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Are You Prepared for the Future of College Student Marketing?

By collegemktgrp | January 2, 2020 | Brands/Advertisers

Another year has come and gone and as always, the new year has us thinking of new ways to step up our college marketing game. Of course, January 2020 marks not just the beginning of a new year in marketing, but a new decade.

With that in mind, we’re looking forward to the trends that are shaping what the future of college student marketing will look like.

Video and minimalism take over advertising, while print lives to see another day. Social media and e-commerce are more popular than ever, and automation opens new doors.

Here’s what’s new, what’s changing, and our recommendations for staying competitive at the dawn of a new decade.

Video Is Still King

The last decade saw video take over online advertising and social media. Whether it’s organic content for Facebook posts and Instagram stories or ads on YouTube, video gets higher engagement than any other form of media online.

On Facebook, video gets 60% more engagement than other posts. And across the internet, video generates 66% more quality leads than other channels.

College students are highly engaged on YouTube. 93% of people ages 18-24 years old use YouTube at least once a week, and a majority of those use it more than once a day.

As internet and cellular speeds get even faster and the cost of quality video production continues to drop (just watch this ad produced entirely on an iPhone), you can expect the effectiveness of video and the number of people you can reach with it to continue to increase.

Your audience is there, you just need the original video content to serve up to them. The payoff will be well worth it — 40% of people who watch a video online take an action like sharing it with a friend or clicking on a related link.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Invest in original video content for social media and online advertising.
  2. Read our guide on how to make the perfect video for marketing to college students »

Simplicity in Design is Taking Over


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Look for ❤️️ in everything. #RefreshTheFeed #WorldKindnessDay

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Companies like Google and Apple can be credited with introducing minimalism in advertising to the modern era. Now everyone is jumping on board.

Why? Because simpler ads are showing greater results.

The reason is as simple as modern ads are: With so much sensory input these days, simple stands out.

Swiping through Snapchat. Scrolling through Facebook. Watching Youtube. Streaming music. All with 37 tabs open on their laptop browser and a textbook in front of them? Today’s college students are, needless to say, preoccupied.

Your ad has to cut through the noise. That’s why the “less is more” approach is taking over advertising design.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Know the essence of your brand and know your college student personas, then hire great designers and agencies to bring your ads to life.
  2. Simple phrases and thoughtful images with very little content is the way to go.

Online Courses are More Popular Than Ever

For universities looking to up their enrollment marketing game, online courses are effective for two reasons.

The first is that more and more students are looking for flexibility in their college experience. High quality online courses promise the possibility of getting an education remotely, while working a full-time job or pursuing other ambitions.

The second reason is that offering free online courses (via livestreams, podcasts, etc.) is an excellent marketing strategy. Potential enrollees get a taste of the classroom experience (and hopefully learn a thing or two while they’re at it). If they like what they see and hear, they’re more likely to consider attending the university.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Offer more livestreams (Facebook is a good platform for this) of popular and accessible courses.
  2. Record lectures and post to YouTube and/or as audio in a podcast.

Print and TV Advertising is Experiencing a Revolution

The success of direct mailers and newspaper ads has been declining for years. But Gen Z, who represents today’s college age population and grew up with social media and the internet, is more likely to want to unplug and engage with print media.

This age group is driving a new upward trend in magazines and newspapers, which means that we may very well see a return to print ads for brands, universities, and employers looking to reach this audience.

Over on the television, traditional advertising is dead for good. Today’s college students never even watched broadcast or cable TV in the first place.

Fewer than 20% watch cable even once a week, and for all we know that’s just because it’s on in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, or at their parents’ house.

This generation is all about video, but in different places. Streaming platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, along with IGTV (on Instagram), Facebook Portal, and TikTok are where it’s at. And that’s where you need to be focusing your ad spends.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Look for opportunities to connect with the college demographic through niche magazines and newspaper advertising.
  2. Use the power of targeted video ads on streaming services.

Mobile is the End-All Be-All

We’ve been harping on this for the last ten years, and now there’s truly no excuse. If you want to compete in the 2020 digital market, your entire approach needs to be mobile first.

By the end of 2020, we expect over 70% of all e-commerce to be taking place on mobile devices, with mobile sales revenues triple what they were just a few years ago in 2016.

Beyond 2020, the numbers indicate a future in which virtually all online sales are happening on mobile devices. The rapid growth of this sector means that if you aren’t prioritizing it, you’re as good as gone.

That’s especially true for college students. 96% have a smartphone — that’s more than any other age group. And they spend more time on their phones than any other age group.

Your website needs to be optimized for the mobile experience first, and your brand needs to be on popular mobile platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Those platforms should easily link back to your site so users can find what they’re looking for.

A mobile-first website means:

  • It’s fast. People are browsing on their mobile devices on the train, bus, between classes, and while waiting in line. They’ve only got 5 minutes for your site, which means it better run fast.
  • The layout is fluid, automatically changing based on the device it’s being viewed on.
  • It’s designed for the human finger. Big, easy-to-click buttons are key.
  • It doesn’t have pop-ups. These are a hassle to close on mobile devices.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. If it isn’t already, revamp your website for mobile optimization.
  2. For e-commerce companies, make sure your brand is ready to go with quick and easily navigable mobile shopping.
  3. Read our guide on important e-commerce dates for college students »

Social Media is Where Students Are Engaging with Universities


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Our Bruins have officially kicked off the school year! Share your UCLA experience with us using the hashtag #SceneatUCLA

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College students have spent the last decade on social media, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen a serious increase of interest on the part of universities to engage with students on their preferred platforms.

2020 will be the year that universities start taking social media as seriously as brands do, which will result in more current and potential students to engage more with schools on said platforms.

Some of the things we expect to see an increase of include:

Organized Stories on Instagram

  • As more people engage with Stories over regular feed posts, universities have an opportunity to organize evergreen content into Highlights for students to easily browse content related to sports, the arts, on-campus life, financial advice, mental health, and more.

High-Quality, Original Content

  • Professional-grade photos and videos are helping to turn universities’ social media profiles into their frontline landing pages for potential students.

Student Ambassadors

  • College students are more likely to trust their peers than a school rep or vague brand voice.
  • We’re seeing a rise of student ambassadors and interactive social media campaigns highlighting individual student experiences.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your social strategy and invest in content that’ll speak to students.
  2. Read our guide on how to reach Gen Z on social media »

Dynamic Ads and Marketing Automation Rule the Roost

This might be one of the most exciting developments that is totally redefining digital marketing.

With the combined power of AI and automation, brands, universities, and employers now have new ways to generate leads and increase conversions among college students.

Some of the capabilities of automation in marketing include:

  • A/B testing to optimize content
  • Automatic generation of personalized ads
  • AI analysis of customer and marketplace data
  • Immediate and more effective customer service through chatbots

These capabilities are important as market research shows that today’s college students prefer more personalized content. You can’t necessarily sit down and write individual emails or craft personal ads for each contact. But AI and automation can.

Our Recommendation for 2020:

  1. Expect automation to completely take over digital marketing.
  2. The brands and organizations using it will be far more successful than those ignoring it.
  3. Start looking at who you can bring onto your team to integrate these technologies asap.

Other Trends to Keep an Eye On in 2020 and Beyond

We could keep going on and on about the revolutionary trends in college marketing to expect in the next decade, but let’s face it: the future is fluid.

There are a few other runner-ups you should keep an eye on in 2020:

Voice search

  • More and more people are using devices like Alexa to do online searches.
  • Typically these devices return the first SEO result, which means that keywords, meta descriptions, and quality original content that speaks to your specific audience are going to be more important than ever.

VR and immersive digital tours:

  • As virtual reality devices and 360-degree cameras become more common place, universities should look for more opportunities to connect with potential enrollees remotely.
  • Not everyone can travel long distances to tour every single school they’re interested in.
  • Immersive technology presents a way for people to tour campuses from the comfort of home.

Changing Social Media Platforms

  • Remember the last time you used MySpace? Yeah, that’s what we thought.
  • Facebook and Instagram won’t be king forever. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Be ready for new platforms to take over.
  • Lead tagging, email lists, and user accounts are important ways to hold on to contacts when the social media flavor of the week loses its luster.

If all this seems like more than you’re ready to take on in-house, don’t worry — College Marketing Group is here to help. Our only focus, all day and every day, is to help our clients reach college students.

For decades, we’ve worked with brands, universities, and employers to increase sales, boost college enrollment, and recruit top talent. The reason we’ve been successful is that we always stay tuned into changing technologies and new audiences.

The college student of today is not the one of yesterday. And the college student of tomorrow will be totally different, too.

We can help you stay ahead of the curve and connect you with them, wherever (and whoever) they are.

Contact us to learn more about how College Marketing Group can help you make the most of the newest trends in college student marketing »

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