Back-To-School Market For College Students Winds Up

The customary back-to-school season ends in September, but online opportunities to sell into the college market are just winding up. Students receive their college acceptance letters in the springtime, start thinking about their needs and future classmates, and begin months of social conversations that influence their buying patterns. Retailers that recognize and understand college students’ behaviors then assist with effective online engagement will leverage these selling windows best.

A back-to-college report, titled: The New College Orientation: How Social Media Has Revolutionized Back-To-School, highlighted the activity, engagement and conversations across 200 Class of 2015 Facebook communities made up of more than 50,000 students who generated more than 50,000 threads. It summarized the overall back-to-college activity across the spring-to-summer journey into eight core themes:

  • Making Friends;
  • School Spirit;
  • Orientation;
  • Residential Life;
  • Local Activity;
  • Student Life;
  • Academics; and
  • Social Marketplace.

“By understanding the different discussions taking place and when these conversations are happening,” the study noted, “brands can identify where they can add value and when to engage.”


The online communities students create represent the incoming class at their future school, according to the report from MRY, a branding agency. “This indicates a dramatic shift in the flow of information, taking the power away from the admissions office and putting it in the hands of socially-empowered students who connect with future classmates and important information on-demand and online.”

The MRY report highlights five key takeaways for brand marketers planning their college-related marketing initiatives:

  1. Understand what this journey represents;
  2. Deliver core need states;
  3. Timing is everything;
  4. Harness organic engagement; and
  5. Empower students’ social nature.

The analysis revealed “an unprecedented understanding of the journey through the lens, lives and keystrokes of the students themselves,” noted the report. “The key to unlocking the power of back-to-school lies in understanding where along this new journey your brand can add value to the student experience, solve a problem, and deliver against a need.”

College Students Become Loyal Customers

The transformation to college years plays an important role for a student’s identity.
For the first time, students are making cross-category purchasing decisions and forming buying patterns and brand loyalties they will take with them throughout their lifes, the report indicated.

“This new chapter offers [students] a unique ability to recreate themselves, reshaping the identity and reputation they’ve developed over the past 18 years,” according to the study. “They use the six-month journey to architect the person they want to become the moment they arrive on campus; Playing a key role in the journey will keep [brands] top-of-mind as students create their new identities.”

Brands must provide students with the necessary tools, and at the right time. Companies that solve a student’s need in a timely fashion within the journey provide the relevance and value needed to achieve traction and online engagement across the incoming class. 

Leveraging Online Connections

Retailers must understand the type of engagement each online conversation generates and which topics garner the highest level of engagement. Brands should design programs that “harness this activity,” the report noted, “to power and propel [the experience] with excited students, eager to engage.”

Don’t just solve their needs, but “bake in social through every step of the process,” the study indicated. “If your tools help students design their dorm rooms [then] offer the ability to share their ‘dream dorm’ across social to collaborate with roommates and get friends’ input on selected products.”

Understanding needs of the college student is critical to developing long-term customer loyalty, and successful brands are paying close attention to the online community and connecting with students along the journey.

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