they choose.

Social media marketing has been top of mind for brands targeting 18-24s. Brands have learned the importance of transparency, relevance and shared conversation versus traditional push approaches. We know young people are big users of social media – 97% in our recent survey use Facebook and 45% are on Twitter. But what do they want and expect from brands through these platforms?

Those that do follow brands have clear expectations. They want either material gain – free products, a good discount or a winnable competition – or they want to be entertained. That’s pretty much it. Having a conversation does not feature. Almost half of respondents said explicitly that they do not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they do not follow a single brand.

Mobile is also key – we know that more and more students are visiting websites on the go.  Marketers often scratch their heads wondering about the realities of mobile consumption. Are students reading their emails on their phones or at their desktops? The answer right now is not a convenient one: it’s a 50/50 split between the number of students who mainly open email and check social media accounts on their mobiles and those who mainly check from their computer. In addition, they choose email as their preferred way to keep in touch with brands (62%), compared to Facebook (27%), Twitter (8%) and SMS (3%).

To sum up, it’s not about using the latest platforms and suddenly creating an app or a Vine account. It’s about being useful, relevant or at the very least entertaining. Brands need to make an impact, but they also need to look beyond and think about how they will maintain the success of their work by building a relationship with a demographic that could provide them with new customers for life.


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