Guest blog: Reaching the ‘selfie-aware’ – how brands should approach students – James Rix

Considering targeting ‘The Student Market’? Think again, says James Rix, founder of Street PR, who recommends a far more targeted, authentic strategy to engaging your loyal customers of the future.

Students are often defined in narrow inaccurate terms as an homogeneous group. The reality is that they are varied and changeable – and that includes age.

Today’s students are students of life and they are way ahead of previous generations. They are more self-conscious than ever – or rather ‘selfie-aware’. No longer the mischief makers of old not giving a damn what people think of them, these days most feel everything they do is being scrutinised and that they are constantly being watched, due to a mix of media pressure and the always-on social media world we all now live in. Whatever mischief you make, even behind closed doors, can find its way online in seconds. This means students are a lot better behaved than they once were and are far more concerned about their ongoing social image.

This also means that before students will let brands in, they have to win over their trust and natural scepticism. Gone are the happy-go-lucky naive students of the past. What’s more, with many leaving uni with serious debt, they are struggling more than ever to make ends meet and so are also looking for real value.

Building trust starts with brands getting involved with students on the ground in their own communities. Showing a commitment to supporting events and making the effort to connect directly through creating interesting and enjoyable experiences is a great way to kick-start a relationship that could prove long term and highly lucrative if managed carefully.

But rather than simply targeting all students in this way, it’s important that brands take the time to identify their target student market. Brands frequently pitch at ‘The Student Market’, which is as big a mistake as targeting ‘The Youth Market’ as it’s far too broad. It’s vital to remember that all students are not the same and in fact reflect a microcosm of society, forming close knit groups within the wider academic community. One approach is to think of them as tribes delineated by style, leisure and political preferences.

For example, there are the cool kids – the art fashion types who want to go to SNEAK, wear skinny jeans and listen to house music. Their Instagram has got to be all black and white and arty. Then there are the guys who go out on Red Card, are very into sport and like to socialise in big groups. You’ve also got the nerdy gamers, the cerebral academics and those immersed in politics – and it doesn’t stop there!

How people project their image on social media plays a big part in how brands can attract them to different events and experiences. Each tribe is distinct from the next and brands should look to leverage these differences. Monitoring their social activity can be a great way to get to know the various groups better in terms of their preferences and how they socialise – what they are buying and how they relax and have fun. The cool kids wandering round record shops in Soho, wearing skinny jeans with no label on them shop at totally different places to the Rugby player who likes Abercrombie & Fitch and going on ski holidays. Brands need to identify their target tribe from the outset and get to know them as well as possible to make sure their communications authentic and believable – something students will be looking for.

One thing brands do need to be aware of is that students reflect the value of wider society, but tend to be more passionate about the causes they champion. Students are more aware of their long term impact than ever before, socially, politically and environmentally, so brands with impeccable social and environmental credentials and which are aware that these aspects will be scrutinised are well placed to prosper.

Targeting students is a great way to develop people’s long-term brand habits. This includes setting trends for aspirational products. Few students may be able to afford them now, but in the future, once they reach their financial potential, they are likely to be loyal to those brands that have taken the time to develop a personal relationship with them when they were at uni.

Uber ran free taxis for some of our student events in order to get people to download the app. It proved so successful that we built an ongoing relationship with the brand for not just its taxi business, but also its food delivery service. Not all students will have the money to splash on taxis and takeaways now, but they are likely to remember their Uber experience and use the brand in the future. And other brands would do well to take note.

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