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How Your Brand Story Can Build Customer Loyalty With College Students

By collegemktgrp | June 27, 2019 | Brands/Advertisers

Brands that market to college students may be able to stay in the black by simply highlighting their products without much thought behind their business’ “why.” But the brands that enjoy long-term success are those who develop strong emotional connections between their products and the customers they serve.

This connection creates a sense of brand loyalty that keeps consumers coming back for more. And one of the best ways to lay the foundation for long and fruitful relationships with customers is to clearly define and communicate your brand story.

Storytelling is one of the oldest cultural traditions we humans have, so why shouldn’t its power extend to marketing?

Your brand story tells people why you started your business in the first place, and why you believe your product needs to exist. It’s what gives your business a sense of humanity.

And this isn’t just something that’s a nice extra if you have time to get around to it. In today’s digital marketing environment, a brand story is critical to standing out and meeting consumers’ increasingly high expectations for companies to show what they believe in, and how their products align with their passions.

This is especially true with the millennial generation and younger, who are now more interested in charitable causes than ever before, a trend that has led more companies to highlight how their brand helps make the world a better place.

Socially-responsible marketing is very popular with the college demographic. When there are two similar pairs of shoes to choose from, a college student is likely to go with the company that donates a pair of shoes or profits to important causes (think TOMS).

Regardless of whether your business includes a direct charitable aspect, your brand story is your chance to show millennials and college age students why your business matters in the grand scheme of things.

Maybe a market full of overpriced, low-quality furniture drove your desire to create quality, long-lasting pieces available at college student prices. Or maybe the glut of sugar-stuffed crash-inducing energy drinks marketed to overworked students inspired you to create a healthy alternative that pumps students up (without spiking their blood pressure).

These stories matter when it comes to giving customers a “why”. At College Marketing Group, our “why” boils down to this: to help business owners access the college market without having to sacrifice all their time to trying to stay on top of current marketing trends and ever-changing technologies. Essentially, our purpose is to help you stay focused on your purpose.

So with that spirit, here’s our guide to developing and communicating your brand story, which is an important first step in developing a trusting relationship with the college-age demographic.

1. Start at the Beginning

Before you share your brand story with others, you and your marketing team need to know what it is. Start by sitting down and working together write out your origin story. Include the early days and why you started it in the first place, the hard times, the failures, and — of course — the successes.

This is the long version of your brand story. Not even your most ardent fans want to read a 50-page manifesto on your company. But this isn’t for your audience, it’s for you to see the big picture of your brand, and to remember why and how you got started in the first place.

Now you need to pare the story down to just a few sentences that communicate the following:

  • Status quo: The nature of how you saw things when you started. For example, granola bars are a delicious and nutritious option to give students energy.
  • Conflict: A catalyst for you to start your company. For example, maybe in college you loved granola bars as a snack when you were rushing from class to the library and back again, but everything on the market was either loaded with high fructose corn syrup and ingredients you couldn’t pronounce, or they were all-natural and cost the price of a small car.
  • Resolution: How your brand resolves the conflict. You set out to make a healthy, energizing granola bar that everyday college students could afford.

2. Speak to Your Audience

Your brand story exists to communicate the essence of your brand to both existing customers and potential customers. But you can’t communicate to them if you don’t know who they are, and where to reach them.

The reality is that your company probably doesn’t cater to every single person in the world, so don’t try to talk to all of them at once.

Start by creating a set of personas — hypothetical customers that represent the handful of ideal characters of your key demographics. How old are they, how much money do they make, what are they looking for, what do they care about, and what are their struggles as it relates to the types of products/services you offer?

Make sure your brand story speaks to the values and challenges of your personas while also staying authentic to the personality of your brand. If you have to bend the truth about your brand to meet the expectations of the audience you’re trying to reach, that might be a sign you’re aiming for the wrong audience.

Finally, never forget that your brand story is what creates a human, emotional connection with your audience. So be sure to include your struggles and failures in the face of conflict and adversity. People are much more likely to respond to authenticity than perfection.

3. Show More Than Tell

This is important. You can talk on and on about your story and struggle and values, but if you don’t show it, people won’t buy it. As a result, they probably won’t buy your product, either. (Sad face emoji).

So how do you show people your story? Here are a few ideas:

  • Visuals: Literally show people with photos and videos. Show your product as it exists in the wild, and show how much it clearly achieves the value and vision of your brand.
  • Philanthropy: Put your money where your mouth is. You can say your company really cares about LGBT equality and sell various gizmos in rainbow colors, but it can ring hollow if that’s where your dedication ends. Commit a percentage of your profits or donate products to nonprofits or other organizations that fight for LGBT rights.
  • Customer Stories: Instead of saying your brand helps customers, share the stories of the actual customers it does help. Let them tell the story for you. You can use photos and video to elevate this storytelling.

4. Keep the Story Going

Your brand story isn’t static. After all, your company is still in business (hopefully!), so the story doesn’t end on the day you opened your doors.

Your origin story is just the beginning — the background and driving force of your business. But your story continues to build and change with each passing year, amidst changing trends and consumer interests.

You want to keep college students engaged with your story as it develops in real time. You can do this through your blog posts, social media posts, in your advertising, and even in your new products. Everything you put out in the world should reflect your brand story and continually give people an emotional context for why your company is still out there doing what it does.

5. Stay Consistent

While you’re continually writing your story to keep customers engaged, it’s important to stay as consistent as possible. Consistency is important in everything from your voice and your design aesthetic to your Instagram filters and typeface choices.

And consistency matters when it comes to staying rooted in the story you’ve built around your brand. Consistency keeps loyal customers coming back for more and gives new customers a context in which to understand what you do and why you do it.

Using a Brand Story to Reach College Students

The world’s greatest brand story doesn’t mean a lick if you don’t have a way to share it with people.

If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you’re hoping your brand story can help your business connect with college students.

At College Marketing Group, we’ve got loads of experience in helping brands reach students. And one thing we’ve learned over the years is that the industry is always changing. How we did student marketing back when we started is a lot different than how we’re doing it today. It’s even different than how we did it just a couple years ago. That’s how fast the trends change.

Yes, we still like our email lists, and traditional social media posts aren’t something we shy away from, but there are new, exciting developments happening right now that get us out of bed every morning and ready to get back to work.

From social media stories and the increasing importance of video, there’s always something happening in the industry that keeps us on our toes. What’s that? You want to know more? Sure thing. Learn about the 5 college student marketing trends to know in 2019 »

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