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How to Target College Parents Online for Graduation Gifts

By collegemktgrp | April 23, 2020 | Brands/Advertisers

The world of retail has gone through major changes over the past six weeks or so. With coronavirus keeping millions of Americans at home, more and more shopping has moved from in-person retail shopping to online.

Before the onset of coronavirus, ecommerce was giving brick and mortar a run for its money. In the last year, 70% of consumers in the U.S. shopped online, with 60% making online purchases at least once a month. The U.S. leads the world in average revenue per online shopper — over $1,800 per year.

Not surprisingly, with in-person shopping restricted across the country, we’re seeing a huge spike in online shopping. The number of online orders in the U.S. alone has shot up 50% over this same time last year.

Online Graduation Gift Shopping

The numbers above should be taken seriously by brands looking to promote graduation sales.

High school and college graduation are a big gift-buying time. The National Retail Federation expects graduation gift spending to near $5.5 billion this year, with the average gift having a value of just over $100.

That’s a lot of market potential. But your brand needs to be in the right place to take advantage of it. That place? More than ever before, it’s the internet.

The internet presents a lot of marketing opportunities that the real-world doesn’t, including audience targeting, dynamic ads, retargeting, and more.

When it comes to graduation gifts, the primary spender is parents. Here are 5 tips for reaching college parents online now.

1. Use Demographic Markers to Find Likely Parents

Major online advertising platforms like Google and Facebook offer a dizzying array of methods to target specific audiences. But there’s still no direct way to show your ads to the parents of high school or college students.

You can, however, take what we know about most parents of students, and reverse engineer your way to a high quality targeting approach.

We know that over two-thirds of parents use Facebook regularly. And since Google is by far the most-used search engine, we can expect most parents to use it for gift searches.

Use some common demographic markers of parents of college students and high school students to find parents:

Target by age

  • Target parents age 35 and up of adult children ages 17 to 22 years old.
  • Most high school and college grads fall within this age range, and simple math tells us their parents are almost always going to over the age of 35.
  • 85% of high schoolers graduate, and 70% of those go to college, so already a large portion of the parents you’re targeting have graduations in their future.

Target by location

  • Add geographic targeting if you want to advertise based on location.
  • You can also target parents with an interest in a specific school to narrow down your search even more.

Target by liquid assets

  • Many parents of college students may have less cash wealth on hand, given that they’ve likely invested a lot in raising their children over the last 2 decades or so, and now may be helping to pay for their student’s college career.
  • Target parents with liquid assets of $100,000 or less to further refine your scope.

2. Build Lookalike Audiences

Using your existing customer contact information of parents of students who have shopped with you before, you can build lookalike audiences to show your ads to people with similar traits and interests online.

On Facebook, you can use your past and current customer email addresses to find as many similar profiles as possible. Facebook then uses an algorithm to find other similar people that aren’t in your customer base, automatically expanding your advertising reach.

3. Reconnect with Retargeting Ads

Retargeting ads are a powerful digital marketing tool — they allow you to track people who have visited your site in the past and show them new ads wherever they are on the web.

For this, you’ll want to build out parent-specific content on your website. For example, a blog titled “Best Graduation Gifts for 2020” or a downloadable guide with ideas for graduation trips are content that will likely attract parents of college students and no one else.

Visitors to these pages are highly likely to be the parents of soon-to-be grads. By adding a Pixel to those specific pages through your Facebook Business Manager page, you can essentially follow those people around the internet and show them ads wherever they are. That includes on Facebook, as an ad in Google search results, or as in-stream content as part of their browsing experience.

Since you’ll be targeting these ads to parents of college students, you can cater the copy and imagery specifically to this audience. The more tailored the ad, the more likely it is to generate traffic and sales.

4. Employ Household Extension

Household Extension is the name for the digital marketing strategy of using IP addresses for retargeting ads. This approach allows you to retarget more than just the person who viewed your site — it enables retargeting of any other device in the household of that person.

For example, if you have products that are catered to soon-to-be high school graduates, you can get the IP address of the student checking out those products. Then, you can show ads for those products to anyone else surfing the web from that same address (namely, their parents).

5. Segment a Parents-Only Email List

Segmenting the parents of college students as they sign up for your email list is a highly effective way to stay in front of your audience.

Take the “Graduation Trip Ideas” downloadable guide we mentioned earlier. If you ask for an email address in exchange for the download, down the line you can offer discount codes on common graduation gifts.

To be sure that you’re reaching the right demographic, you can ask a question on your email signup form: “Do you have one or more children currently attending high school or college?” or “What kind of products are you interested in?” with a number of selectable boxes, one of those being “Gifts for grads.”

Once you start sending college parent-specific emails to this segment, you can further segment your list based who opens or clicks through your emails to your website — those people represent a more engaged and interested audience who may be receptive to more regular emails or harder pitches.

You can even keep track of who ends up buying a product through your emails and speak to them differently in future emails, based on their purchase history.

Super-refined lists of contacts of parents of students that you can use for future email marketing and online retargeting campaigns are a great asset to have on hand.

Take Your Retargeting Game to the Next Level

Retargeting is practically an art form. There are so many creative ways to find success with this tool, but effective retargeting requires expertise.

Good news for you: we’ve got expertise in spades. And we’re more than happy to share it.

Read our guide on how to use retargeting ads to reach college parents online »

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