Engage Them Early, and They'll Be Customers for Life

Targeting College Students for Free or Discounted Products and Services Can Be a Great Customer Relationship Strategy

September 22, 2011

Students are an excellent audience when prospecting for loyal customers. Engage them early with great products, great deals, and a great customer experience so that they turn to your company when they graduate and are ready to become loyal to a brand. Savvy companies, such as Ford, Apple, and JetBlue, have programs to engage students and turn them into customers for life. Do you?


Students are an excellent audience when prospecting for loyal customers. If you can engage them early with great products (appropriate to their life stage), great deals that take into consideration their limited funds, and a wonderful customer experience, they are more likely to turn to your company when they graduate and are ready to buy in earnest and remain loyal to a brand throughout their lifetime.

So think about your student marketing strategy:

• Is seeding a younger market a strategy that can work to make your company an industry standard?

• Does your firm offer a student discount program that encourages repeat buying behavior to instill the habit of buying your products or services?

• Do you treat students with discounts with the same respect as all other customers?

• Do you have a successful strategy to engage and establish relationships with college students early so that they will continue to be loyal customers throughout their lifetimes?

• Do you offer a student buying or discount program? How easy is it for your target audience to find out about it? How easy and attractive is it for students to convert to becoming “regular” customers once they’re no longer students?

• What online tools do your firm offer that would be valuable for students? How easy is it for them to find these resources? Do you measure your tools’ effectiveness based on student penetration, as well as sales conversions?

• What student competitions does your firm sponsor? How many students are actively engaged each year? How well does student engagement in sponsored competitions translate into brand loyalty?

• Are there potential partners that can introduce your products to a younger audience and help pave the way for long lasting customer relationships?

Ford’s Partnership with Zipcar

 Ford's Partnership with Zipcar

© 2011 Zipcar

Illustration 1. Not only has Ford made a deal that gets college students driving their cars, but the partnership with Zipcar promotes a discount from Ford, helping spread brand-based good will.


Today’s Young Innocent Faces Will Be Tomorrow’s Clientele

When I was pretty young, about nine, I first heard the Tom Lehrer song, “The Old Dope Peddler,” first recorded by the songwriter in 1953. The song is a very gentle, melodic ditty about an itinerant seller of illegal drugs. It wasn’t until I was a bunch of years older that I realized what the song was really about. The bridge of the song goes:

He gives the kids free samples,
Because he knows full well
That today's young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow's clientele.

Although the merchandise in question isn’t commendable, the marketing message is one that rings true, and has great import in an increasingly competitive economy: target potential customers early, and they will become and remain loyal and profitable throughout their lifetimes.

Targeting children in advertising has long been a controversial topic. And advertising to kids has gone far beyond the toy commercials during Saturday morning cartoons to lifestyle choices, like where and what to eat, where to vacation, and how to dress to be popular in school.

According to “Pediatrics:”

Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use… Several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply “business as usual.”

But what about selling to older students, especially college students? These young adults are embarking on lives independent from their parents; they are (hopefully) sufficiently discriminating to make more intelligent purchase decisions than children. And they will continue to be someone’s customers for the rest of their lives. Why not yours? Do you have a strategy to engage and establish relationships with college students early so that they will continue to be loyal customers through out their lifetimes?


Students as Target Demographic versus as Customers Who Will Grow with You

Many companies offer student-specific offers, especially in college neighborhoods, for restaurants, bars, movies, night clubs, spring break vacation packages, or rock concerts. And this is a great strategy for filling seats in venues that are particularly appealing to a young crowd. But how likely are the customers who received these discounts to come back time and time again over the next few decades?

The marketing strategy I’m talking about isn’t for these types of youth-oriented venues or products. If this is your only target demographic, you know how to market to it, and you’ll continue to focus on acquiring new college students as the current generation ages out of your sweet spot. But for companies with a range of offerings that span life stages, what you want to do is create customers for life who will continue to buy your products and services for many years to come.

Make Sure Students Know about Your Discount Programs

Even if you have established student engagement/discount programs, they won’t bring in the fledgling customers unless they know about the offers. The “Chicago Tribune” reported...

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