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5 Tips For Marketing To College Students

By collegemktgrp | May 13, 2020 | Brands/Advertisers

With college campuses closed for the rest of the spring semester (and maybe even longer), brands who rely on college marketing as part of their customer outreach have been thrown for a loop.

On-campus marketing has been put on hold, which makes digital marketing to college students the best option to connect with this audience.

At College Marketing Group, digital marketing has always been an important part of our approach. Generation Z students are spending more time online than previous generations of college students, especially on social media.

Add in social platforms’ powerful advertising tools, and making digital marketing a priority when marketing to Gen Z only makes sense. And with college students being tasked with online learning, the case for digital marketing to college students is even stronger.

College Marketing Group has been helping brands connect with college students for 20 years. We’ve developed tried and true methods of finding college students where they are, and crafting marketing campaigns that resonate with them.

We don’t stop our outreach efforts at students. We also work to connect with the parents of college students, who are an important part of so many of their students’ financial and purchasing decisions.

The ways we find and connect with college students and their parents online include retargeting, geo-marketing, email marketing, influencer marketing, sponsored content, and more. Here’s a closer look at how we market to college students online.

1. Connecting with Students and Parents with Retargeting Ads

Retargeting allows us to show your ads to college students who have expressed either an interest in your brand or in the types of products you offer.

College Marketing Group implements three types of retargeting ads for our clients:

Search Retargeting Ads

  • By tracking the specific keywords that a student uses in an online search, we can show them ads while that directly correspond to their search queries while they’re surfing the net.

Site Retargeting Ads

  • Students and parents of college students who have visited your site without making a purchase can be tracked online.
  • With site retargeting ads, we can show them ads for the products they viewed wherever they’re spending their time — on social media, on entertainment and news websites, on Google, etc.

Contextual Targeting Ads

  • This is like search retargeting, but focused on what a college student is looking at online, rather than what they searched for.
  • Contextual retargeting looks at the content of the page that a student is on (for example, a rundown of the best laptops of 2020), and shows them relevant college ads (in this case, for a deal on a laptop or other computer accessories).

There are two ways to refine contextual targeting ads. The first is with category targeting.  In the example of the laptop reviews, we know that the page is in the consumer electronics category — specifically, computers and laptops.

We then use the second approach of keyword targeting to get closer to what the student is looking for, like a specific brand of laptop or feature, such as a touchscreen. Then we can show an ad that offers that exact type of product right there on the page.

2. Presenting Students with Offers Based on Their Physical Location

Through the power of geo-marketing, we’re able to use college students’ real-time location data to connect them with offers that they’re more likely to take advantage of.

There are two ways we approach geo-marketing: geo-fencing, and geo-targeting.


With this digital marketing strategy, we’re able to define a specific area in which to run promotions.

In normal times, that might be a campus or campus town, a commercial zone with businesses frequented by college students, or a college football game. This technology allows us to send notifications about offers from local businesses directly to students’ smartphones.

We can also set up geo-fencing ads around competitors’ business locations, offering discounts to lure their customers to your brand. As more and more businesses start to open back up across the country, geo-fencing offers a powerful way to connect directly with potential customers where they are (literally).


While geo-fencing is for targeting specific spots at specific times, geo-targeting has broader capabilities.

Rather than geo-fencing’s zoning that shows ads to anyone within a very specific area, geo-targeting allows us to use a student’s specific location as one of many factors that determines whether they see your ad.

For example, if your company delivers late-night sandwiches in Denver, Colorado, you could aim your ads at likely students who are up late studying at home, and use geo-targeting to limit them to students living within your delivery radius.

3. Delivering Sales Pitches Directly to Students’ Inboxes

If you think email marketing is just mass newsletters sent once a month, think again.

Using a data-driven approach, email marketing allows us to send direct, one-on-one, tailored messaging to students and their parents.

Some of the ways we leverage email to boost sales for our clients include:

  • Optimizing open and click-thru rates with A/B testing, seasonal marketing, and audience segmentation.
  • Improving conversion rates by employing persona-driven copy and imagery in emails and the landing pages they link to.
  • Growing email lists with lead magnets (e.g., coupon codes, online contests, free downloads).
  • Employing automated email workflows such as welcome series and abandoned cart drip campaigns to engage with students and increase order completion rates.

4. Growing Audience Networks with Sponsored Content and Influencer Marketing

When it comes to purchasing decisions, Generation Z college students are more likely to trust their peers than anyone else. That’s why a strategic approach to influencer marketing can be so effective for your brand.

By building networks of student brand ambassadors for our clients, we create a method for brands to build trust with college student customers. We also use sponsored content created by the online influencers that college students trust to help raise awareness and generate brand loyalty for our clients.

5. Getting Video Ads in Front of Students at The Right Time

With programmatic online video advertising, we put clients’ college marketing videos in front of students’ eyes when they’re most likely to engage.

Video ads can be shown before, during, or after the videos that students are watching online on platforms like YouTube. They can also be distributed on other sites in traditional banner ad spaces.

And just like image and text based ads, video ads can be shown to the students most likely to respond to them through the power of all the targeting tactics we’ve described above.

America’s Most-Trusted Brands Trust College Marketing Group


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Our experience in marketing to college students has made us America’s go-to agency for brands looking to connect with this valuable demographic.

Adobe, H&M, Goodwill, HelloFresh, Waze, TJ Maxx, and many, many more have all entrusted their college marketing efforts to our team of experts.

Want to learn more about how we can help your brand succeed?

Contact us now to schedule a free consultation >

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