How to take on event planning & marketing to college students

marketing to college students

I recently took over the marketing department at my university’s bookstore. As a primarily commuter campus, our store’s goal for marketing was “outreach, outreach, outreach.” This meant creating and executing events that would bring more students into the store and create an elevated awareness of our presence in the university population.

When you throw an event for a company you work for, whether you’re in charge of the marketing department or were just given the opportunity to pull something together, there are a few things to keep in mind that could help you to go from just throwing an event to succeeding at it.

There is no event if no one shows up.

Merely planning an event is not enough, you have to effectively market the event to your audience for it to be truly successful.

In my experience, trying to captivate the attention of anyone, especially college students, is very difficult. More than ever, people are moving and sifting through messages faster and faster. The American Marketing Association reports that people’s attention is the most scarce resource of any modern marketing plan. Whether it’s email, signage, flyers, or even word of mouth, people are capable of seeing and instantly dismissing any message. This means that whatever message you are putting out there has to be something worthy of their extended attention.

When I am marketing for the college campus community, I keep those statistics in mind. Because of the fact that my college student target audience have lives where they are constantly busy and merely skimming through every message they see, my goal is to get my message to them in as many ways as possible.

It is only because I have identified the habits of my target audience that I know this works best for my brand. You should take time to do the same; identify who your audience is, and then, how, when, where, and why they consume their media.

Every student has different media consumption habits; some delete all their emails and spend all day on social media, some will only ever see an email, some will only see signage, etc. So, I will do my best to cover all of those bases, repeatedly. (This includes any social media, the university weekly Events Calendar email blast, paper signage/handouts, and digital signage which is projected on screens around the Student Center.) I find that if I update every single possible place with messages about my event (starting about a month to three weeks beforehand) the majority of students will see it, and I will have the most success. Because I repeatedly hit up these things with posts and graphics, they will see my message more than once, driving some familiarity and curiosity about it.

This tactic of coming at the consumer from all possible angles is not the best for every target audience. In fact, with some target audiences it might drive annoyance more than anything. It is only because I have identified the habits of my target audience that I know this works best for my brand. You should take time to do the same; identify who your audience is, and then, how, when, where, and why they consume their media.

When you are faced with the task of getting the word out about an event, come up with an exact plan that you can see through to the end. Identifying your target audience will help you compile a list of every place you want a message to be. Finalizing this list should be your first step.

This list turned into my most critical organizational tool as it kept me focused and aware of every outlet I wanted during my entire planning process. Once you have identified your outlets, your message should be finalized. Customize the message for each outlet and then track progress in your original list. The more places your message appears, the more likely people are to start recognizing it and gaining interest in attending, which, leads to my next point:

Incentivize

College students often are looking out for number one: themselves.

In order to get people interested in coming to my events, I create some sort of incentive. People, and students especially, are extremely busy, so they won’t come to an event unless they benefit or they see the potential to benefit.

The most effective incentive for a store event is a discount on your merchandise. If your company is able, offer anywhere between 5-15% off one item when they come to your event. If this doesn’t apply to your company or brand, consider having guests be able to enter a drawing when they attend an event. I recently had success doing a giveaway for a $100 gift card to an upscale restaurant which brought people in because they wanted to win, and then ended up staying for the actual event.

If giveaways aren’t your thing, bring something to the event which will benefit your guests. As crazy as this sounds, one of my most successful incentives was when I brought in dogs from a local animal shelter for a stress relief event. My target audience go crazy for adorable dogs so I knew having some at my event would inspire a lot people to come. The best part about having something out of the ordinary like this is that word-of-mouth marketing comes into play. People texted and Snapchatted their friends when they saw an opportunity to play with some adorable puppies and encouraged their friends to also enjoy the experience. Therein lies your success: When people step into your space and see what you have to offer them and they like what they see. So, make sure what you’re offering is clear, obvious, and noteworthy. 

Interaction

Interaction with guests is absolutely critical to building a clientele and leading to more success in the future.

When you throw an event, introduce yourself and your colleagues to new faces and old. Whether you’re representing a large corporation or a small family-owned business, connections between people make a huge impact. Customer interaction is now more important than ever, with 54% of some companies rating customer interaction as being in their top 5 list of priorities, and half of those rating it their #1 priority.

You build trust when your guests can identify a face, voice, or attitude that they automatically can associate with your brand. One successful event will only lead to more successful events if you have made your attendees want to come back. This doesn’t mean leaving them happy, but leaving them happy AND wanting more.

Measure your success and identify your weaknesses.

Once you’ve thrown your first event, you will have a much better idea of what to plan for in future event panning. I’m not ashamed to say my first event didn’t go over that well because it enabled me to identify what I was doing wrong. If your attendance is low, you didn’t market or incentivize enough. If people came but seemed less than impressed, you didn’t plan or interact well enough.

With each event you plan, what works best will become more and more obvious and you will be able to expand and focus on those things that will create effective and successful events for your brand. And remember, marketing is an ever-changing field, so always try new things in order to be more successful,.


Hannah Krisinski is a junior at Cleveland State University, where she studies Journalism and Promotional Communications and minors in Digital Design. She currently handles marketing, promotional work, and event planning for the CSU bookstore, where she is able to use creativity and innovative ideas to engage in campus life nearly every day.