COVID-19 Back-to-School Marketing Tips to Engage College Students

College Student Marketing Tips
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COVID University – How Marketers Engage College Students This Fall 

Typically, this time of year in the college marketing industry when back-to-school media plans are locked down. Final touches are being made for the August / September flight dates. Our team is always excited to work on a strong back to campus plan. 2020 threw us a curveball. While we realize companies are perplexed by unknown issues, but one thing that is for sure is it’s not too late to begin planning and executing a strong back to school plan.  There are some key marketing tips to reach college students.

To address the elephant in the room, OnCampus Advertising (OCA) aggressively tracks college’s fall plans for re-opening in the fall. We look at how each school plans on tackling their re-opening challenges. These details on a school-by-school basis will be the framework of the campus media dos and don’ts for this fall’s back-to-school season. Does this mean it will be less impactful; absolutely not, it will just look different than in years past as we adjust to the various campus protocols.  

2020 College Back-to-School Landscape

Most college students will be back on campus this fall. Only 8% of the nearly 1,000 schools that OCA is currently tracking are planning for online-only instruction! The majority, 67%, are planning for in person classes. The rest remain undecided or have a hybrid model that is yet to be determined.

It’s important to plan now. What you have known in the past will probably not be the same this year. In addition, take a flexible approach to your media planning by creating different options in each market. OCA refers to this as the Plan B option. If your primary media at one school cannot be delivered as planned, shift to your pre-determined Plan B option. This flexibility will allow you to fully deliver your messaging. Even in the face of unforeseen obstacles. The landscape of college media may have changed and certain tactics may be better suited to different schools. OCA’s experience and adaptability ensures that each strategy at each campus makes a maximum impact. 

The OCA team has been connecting companies with college students for 17 years. We will help you navigate through these uncertain times. OCA is intimately aware of schools plans for reopening this fall. Additionally, many schools and local media vendors offer attractive discounts on their media as an incentive for advertisers to commit to a campaign.  

In addition to negotiating attractive rates, OCA adopted a series of flexible planning steps to facilitate the back-to-school planning process and prepare for any unforeseen circumstances this fall.  

Marketing Tips for Targeting College Students 

1: School selection: Create two lists of target schools. A primary list and a back-up list based on the same audience profile of demographic, location, or enrollment size.  It is always wise to select roughly 30% more schools as your Plan B option.  Having a pre-established list helps mitigate the chance a school decides to make a last-minute decision to close or move to online classes. With an alternative list of schools, we can shift the media strategy to a back-up school without major changes to budget or creative/media type. 

2: Media selection: If alternate school selection is unavailable or not preferred, OCA offers more than 13 digital, social, place-based, and experiential campus media strategies available at almost all large universities.  Our creative designers can reformat the creative and students can be reached with these alternative media strategies. Student email, mobile, and social influencer campaigns are ideal for reaching students while they are away from campus (in their apartments or at home over the summer/breaks). We recommend these tactics as a back-up in the event that OOH, print, or experiential strategies cannot be carried out as planned.  

 3: Adjust timing: The last resort adjustment for any college marketing campaign is to identify a later time to run the campaign.  OCA can assist in adjusting your campaign start date in the event there is an 11th hour pivot needed. We help clients identify the best options for each school. If there is optimal timing at a later date, we can work with our media partners to pause the campaign and start it back up when it makes the most sense based on the academic calendar.  

Fall 2020 Outlook

Hopefully these marketing tips targeting college students can put some back-to-school concerns at ease. And the tips will allow you, as marketers to take advantage of low media rates. The landscape has changed, but one thing that has not is the power of the college student as a consumer group. Reach out to your OCA team member for more details on back-to-school planning. Let’s work together and greet students back to campus this fall.  

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