How brands can build and sustain relationships with 18- to 24-year-olds

By using the right message on the right platform, brands can really engage with 18- to 24-year-olds, writes James Eder, founder of The Beans Group and Student Beans.com.

Young people aged 18-24 are key to numerous markets, from mobile, fashion and technology to alcohol, snack foods and entertainment. This audience spends money and in the case of students, who account for around half the UK youth population, they contribute an estimated £20 billion to the UK economy every year.

However, there is a perception that this age group is hard to reach and even more challenging to engage. It’s true that young people are usually clear on what they want and have fully-formed perceptions about different products, services and brands. However, our research here at The Beans Group shows that with relevant messages and via platforms that they actually use, 18- to 24-year-olds can be a highly engaged audience for brands.

Freshers and the university experience

For any marketing professional looking to engage and influence students, new students are considered a priority and Freshers' Week is a significant event in the calendar. Most youth-focussed organisations invest a big slice of their budget to capture the interest of freshers as well as returning students.

Research from our recent Freshers Marketing Report reveals that 87% of 18-24s want brands to entertain, inform and inspire them. When asked which brands they remembered seeing at Freshers' last year (at a Freshers' Fair, online or in advertising around campus), Domino’s, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Lucozade, Endsleigh and Asda were some of the names that came out on top. With free slices of pizza, the pizza companies are obviously a big hit, while both Nando’s and Lucozade coincidently engaged students with a Wheel of Fortune style game which delivered guaranteed prizes.

Almost half of respondents said explicitly that they do not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they do not follow a single brand.

The significance of Freshers' Fair activity is demonstrated by 47% of students who say it’s the place they remember seeing the best advertising. However, the effectiveness of other channels, notably digital, cannot be ignored.

The right platform and the right message

Our research found that students spend more time online than they do watching TV and socialising with friends. Thirty three per cent of students say they spend more than 20 hours a week online while at university. Convenience, novelty and a love of online shopping were key reasons why students said they loved our recent campaign freshersfields.com for The National Online Freshers’ Fair, and over 90 brands including GBK, HP, Ocado, The Guardian, Sky, Nando’s, Papa Johns are involved this year.

This generation expects services "on demand" and they want choice - they are beginning a new journey as independent consumers and are defining themselves through the brands they choose and online gives them a great platform to do this.

Social media marketing has been top of mind for brands targeting 18-24s. Brands have learned the importance of transparency, relevance and shared conversation versus traditional push approaches. We know young people are big users of social media - 97% in our recent survey use Facebook and 45% are on Twitter. However what do they want and expect from brands through these platforms?

Those that do follow brands have clear expectations. They want either material gain - free products, a good discount or a winnable competition - or they want to be entertained. That’s pretty much it. Having a conversation does not feature. Almost half of respondents said explicitly that they do not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they do not follow a single brand.

It’s not about using the latest platforms and suddenly creating an app or a Vine account, it’s about being useful, relevant or at the very least entertaining.

Mobile is also key - we know that more and more students are visiting studentbeans.com on the go. Thirty six per cent of students say they would like to be able to use their mobile phone to buy things in shops, while over half of respondents (51%) say they mainly check email and social media on their phone. We’re about to launch a free digital student ID which enables students to claim deals and discounts both online and in-store at well known brands, high street shops, restaurants and entertainment venues and will also introduce them to new businesses that provide a student discount in their local area.

It’s not about using the latest platforms and suddenly creating an app or a Vine account, it’s about being useful, relevant or at the very least entertaining.

It’s not just about freshers

We always use the phrase "Students are for life, not just for freshers". Too many brands think a freshers event covers this market for the year, when in fact it only works with sustained follow-up, keeping the brand fresh and at the front of students' minds. It's not just about first impressions, it's an opportunity to build loyal consumers who will choose a brand at university and stick with it through adulthood.

Companies and brands must engage with the 18-24-year-olds through the right marketing channels, using straightforward, clear and most importantly, relevant messaging. By investing money and time building a relationship with the youth market, we know that brands can gain new customers for life.

1,515 university students in the UK took part in an online survey for the Freshers Marketing Report 2013. The panel of 18-24 year olds is owned by The Beans Group.

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