College Bound: Back-to-School Marketing for College Students

As summer comes to a close, we’re heading back-to-school and into one of the most important seasons for your small business. Second only to the holidays, back-to-school season provides an incredible opportunity for brands to create marketing campaigns that target every audience from K-12 students, to parents, and perhaps most challenging, college students. The successes of big players such as Target, Apple and Victoria’s Secret PINK are proof that gaining popularity among college students can provide great benefits for your brand marketing and lead generation. We’ve got a few strategies around how your small business too can become a big dog on campus.

Get Personal

Playing hooky won’t get you very far when it comes to engaging the 18-24-year-old crowd. To capture this groups’ attention, it’s imperative to get your business on campus and in front of college students. Schools across the country hold numerous events at the start of the school year to get students excited about the new semester. Being part of these events and college move-in weekends is a great way to reach a high volume of students face-to-face.

Take it a step further by utilizing college ambassador programs and hire students to market your products or services on campus and nearby events. Besides a more personal approach, student ambassadors serving as the face of your brand will bring the instrumental benefit of genuine conversation about your business, plus they can communicate your offerings, answer question, and distribute promotional products to their peers. This is a much more approachable personality than your standard brand rep.

Stephanie Maupin
Stephanie Maupin

Give Incentives

If you’re really looking to earn extra credit, give college students an incentive to engage with your company. Offer promotions, coupons and discounts to attract back-to-school shoppers to your retail store or BOGOs to your restaurant nearest campus. Advertise your promotion in campus-wide publications like the college’s student-run newspapers or through the campus radio station. Explore digital advertising in the spaces you can expect college students to frequent, such as mobile and game ads, or a creative Pandora takeover ad. Make the grade by giving away coveted premium items that have other students asking, “Where did you get that?” Items like branded koozies, tumblers, water bottles and Frisbees go over well with this target. Get more out of giving these attractive incentives by collecting data through a register-to-win promotion tied with a strong giveaway such as football game day tickets.

Get Social

Get students talking about your brand on campus by being part of the conversation. When creating any campaign, especially for back-to-school, cross-promoting your efforts through social media channels is a surefire way to increase brand recognition. Students are more likely to check social media accounts over websites to get the most up-to-date information on sales, events, and store specials. Increase engagement and social shares by creating a unique hashtag to promote your timely offers or provide student followers a discount when they mention a special code posted via your social media account. Running contests that require reposting, tagging friends, commenting, or for students to snap selfies wearing or using your product are all creative ways to tie in social influencers for greater reach. Take advantage of this organic reach by running Facebook or Twitter advertising campaigns for even more exposure to increase overall campaign success.

Don’t be late to class. School is back in session, so be sure your business gets into the back-to-school spirit with timely marketing campaigns that appeal to the college crowd.

For more about accessing college students through experiential marketing, check out our PIADA experiential campaign.

EMS300-2— Event Marketing Strategies (EMS) is an experiential engagement agency helping companies to create unique and memorable connections with their audience. If you’re looking for unique ways to differentiate your product or service at an event, EMS can help you access your consumers face-to-face so you can build brand equity, gain product and service exposure, and most importantly, drive results. To learn more about our services and capabilities, visit —