Brands and marketers have a lot to gain by targeting college students. It’s a large market, with over 19 million students in the US (US Census Bureau), and according to StateUniversity.com a large portion of their income is discretionary (about 19%). They are also an influential market since they are often early adopters, spend a lot of time on social media, and have large networks of friends. Additionally, getting customer loyalty from college students means that you could have a consumer for life, since they are beginning to make a lot of purchases on their own. But it is important to remember that there is also a very large and influential market behind students, and that’s their parents. Finding the balance between appealing to students and their parents can pose a marketing challenge for some brands.
Providing the financial backing
According to the New York Times, the average college tuition is financed through 37% parent income and savings, and 10% parent borrowing. However, college costs reach much further than just tuition. Simply outfitting a dorm requires a good chunk of change. Some students work as a means of getting extra spending money, but for those who don’t a monthly allowance isn’t unusual. Because parents provide a lot of the funding for student activities, they can often feel that they should have a say in how it is spent. This means that brands who target students should keep in mind that while students are the main audience, their opinion is not always the only one involved in a purchase.
Covering student “needs”
While parents are proud to see their children grow up and leave the nest, sometimes they get hit with a classic case of having trouble letting go. We’ve all seen that mom who tears up as she hugs her baby boy goodbye after dropping him off at his freshman dorm. We all knew that kid in school who would take his laundry home once a month for mommy to do because she missed him so much, or the classic “daddy’s little girl” who would get hundreds slipped to her while Mom wasn’t looking. Even though students spend a lot of money on discretionary items, it is often still the parents who take care of the basic needs. It is important to remember that for items like computers, software, furniture, appliances, or even clothes and food, sometimes the parents are the ones doing the actual buying. So while the products still have to be geared toward students as the final user or purchase influencer, it does not hurt to be “parent-friendly”.
Back to school
The back to school season is a very important time for brands, as a lot of students start stocking up. Moving back into school means that cable services need to be set up, the refrigerator needs to be stocked, things like vacuums and cleaning supplies need to be purchased, and some bigger ticket items like appliances or electronics might need to be replaced. For many students who are scrambling through move-in day, it’s not uncommon for a good deal of these items to be purchased or funded by parents. Parent input can be very influential, especially if students are buying items for the first time. Admit it, when you first bought laundry detergent, you asked your mom which kind to get.
Navigating this balance between attracting business from students and their parents can be tricky. While the student is your actual consumer, sometimes the parent might be your customer. Contact us for help figuring out how to market your product or service through this complicated dynamic.