Last Updated: November 14, 2020

The starving student stereotype is not as true as you may think. While it is true that students have been spending fewer dollars as the cost of education rises, they still hold control of over $417 billion dollars, according to a 2011 survey conducted by re:fuel– a leading youth media company.

The college student market is massive, and businesses have taken notice by focusing marketing efforts solely on college campuses. Using a technique known as campus marketing, these companies, or the marketing firms they hire, create events, contests, social media campaigns and other marketing strategies that speak directly to the needs and wants of today’s college students.

Companies and marketing firms hire students on campuses across the country to serve as brand ambassadors to promote their brands’ products through campus events and social networking campaigns. These ambassadors are knowledgeable about popular campus hang-outs and traditions, and they sometimes recruit their friends to help spread a brand’s message.

Although brand ambassadors with large online followings can make a significant impact on how much a brand is recognized and liked on campus, ambassadors also reach other students face-to-face at campus events (See also Field Marketing). Students are more likely to trust fellow students with whom they feel they have a lot in common. Campus marketing utilizes both online and in-person interactions in a very effective way for brands to spread the word about their products.

Campus Marketing Strategies

  • Hiring brand ambassadors to spread the word online and on campus
  • Direct selling to students on campus
  • Sponsorship of special events on campus for students
  • Giving away free samples to students
  • Hiring students to help with move-in day
  • Offering special promotions just for students

Campus marketing efforts seek to enhance students’ experiences on campus, not change them. They want their brands to be seen as a part of the fun of being a student on each individual campus.

In return for their efforts, student representatives may get college credit, money, or free merchandise from brands they represent. Some marketing companies and start-ups also provide job counseling, resume polishing, and recommendation letters when they cannot afford to pay their ambassadors.

Who Uses Campus Marketing?

Brands across dozens of industries employ campus marketing techniques as part of their efforts to reach college students, hiring approaximately 10,000 college students to work on multiple campuses in the fall of 2010 in exchange for money, branded items, and work experience.

Red Bull, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and other companies of both large and small size are participating in the campus marketing crusade. Red Bull, for example, has student brand ambassadors on 300 campuses hosting events ranging from music lectures to chariot races. Microsoft Windows representatives provide hands-on product demonstrations to fellow students on over 300 campuses as well.

Foursquare, the application through which people check-in at their current locations, and Rent the Runway, an Internet designer dress rental company, have also used campus marketing tactics to increase their sales. Moreover, American Eagle sponsors move-in events and, as of fall 2010, had plans to collaborate with college recreation facilities to create intramural sports uniforms and outfit their fitness instructors. The clothing company also hosts a yearly competition for marketing students in which the finalists pitch their projects to high-level executives.

Discretionary Spending of College Students

Companies take advantage of the large amount of discretionary spending income students possess with campus marketing. Students spend two-fifths of their monthly incomes on items such as clothes, travel, entertainment and other similar expenses.

Who Responds to Campus Marketing?

College students are the main targets of campus marketing campaigns; however, students who become used to buying a particular brand in college will likely continue to use it for years to come. Their influence on younger siblings and friends from high school is also important to companies who use campus marketing. Many companies will bend over backwards to cater to the large, influential college student market. (See also Influencer Marketing)

How is a Campus Marketing Plan Developed and Employed?

Target: One of many campus marketers

In the fall of 2010, Target continued the tradition on the University of North Carolina campus begun in 2007. It sponsored a dinner for new freshmen, and then it bussed them to a local Target to do some last-minute, late-night shopping. About 2,200 students participated.

Part of an officially-sanctioned university program to welcome freshmen, Target has taken advantage of campus marketing at UNC to increase the influence it has on today’s college students. Over sixty other campuses participate in such private Target shopping events as well.

A company that would like to market to college students can create and implement their own campus marketing strategies, or it can hire a marketing firm. First, a company must conduct research into the specific campuses and types of students it wants to target. Surveys of students and analysis of competition is necessary to start a successful campus marketing campaign.

Next, a business must develop a message, a branding plan and recruit student representatives. Finding student representatives also requires careful planning and can be done through social networking, email, online and school newspaper advertisements, for example.

Finally, a company must oversee its student ambassadors and monitor the effectiveness of each marketing event and effort and adjust its marketing strategy as necessary over time. Companies must remain flexible in campus marketing as they are marketing to some of the fastest-moving consumers in the country. Their interests and the best ways of reaching them change often.

A campus marketing plan requires cooperation from a number of professionals in marketing, advertising, promotions and finance. They work together to spread the word of their products on college campuses.

What Types of Careers Work with Campus Marketing Strategies?

Marketing Research Analyst

What do they do?

Salaries of Marketing Positions

These salaries are based on careers that utilize campus marketing regularly.

Career Type:25th PercentileMedian75th Percentile
Marketing Specialist$43,930$60,250$84,690
Public Relations Specialist$39,560$53,190$72,840
Marketing Managers$59,780$87,650$128,840

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Marketing research analysts concentrate on collecting and examining data on consumers in different geographic areas to determine potential markets for their company’s products or services. They use questionnaires, surveys, polls and other data gathering methods to learn about past, current and potential customers. In a campus marketing effort, they may create focus groups or surveys of students to learn what is important to them.

A large part of marketing analysis is assisting businesses in understanding to whom, what and at what price they should market. Analysts predict and look closely at patterns in marketing and sales. It is important to determine how effective marketing plans have been. Using the data that they have collected, they create reports and visuals to help company executives make marketing decisions.

Education and Skills

Marketing researchers generally have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, public relations, computer science, math, communications, statistics or business administration. Social science majors also work as marketing analysts as they can provide insight into how customers think and make decisions. Some management positions require applicants to have a master’s degree in marketing or business administration.

Analysts must have strong critical-thinking and analytical skills and be detail-oriented in order to make decisions based on data from consumer-based research. It is important to have good communication and interpersonal skills as they regularly work with department heads, employees and the public.

Public Relations Specialists

What do they do?

The job of public relations specialists is to develop and keep a positive public image for their clients or employers. They create media releases, public relations programs, and identify groups whom to market to and decide how best to reach them. If they work for nonprofits, they may also raise revenue through fundraising.

In the case of campus marketing, they may identify sub-groups of college students and determine that they are best reached through on-campus sporting events or through free apps for smart phones. They have a good understanding of the attitudes and needs of these niche markets.

Education and Skills

Public relations specialists usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in public relations, business, English, journalism or communications. Specialists receive training on the job. Some employers offer formal training programs or more informal mentorship training under senior employees. Training can take between one month and a year.

New specialists often collect articles about their employers and clients and gather information for speeches. After gaining some experience, specialists begin to write speeches and articles, and then create and oversee public relations programs.

Interpersonal skills are vital for public relations specialists in order to communicate with the public. They must build positive relationships with the media and their clients. Organizational and problem-solving skills are also important in this position. They may handle many clients at once, and must demonstrate tact to deal with sensitive public relations issues.

Public relations specialists should also be excellent researchers as they may interview high-level executives to gain information for their campaigns. It is also important to have superior speaking and writing skills in order to contact the media regularly and present their clients or employers clearly and in a positive light.

Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers

What do they do?

The work of advertising, promotions and marketing managers centers on creating interest in a product or service. Each of these managers works with other department heads to discuss products, advertising methods and contracts. They also collect data to develop advertising and marketing campaigns. In campus marketing, advertising managers generate interest among college students who buy their products or services and prepare budgets for campaigns. They typically work in media firms or for companies that conduct large-scale advertising.

Promotions managers are in charge of initiatives that mix promotions like sales, free samples and advertising. They may use internet ads, on-campus special events or other methods to successfully market to students in a campus advertising program.

Marketing managers approximate how much demand there is among college students for the company’s products and services, as well as those of competitors. They also find new markets to sell to and create profitable pricing schemes.

Education and Skills

Advertising, promotions and marketing managers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree, perhaps in advertising or journalism. Math, statistics, accounting, economics, business management and other similar courses are also beneficial to these professions. Managers typically have several years of work experience. For example, a marketing manager may have formerly worked as a student brand ambassador and then as a marketing researcher.

Managers should be creative and have good decision-making skills. Reaching consumers where they live in an appealing way requires constant brainstorming and innovative thinking. Making business decisions and having good budgeting, time management and human resources skills are also integral to management positions.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

A marketing program can provide students with a specialized education that will give them an edge over other job candidates and allow them to develop skills necessary for successfully oversee a campus marketing campaign.

It allows students to expand their communication skills in marketing courses by presenting marketing plans and practicing public speaking. Feedback from instructors and at-home practice will help students become effective marketers and learn to speak directly to a particular audience.

Furthermore, students will learn to develop and market a brand from start to finish so that consumers will respond by buying the products. It is important to learn what appeals to consumers and how they make decisions through coursework in consumer psychology classes (See also Consumer Psychology).

Finally, students can gain practical marketing work experience in a marketing program. Marketing programs offer faculty and administrators with solid relationships with marketing firms, some of which may even market on your campus. Networking at your school will help you find internships and externships that will assist you in building your resume.

Analysis and critical thinking skills are also important aspects of campus marketing. Identification of marketing trends and patterns from large amounts of data is a central part of using campus marketing to increase sales. Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers; and, marketing and public relations specialists must also be creative thinkers. They design focus groups, surveys, polls and other ways to gather the information they need from consumers. It is important for them to be good problem-solvers, and determine how to best connect with college students through campus marketing campaigns.

Communication and interpersonal skills are also important to campus marketers as they work with the public, colleagues and clients on a regular basis. They are reliable, knowledgeable decision makers and valuable managers of their team. These marketing professionals know how to connect with the people to whom they try to sell. They spend a significant amount of time and effort understanding what appeals to and is important to college-aged students.