7 things to remember before marketing to students

Students make good customers for a lot of start-ups. Generally speaking, they are early adopters of new technologies, have some disposable income (thanks loans!!!) and tend to congregate in set locations (halls, lectures or nights out) so are fairly easy to reach. Facebook, Tinder, and Red Bull all started off focussing on campuses.

So, if you are considering going after students here are a few tips:


If there is a face to face element to your marketing then timing is crucial. Term time is relatively short and if you are going to be on campus it needs to be when regular lectures are on so you can guarantee the best footfall. Beware, during exam/course work periods a lot of students change their habits, potentially working from home or only going to one library.

In my experience, the best months for footfall on campus are late Sept, Oct, Nov and Feb. That is only 3.5 months per year, so you need to plan properly.

Students are predictable, well kinda

The student calendar is fairly predictable, which makes marketing (a little) easier. You know when exam stresses will hit in, when they’ll be cramming last weeks of dissertation, when they’ll be exploring new bars in Freshers. Make sure your marketing can leverage this.

Leverage the crowd

Students more than any other segment of society tend to hang out defined groups. As a minimum they’ll have course mates that they cram with/swap lecture notes, then a housing group (for those that live away from home). Add onto this a couple of sports teams or societies and you have many networks that each student operates in. Leveraging these groups is a great way to ensure you get high impact reach.

As an example (**plug klaxon goes off here**) check out Co-op’s work sponsoring societies and sports teams at unitogether.co.uk, they sponsored grass roots teams and societies across UK universities to get a more authentic reach.

Student Brand Ambassadors can be great. But also can be a complete nightmare

I get approached by a lot of start-ups with the same idea:

“We’ll get X student brand ambassadors, each tasked with Y customer acquisitions per week, multiplied by Z weeks = huge number of acquisitions.”

Sounds easy in principle. In practice motivating and training students to essentially sell your product is bloody tough, and not many people get it right. Before you start be honest with yourself – are you recruiting sales reps or marketing reps. It will dramatically affect how you manage the campaign.

Student Sales Reps aren’t impossible, but it will be a tougher project that requires more thinking. So develop out a proposition that works for your reps – including training, mentoring, bonuses and prizes.

As a small add-on to this, don’t misjudge the amount of work it will take to manage them. In my experience, most start-ups underestimate it by about 50%.

Get more value from Brand Ambassadors

Obviously the key reason for using student brand ambassadors is to generate growth in customers/users. However don’t be narrow minded and miss out on the opportunity to use them for product feedback/an ear to the ground. They can open other doors which may not be expected.

You don’t need to use Student Brand Ambassadors

Go to any student marketing agency and they’ll probably try and sell you a Student Brand Ambassador programme. As somebody who has worked on these a lot I can reveal that is because they tend to have high profit margins/there aren’t many competitors.

Just because you are marketing to students doesn’t mean that you need to come up with completely new channels… which leads me nicely to:

Be open-minded about channels

Often I see brands take a great idea onto campus as a physical installation. That is all good but will always have limited impact based on footfall. One of the great perks of marketing to students is there are plenty of student-specific channels, whether it is through student unions, societies, paid social, student focussed media (paid or PR) there are tonnes of ways to get your message to a wider audience and drive better bang for your buck. Generally speaking, they are pretty good value when compared with mainstream channels.

Because universities are a niche segment a lot of marketeers will forget about the variety of channels available.

Simon is the founder of Hype Collective a youth and student marketing agency. At the heart of the organisation is 5,000 registered sports teams and societies that are looking to partner with brands and can be leveraged by start-ups to get cut through amongst this demographic. Follow him on Twitter here.