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4 Ways to Reach College Students Online for Back-to-School Shopping

By collegemktgrp | May 21, 2019 | Brands/Advertisers

Believe it or not, it’s almost that time of year again — that’s right, we mean back-to-school shopping (aren’t you glad we didn’t say taxes?).

Some companies experience very little seasonality in their sales, while others have strong periods of feast or famine. For brands who specialize in products or services for college students, back-to-school is one of the most important times of the year for their bottom line.

In a 2018 survey, college students and grad students planned to spend an all-time high average of $942.17 on back-to-school expenses.

Anyone who’s ever been the parent of a college student (or has been a college student themselves) can tell you all that cash isn’t being spent on books. Unlike younger back-to-schoolers, college student shoppers will spend the most on electronics like computers, calculators and phones. But they’ll also spend a good chunk of change on clothing, dorm or apartment furnishings, food, personal care items, and more.

More and more college students are skipping the back-to-school rush and opting to do their shopping online. 55% of college student shoppers get their back-to-school goods from online retailers.

Now’s the time to start ramping up your online marketing campaigns to make sure your brand gets the attention it deserves from college students. Here are 4 ways brands can reach college students for online back-to-school shopping.

1. Favor Facebook Dynamic Ads

A Facebook dynamic ad looks just like a normal Facebook ad. But behind the scenes, algorithms are working to provide a customized ad that best suits whoever it’s shown to — per your instructions.

Each college student is totally unique, and you can’t design an ad for every single one. With Facebook Dynamic Ads, if your brand is promoting a sale on 10 different types of planners, you can set up one dynamic ad to advertise to all of them.

Every time the ad is shown, the details might change. Everything from what product is being pitched to images, dates, pricing, and more are all up for grabs. Facebook’s algorithms will put the right product in front of the right customer based on what it knows about their specific interests and past online actions.

For example, say a college student is searching for information about a certain laptop. If they haven’t purchased any electronics from you or a competitor, that user is a perfect candidate to be served an ad featuring their desired product.

Dynamic ads figure this out by looking at the data Facebook has about that student’s past actions and interests. And with all the brands, services, and more on the platform (not to mention the other companies it owns like Instagram and WhatsApp), there’s a lot of data to be mined.

For college students who’ve been on your site and checked out specific products, you can serve them an ad that promotes that exact product — along with some “exclusive” pricing to lock down the sale.

2. Enlist an Email Blast

Email is the most powerful ecommerce strategy, with an ROI of 3,800%!

If you haven’t gotten your first set of back-to-school emails out yet, this is a perfect time to notify subscribers about back-to-school-related products, seasonal sales, and other back-to-school related content, like a blog.

Reach out about Labor Day weekend sales, and other key sales dates. July and August also have some fun days that could be used in your marketing campaigns:

  • July 5 – National Bikini Day
  • July 8 – National Video Games Day
  • July 13 – Embrace Your Geekiness Day
  • July 21 – National Ice Cream Day
  • July 30 – International Day of Friendship
  • August 7 –– Just Because Day (Run a sale just because)

Competition is high during back-to-school season. College students and their parents are looking for the best deals, so they’ll be comparing competitor prices and tracking down promo codes.

Offering discounts to college students and their parents will help convert more browsers into buyers. Shipping costs are also a common reason for cart abandonment. Offering free shipping could be the difference in making a sale versus losing that sale to a competitor.

3. Revisit Retargeting Ads

A retargeting ad is shown specifically to users who have visited your website in the past. Retargeting ads are a powerful tool because most people who visit your site don’t convert into customers — at least not on the first visit.

A college student may be cruising your website, then jump off after they realize that final they need to be studying for is less than an hour away. But with retargeting, your website won’t forget about them.

A piece of code called a pixel throws a little tracker, or cookie, into that student’s browser. So when they’re scrolling through Facebook or catching up on the news, those sites serve up your ads to them.

Since they’re already familiar with your brand, retargeting ads serve as a gentle reminder to pick up where they left off. And the numbers don’t lie — retargeting works. Google reports that adding this tactic to your digital marketing portfolio can increase sales by 50%.

4. Bust Out a Blog

Your content marketing strategy should be revved up and ready to do some heavy lifting for the big back-to-school push. Be sure to anticipate what each of your buyer personas may be interested in this time of year, and offer your audiences relevant, helpful content they’ll be excited to read and share.

Just like the rest of the year, you don’t want all your blog topics to center on pushing your brand’s products or services. Your blog should be a place where people can learn more about your brand’s personality and values. You can build trust and loyalty with college students by offering them interesting, informative content.

For example, if you sell backpacks that are beloved by college freshman in the Pacific Northwest, you could write a blog about ways to get along with your new roomie, best hiking trips in the PNW, tips for fighting off the winter blues, etc. If another one of your personas is parents of college freshman, you could write a blog about how parents can support their freshman from a distance, and tips for getting along during summer break.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take this opportunity to write more bottom-of-funnel content about the features or benefits of your product. Just make sure the majority of your blogs cater to the values and concerns of your different personas, without your product being front and center.

Marketing to college students before they head back to school is all about meeting them where they like to hang out most. And just like the rest of us, that’s online.

The online market place is a landscape where rules and trends are constantly in flux. Understanding how college students react to these changes is key for national brands and advertisers.

Here are the latest college student marketing trends that every brand should know »


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