In 2017–18, there were 2.34 million students studying at UK higher education institutions – and in September, higher education institutes will have welcomed new faces as term time begins for students up and down the UK.
For many of them it’s the first time they’ve become truly financially independent, making purchasing decisions and forming brand affiliations that can last a lifetime. It means it’s also a crucial time for brands to gain traction with these consumers.
But it’s not easy – this is a tech-savvy, ad-blocking audience that are notoriously difficult to reach. They’re a group that are switched on to superficial marketing.
Whether the brand is in retail, personal finance, travel or fitness (to name just a few) – this demographic stretches the boundaries of what brands need to do to make a meaningful engagement.
Earlier this year, Campus Society released research of 2,225 students revealing the brands they most admire and why: in an open poll, the top brand – Nike – scored more than double the votes of Apple, who ranked second. Product quality, innovation and delivery of inspiring content were the stand-out performance differentiators – and something both organisations have spent years (if not decades), refining and tweaking to ensure its mass appeal.
Dig a little deeper and you start to see why these brands are so appealing. Students want to engage with brands who are innovative and invest in inspiring content. Just over a third (34%) of those questioned said they wanted a brand to have an innovative approach. While another third (33%) of students cited its inspiring content as a draw. This may explain why those renowned innovators, like Nike and Apple, that push the boundaries of developing engaging content, scored so highly.
But not everyone is Nike, Apple or Adidas (who ranked third), and have the multimillion pound marketing budgets that these brands can afford. Creating that meaningful engagement doesn’t need to just be about what you communicate; it’s how you communicate.
For a group with such a multi-faceted approach to social media, different platforms serve different purposes – and they expect brands to understand that and act in tandem with them. For Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information.
The communication landscape is rapidly evolving, and the brands who get the frequency, relevance and mechanism of content delivery right will reap the benefits of better, more meaningful connections with their next key audiences.
While social media has created a means to build safe, scalable and more meaningful relationships, traditional social networks may no longer be fit for purpose. In many ways, the incumbents have made it more challenging to achieve a meaningful relationship with consumers – thanks to a myriad of channels, evolving platforms, new algorithms and automation. They’ve created opportunity but also the danger that the brand/consumer relationship is less personal, less tailored.
Using insights to create direct engagement: A lesson from Barclays
Barclays, for example, recently announced a new scheme to offer students access to a library of e-books, where they can pick up to three free course text books - in light of research finding that money is the number one concern for Gen Z students - over and above exam stress. A brand that can communicate that level of insight, with a genuine purpose to make university life that little bit easier is going to be one that build closer affinity with its students than one that offers.
What does this mean for brands that are looking to build these life-long relationships? It means looking at the original engagement idea: that the right product and content, communicated in the right way to the right audience via the right platforms will have a lasting impact.
Those brands who focus on having a positive impact on society, demonstrate an ability to understand what the core issues facing this audience are, and being able to communicate that in creative ways through the right mix of channels, will be the ones that rise to the top.
Greg Consiglio is CEO of Connectt.