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How To Really Reach College Students


SheerID Mascot Kelly cheers on the teamMarketing to college students should be simple. Every year, over 20 million people attend a university or junior college – many for the first time. That’s millions of prime consumers in the market for everything from new furniture and textbooks to the latest in fashion, tech, media and more. They’re plugged into multiple advertising channels from new media – social networks, news, blogs – and traditional outlets like tv, radio, campus newsletters – you name it. It should be so simple to reach college students, so why isn’t it?

The most important lesson students learn from their college experience is how to stretch a tight budget and most learn quickly to look for student discounts when they shop. A recent survey showed that 82% of students will respond to a student discount of 20% or more. 64% of college students want to receive emails about student discounts.

Perfect, right? Before you go rally the team to rev up your student ad blitz, understand why even some of the top brands and stores in the country struggle with effectively using student discounts online: Enrollment Verification.

In other words: How do you know the person using a promo code on your website is really a college student? What happens if that promo code meant for students leaks and most of your regular customers stock up at a discounted price? Goodbye, profit margin. So long, ROI.

Successfully marketing a student-only promotional discount has proven to be a challenge for even the savviest marketing minds. Every summer, mega-brands spend billions advertising back-to-school discounts, but many struggle to convert those ad dollars into new customers online because they use convoluted, archaic methods of verifying student enrollment, including:

  • .edu email loop – Some online retailers require student shoppers to have a .edu email address in order to claim their discount. Problem: 34% of colleges do NOT issue .edu email addresses and thereby cannot complete their purchase. That’s 34% of their targeted customer base who are ready to buy, but turned away during checkout.
  • Faxing a copy of student ID – Another outdated method of verification asks student shoppers to fax or scan a copy of their student ID to customer service and wait for approval. Problem: this process requires more work and overtime from the customer service dept and more headache for the shoppers.

The #1 rule to improve shopping cart conversion is to provide an easy, hassle-free checkout process. The more loopholes and special requests asked of a shopper, the less likely they will complete the purchase. Shopping cart conversion rates drop over 30% with just one extra step.

infographic showing the student discount verification processSo why do so many companies attempt to verify student enrollment with counterproductive, cost-prohibitive methods that frustrate their shoppers and tank their ROI? Because they don’t know about eligibility verification technology, like SheerID’s.

The early stages of a student-targeted ad campaign are crucial. If those first student shoppers struggle to use the advertised discount, they’ll take their frustration to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. to steer their peers away from that site. 77% of students reported a bad experience the last time they tried to use a student discount online. 42%of students say they abandon shopping carts when using a discount is too difficult. Negative attention towards a brand or campaign can neutralize advertising dollars in a social media minute.

Instead, imagine if those first shoppers have a good shopping experience. They’ll share that with their social circles too. College students are super-promoters and an easy to use discount can quickly turn into positive buzz about the rare website that does student discounts right.

Look at the competition in your industry. Are they targeting students effectively? Are they frustrating their shoppers with obstacles and mazes during the checkout process? Could you do a better job and turn their failures into your best new customers and top brand promoters? You could be successfully reaching one of the many prime consumer groups (including students, alumni, teachers, military personnel, veterans, nonprofits and more…) who seek discounts when they shop.

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