As a brand, reaching a younger demographic can be challenging; especially when it comes to Gen Z, it feels like the trends are always changing, and just like that, what was ‘in’ yesterday is ‘out’ today.
While marketing your brand to this age range can be tricky, there’s no understating how crucial this line of communication ultimately is: Gen Z is the new generation of consumers and the people who shape so much of our culture, thereby playing a considerable role in the success– or decline– of your business.
The fact of this may seem intimidating, but here’s the good news: in the same quest to tap into this demo, many companies have already discovered that the best way to communicate with Gen Z is through brand activations on (or around) college campuses.
In the world of marketing, an overwhelming consensus has been reached: Gen Z craves experiential marketing. Now it’s up to you to leverage this discovery to your business’s advantage.
In this blog, we will go into greater depth about why, exactly, experiential marketing and in-person brand activations resonate so well with this target audience, especially when they take place on college towns and campuses. We’ll also highlight different college marketing examples that have truly connected with this new generation of consumers.
By doing both, our hope is that you leave feeling inspired to create face-to-face, experiential marketing activations of your own. Let’s get started.
Why College Marketing Is A Smart Move For Your Brand
Experiential marketing is an effective marketing strategy to implement across all industries and for a wide range of demographics— with that being said, face-to-face, experience-based marketing is especially effective when your goal is to grab the attention of college students.
People in their late teens and early twenties tend to be more open-minded and malleable, making them the perfect group of consumers to get on your brand’s side. And, where better to find college students than around college campuses?
Because people of this age group tend to embrace new brands and experiences, it’s during these four years of college when so many of us form our opinions and perceptions of the world. So, if you’re able to resonate with this audience during these informative years, you’re positioning yourself for a very successful future.
Experiential Marketing Over Social Media Marketing? Really, Why?
Does the fact that college students favor in-person brand activations to hefty social media campaigns feel counterintuitive? You’re not alone. Over recent years, many marketing departments have made the same mistake under the same assumption that because Gen Z grows up around the Internet and social media, digital marketing is the best way to connect with them.
However, what has resulted from this collective shift to social media marketing is an extreme saturation in the digital space. Look through your own lens: when was the last time you were happy to be interrupted from a video or feed by an ad?
Gen Z is online the most, and this has two complex implications: you want to have an online presence where so many eyeballs are, but you don’t want to bombard them with obvious and overdone selling tactics. Experiential marketing can walk the tight-rope, and here’s why:
Experiential marketing isn’t the antithesis of social media marketing. In fact, what brand activations, pop-ups, mobile tours, lounges, and other immersive brand experiences do so well is that they create moments that are as fun to share online as they are to enjoy ‘IRL.’
Gen-Z and Millennials love events and experiences that they can capture content from and show off on their social media platforms, so brand activations on college campuses give you organic exposure online that goes way further than overtly promotional content.
College Brand Activations That Made A Lasting Statement
Now that we’ve laid out the benefits of experiential marketing and college brand activations, here are a few instances of college marketing that forged lasting connections with consumers. When thinking about your own marketing ideas, feel free to draw inspo from these success stories!
Bondi Sands "Tan Van"
Bondi Sands is an Australian beauty brand that captures the light and breezy Aussie lifestyle in their everyday products. To drive greater awareness around their 1 Hour Self-Tanning Foam in a college-aged demographic, the brand produced a food truck experience known as the ‘Tan Van’ on the corner of West Fourth St and Broadway, strategically near New York University.
The branded experience was straight-forward, creative, and interpersonal: qualities that Gen Z values. On their way to class, NYU students had their attention caught by a branded food truck that read “Free Self Tan and Coffee,” and once they were intrigued, a friendly Bondi Sands brand ambassador would greet them, guide them to scan the QR code, sign up for the loyalty program to receive their free sample bottle and application mitt to take home.
This quick-and-easy college brand activation was the perfect way to leave a brand impression as lasting as the tan on this target audience.
Gerry's Partisan Pizza Tour
RepresentUS used a similar marketing tactic to accomplish their own goals. A non-profit, non-partisan organization, RepresentUS wanted to create an educational experience around the unjust practice of gerrymandering that could be enjoyed by college students, a demographic that is forming its own opinions and feelings towards the government in real-time.
This is how The Gerry’s Partisan Pizza mobile tour was born. The concept of this multi-city marketing campaign was to make the concept of gerrymandering better understood through a visual (and edible) representation. To do this, RepresentUS drove a branded food truck to different college towns across the country and educated people about the importance of fairly segmented voting districts with pizza that was unevenly cut. The idea was to make the pizza an educational snack that bolstered the keynote speakers’ message and overall branding of the truck.
For a brand like Schmooze, college marketing is a no-brainer. Schmooze is a dating app that’s motto is to “swipe memes, not people.” Unlike other dating sites, the idea behind Schmooze is to connect people based on their sense of humor rather than looks.
As you can imagine, the main target audience for this app are young, single people in their teens and twenties. So, where better to get people using their app than on college campuses? They took this experiential cart to different schools in the northeast, including MIT, Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston University to communicate the benefits of their app and gain users in real-time.
Alpha Foods College Sampling Tour
Last but not least, there’s Alpha Foods. Alpha Foods is a plant-based food line that was looking to communicate a message core to their brand: being a vegan or vegetarian can be delicious when you eat Alpha Foods. What the brand came up with was a product sampling tour that stopped in different college campuses, where the highest concentration of their target audience was (young consumers open to a new way of eating).
They fully customized a food truck and turned it into a product sampling food truck pop-up to create buzz around the brand’s delicious vegan options, visiting seven different college campuses across Los Angeles and New York including NYU, Cornell, Columbia, FIT, Fordham, USC and UCLA.
This experiential marketing tactic turned out to be the perfect way to get people on board with Alpha Foods’s revolutionary and conscientious way of eating.
If you’re looking for marketing ideas to help you connect with a younger demographic, college marketing should be at the very top of your list. Brand activations allow you to take your brand directly to college campuses, where you are able to piggyback off exciting events within the community like college football, date parties, March Madness, and career fairs— or create excitement of your own.
College campuses are where so many people form lasting beliefs and connections, which why it’s important for brands to make a concentrated effort to make your presence known in this environment. So while connecting with Gen Z may feel impossible, brand activations offer the perfect solution!
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