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How to market to college students (11 strategies)

14 min

Most of the current college student population is Gen Z, who don’t respond to traditional marketing channels. They will find your business through your website, not the Yellow Pages, and even get their news from social media. 

A recent study showed that 32% of Americans aged 18–29 regularly get their news from TikTok. However, some of their trends (mostly fashion) still borrow from the good old days. 

College students also support brands that align with their personal values and value authenticity over a brand’s size.

With these unique preferences and traits, this demographic presents both opportunities and challenges for brands seeking to get their attention. This article will provide key strategies that will guide you on how to market to college students successfully. 

Let’s get started!

Benefits of marketing to college students

You can’t afford to miss out on marketing to the college student demographic for several reasons. These include:

Huge demographics and spending power

College students are a large demographic. As of 2022, around 18.6 million students were enrolled in private and public universities.

Also, while it would be true to assume that most of them are broke, it’s important to note that college students spend a lot. 

The average estimated undergraduate student budget in the US in the academic year 2023/24 for those who studied in-state is $28,840. Those who study out-of-state, on the other hand, have to budget for almost two times more at $46,730.

Building strong relationships in their formative years

College is generally considered a time of exploration and identity formation, and students often seek out brands that align with their values, interests, and aspirations. 

By strategically positioning yourself as authentic and relatable to college students, your brand can cultivate strong affiliations that endure beyond their graduation.

Brand advocacy opportunity

Do you remember how you couldn’t wait to get to that college age or actually go to college because it seemed cool? Well, that hasn’t changed.

College students are still cool and are often early adopters of trends and technologies. That makes them influential within their peer groups and beyond. Hence, targeting college students can help boost brand advocacy efforts, amplifying your reach and influence among younger demographics.

These key benefits will easily help your brand unlock new growth opportunities with this high-influential demographic.

How to market to college students

While marketing to college students can be tricky, it is not impossible and does not have to be complicated. Here are 11 key strategies on how to market to college students successfully.

1. Understand the students better

To develop an efficient marketing strategy for college students, you must first understand your target audience. What are their aspirations, pain points, needs, purchasing habits, and mindsets? Understanding such aspects is the foundation of successful marketing campaigns.

You can start by understanding the demographic makeup of college students. Conducting demographic research will help you tailor your marketing strategy to specific groups within the college community. Some demographic factors you can consider include age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and geographic location. 

Next, delve into the psychographic profiles of college students to grasp their attitudes, values, and lifestyle preferences. Understanding this will enable you to craft messaging that resonates emotionally and authentically connects with the students on a deeper level.

College students are digital natives heavily immersed in technology and social media. Therefore, it’s vital to analyze their digital behavior. Identify the platforms they use, how often they engage, and the content that resonates with them. This insight will inform your digital marketing strategy and content creation efforts.

With the knowledge you get from the steps above, you can create customer personas that guide you on how to market to college students you are targeting at any point. Here’s an example of one.

Profile of Luciana Diaz, an undergraduate sophomore majoring in human biology, highlighting her aspirations to become globally open-minded.


Hearing directly from college students can also help you better understand them. You can establish channels for ongoing feedback and engagement, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and social media interactions.

Additionally, immerse yourself in the college campus culture to gain firsthand insights. For instance, you can attend events and engage students in their natural habitat. This hands-on approach will provide valuable context that helps you align your marketing efforts with campus trends and traditions.

2. Choose the medium

College students are active across various digital platforms, including social media, streaming services, and mobile apps. But you must tailor your marketing efforts to meet your target audience where they are most active. So, how do you identify the perfect medium? 

First, you’ll need to revisit your audience research results on their digital behavior. Identify the most popular and relevant channels for your target college students. These may include social media, mobile apps, websites, or student publications.

You must also consider the type of message you want to convey and the content format that best suits your marketing objectives. For example, platforms like Reels or TikTok may be more effective if you’re promoting short-form content. However, if you’re sharing long-form content, consider platforms like YouTube, email newsletters, or blog posts.

Next, evaluate the engagement opportunities offered by each medium. Remember, you don’t want to just market to them. It’s also vital that you actively interact with the students to foster deeper connections. 

Therefore, choose channels that allow two-way communication and direct engagement through comments, likes, shares, and polls. 

A great example is Instagram, which allows all of the above.

A screenshot of a social media reel featuring a poll about caption use, engaging with viewers for interactive content.


College students are often buried in mobile devices–arguably even more than they are in books. Therefore, considering their reliance on mobile devices to access content and communicate, prioritize mobile-friendly marketing channels.

Also, go for financially viable channels. You can identify these channels by continuously monitoring the performance of your marketing efforts across different channels and mediums. Analyze key metrics such as engagement rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and ROI.

3. Tap into creative copywriting

Compelling copy is one of the key ways to captivate your target college students.

To write creative copy, you must first understand the current student language. You don’t want them rolling their eyes at your copy and wondering, “Who even says that anymore”? 

So, familiarize yourself with the language, slang, and trending memes commonly used by college students. Then, incorporate these terms and phrases into your copy. 

However, don’t try too hard to communicate like them; otherwise, you’ll sound lame. You can avoid this by injecting your brand personality and sense of humor in addition to incorporating trending slang, memes, and pop-culture references. 

DoorDash is an excellent example of a brand that has mastered this on its social platforms.

Creative DoorDash delivery advertisement depicting a DoorDash bag in a doorway, enhancing brand visibility through social media.


Additionally, you can incorporate storytelling techniques to evoke emotion and captivate the imagination of college students. Share relatable anecdotes, testimonials, or user-generated content that resonates with their experiences and aspirations.

Yes, creativity knows no bounds, but that’s not entirely true in this case. Remember this demographic values authenticity. 

Therefore, ensure your copywriting is genuine and transparent. Also, avoid overly promotional or salesy language that may come across as insincere or inauthentic.

4. Build a social following

A solid social media following will help you enhance your brand visibility, engagement, and loyalty among college students. Some of the most popular social media platforms on which you should have profiles today include TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and X. 

To build a social following on these platforms, create valuable content that resonates with college students’ interests, aspirations, and lifestyles. Also, maintain a consistent posting schedule that keeps your brand top-of-mind. 

You can experiment with different posting times and frequencies to determine the ideal schedule for reaching college students. 

Coming up with new ideas anytime you need to post can quickly become exhausting. So, instead, ensure you create a comprehensive social media content calendar beforehand.

Here’s an example of one by HootSuite

An example of a detailed social media content calendar for the first half of 2024, organizing key dates and marketing campaigns.


Hosting contests, challenges, and giveaways can also build your social following. These will help incentivize engagement and expand your reach. Ensure you encourage students to participate by offering prizes, discounts, or exclusive experiences that appeal to their interests and desires.

Besides that, foster meaningful interactions with your audience by promptly responding to comments, messages, and mentions. 

Additionally, encourage your college students audience to ask questions or leave feedback. This will drive online conversations around your brand that help grow your following.

The other major way to build your social following is by partnering with student influencers and campus organizations with a strong social media presence. You can collaborate on sponsored content, co-host events, or run joint campaigns to leverage their popularity and reach.

5. Create student-friendly programs

Another key strategy to help you market to college students successfully is developing student-friendly initiatives that align with the needs and interests of college students. 

The most obvious is offering exclusive discounts and special offers targeting college students. 

For instance, you can offer student pricing, bundle deals, or seasonal promotions on products and services commonly used by students. Some of these products include textbooks, tech gadgets, and entertainment subscriptions.

A great example of this is the current Spotify Student Premium and Hulu offer.

Promotional graphic for Spotify and Hulu student discount, offering subscription services at reduced rates to attract college students.


Another idea is to establish a student ambassador program that allows passionate and influential students to represent your brand on campus. In exchange for promoting your brand to their peers, provide student ambassadors with certain perks, such as free or discounted products. 

Alternatively, offer part-time jobs as part of your program like Red Bull does–since students are always looking for an extra source of income. This will come with the bonus of getting actual college students’ insights on how to get more students’ attention.

Advertisement for Red Bull's Student Marketeer program, inviting college students to gain professional experience and represent the brand on campus.


Finally, you can develop a loyalty program tailored to the preferences and behaviors of college students. Offer rewards, incentives, or perks for frequent purchases, referrals, or a certain level of engagement with your brand across various channels.

6. Promote through a cause

For most people, college is when they form independent opinions about different topics. As such, most students usually support one social justice movement or another. Also, as mentioned earlier, college students today will only buy or subscribe to brands that reflect their values. 

Therefore, as a brand, you must demonstrate your honest commitment to important causes like mental health advocacy, sustainability, racial equality, and LGBTQ+. This is not just important in helping you win the students’ favor; it also allows you to play your part in making the world a better place.

Start by identifying a relevant cause that matters to your target college students and aligns with your brand values and mission. It could be social, environmental, or humanitarian.

Just make sure that your commitment to the cause is genuine and transparent. Young people are experts in recognizing fake support. You’ve probably seen some brands getting called out on social media for greenwashing. 

Instagram post about the "Greenwashing Hall of Shame 2023," criticizing companies for false environmental claims.


To avoid making such a list, integrate your commitment to the cause into your business practices and operations instead of just announcing your support. For instance, you can implement sustainable practices, ethical sourcing, fair representation, or even philanthropic initiatives.

You also want to get involved in student initiatives, events, or volunteer projects related to the cause you’ve decided to support. Partner with student organizations, clubs, or nonprofits to organize activities that raise awareness and drive positive change both on campus and in the community.

For example, here are some of the brands that partner with Mental Health America.

Collage of various corporate logos including L.L.Bean, Netflix, and Walgreens, representing sponsors potentially involved in marketing to college students.


Students will expect you to demonstrate continued commitment to your chosen cause.

7. Leverage interactive marketing

To stand out from other brands, you must do more than the bare minimum. One way to achieve this is by adopting interactive marketing approaches that easily capture college students’ attention.

Some of these interactive marketing strategies include:

  • Gamification elements: Gamifying your college marketing campaign will make it more engaging and entertaining. You can develop quizzes, challenges, or interactive games related to your brand or products and then reward participants.
  • Interactive videos: These videos entertain and prompt viewers to take action. To make your videos interactive, embed different CTAs to encourage real-time participation and enhance overall engagement. You can also use 360-degree videos to immerse viewers in your marketing experience.
  • User-generated content (UGC) campaigns: These campaigns encourage college students to share content that showcases their positive experiences with your brand. Run campaigns that prompt students to share photos, videos, or testimonials related to your products or services to get more UGC content.
  • Infographics: These eye-catching graphics will help you simplify complex information and capture attention. They’re perfect for conveying data, statistics, or step-by-step processes. They are also highly shareable and can be used in various channels, from social media to email marketing. See an example of one below.
Infographic on financial literacy, showing student loan statistics for American college students in 2022.


By embracing these interactive marketing methods, you can create memorable college students marketing campaigns that build lasting relationships. This ultimately boosts brand awareness, loyalty, and advocacy.

8. Market with effective content

Effective content is one of the key building blocks of any successful marketing campaign. 

In this case, ensure your content is relevant to college students’ interests, needs, and experiences. Align your content with topics that matter to them, such as academic success, career development, social life, and personal growth. 

For instance, see how EBSCO discusses financial literacy among college students in the example below.

Educational content on increasing financial literacy among college students, featuring strategies for effective money management education.


By doing this, the brand positions itself as a trusted source of information and support. It also helps build their social following since the target audience not only engages with the content but is also likely to share it with their networks.

To ensure your content is compelling, tailor it to different segments of the college student population. Students will only pay attention to content that resonates with them. 

Therefore, use data-driven insights to identify unique student segments within your target audience. Then, deliver personalized content that resonates with each audience segment. 

Check out how you can use our marketing automation software to build personalized automation workflows to keep your audience engaged until the conversion stage.

9. Take advantage of college blogs or newsletters

You can use college blogs or newsletters, which definitely have high student traffic, in several ways. 

The key is investing in sponsored or branded content placements within college blogs or newsletters to increase brand visibility and engagement. 

Ensure the content is informative, engaging, or entertaining. It should also blend organically with the general publication’s content while promoting your brand’s offerings.

You can also write guest posts or contribute to informative articles on relevant topics in the college blogs and newsletters. Doing this will position your brand as a trusted authority within the college community and beyond.

Some good examples of college blogs include College Cures, College Tourist, Student Minds, and College Info Geek.

If you have upcoming events, workshops, or initiatives your targeted college students might be interested in, promote them using these college blogs and newsletters. 

Also, ensure you have a great landing page tailored to your specific target audience for successful conversions. We offer a free landing page creator you can use to create one. And remember, the landing page copy and visuals will need to align with the needs and aspirations of the college students you’re targeting.

10. Dive into enrollment marketing

Brands can also partner with educational institutions in student enrollment marketing campaigns to market to potential college students.

For instance, you can help establish scholarship or grant programs to support students by alleviating the financial burden. This will not only help students achieve their educational goals but will also be an excellent opportunity to boost brand awareness on campus. 

A great example of this is the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

Image of a joyful college graduate celebrating her success under the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, an effective strategy for marketing to college students with promises of tuition coverage and a clear path for future education and career growth.


Additionally, collaborate with colleges to organize events, workshops, or activations on college campuses during events like open days or campus tours to engage directly with students. 

You can host product demos, sampling sessions, or other interactive experiences that allow students to experience your brand firsthand and forge a personal connection. 

Some institutions like USC actively invite brands to do product demos, as shown below.

Photo of a product demonstration at a university, showing a presenter and engaged college students, highlighting interactive marketing strategies to captivate the interest of college students in new technologies and services.


You can also develop targeted advertising campaigns aimed at prospective students. For instance, with the help of a PPC platform like Google Ads, you can reach college students researching colleges or browsing relevant content online.

11. Spark engagement with conversational marketing

Conversational marketing is a powerful approach to engaging students through real-time interactions. It helps you build stronger relationships, enabling you to swiftly move university students through the buyer journey. 

Some of the critical conversational marketing techniques you should embrace include:

  • Chatbots: Implement chatbots or AI-powered assistants when building your website and on your social channels to provide instant assistance and support to college students.
  • Live chat support: Provide real-time assistance and personalized guidance to address students’ inquiries, concerns, or challenges at any point.
  • Social media: Actively engage with college students on social media platforms by responding promptly to inquiries, comments, and direct messages.

Remember that this approach will only work if you promptly address inquiries or customer feedback. Also, ensure you provide tailored recommendations in every case to ensure great experiences for college students, which will then enhance customer satisfaction and retention.

In closing

Marketing to college students is quite a challenge for most marketers today. This is mainly because college demographics are very open-minded and independent thinkers. Telling them what to think of your brand is not enough. They expect more from brands.

But with the 11 essential strategies above, you can successfully reach your target student audience. 

You must understand the students, choose the right medium, use creative copywriting, build a social following, and support a cause. You can also use interactive marketing strategies, college blogs or newsletters, enrollment marketing, and conversational marketing. 

Go ahead and try these strategies today to start marketing to college students. All the best!

Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli is a Digital Marketing Expert and a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at GetResponse with a diverse background in marketing specializations. He has used his expertise to drive success and growth for businesses in the service, SaaS, and e-commerce sectors.