How to Advertise to Students in 2021: The Complete Student Marketing Guide

Content Last Updated on June 3, 2021

Note from the author: If you are looking for student marketing help, whether that’s reaching 1m+ students per month through email marketing, social media marketing, or live and virtual event solutions, please contact us. If you are interested in being part of the UK’s largest live and Virtual Freshers events, then you can find out more information here. 

There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment on how organisations, recruiters and brands can engage with students and create effective marketing campaigns with strong ROI.

In this guide, we aim to outline the best ways to market your brand to students in 2021. It is a ‘living’ guide so we will be updating it as we get feedback from Universities, from marketers and receive updates on COVID-19 related public policy.

Having worked with UK students for 15+ years, Freshers Festival prides itself in being a hub for student marketing and outreach. We have a deep understanding of the student market, and how brands can connect and engage with them. This guide takes into account the current coronavirus pandemic, considers how marketing has been impacted over the last few months, and how your brand can keep engaged with a student audience caused by social distancing issues.

Student Marketing – A Quick Summary:

  • Students are a highly diverse group (the majority are older than 19). Marketers need to think carefully about messaging and possibly market segmentation.
  • They are value seekers and money conscious. Organisations must offer value for money where possible. Students offer companies a massive potential customer life-time value if they are perceived as useful or supportive during the student years.
  • Social Spending is a priority. Students are willing to spend money but want to recap the benefits socially. How can brands differentiate themselves by tapping into the desire for social activity? How can this be achieved with current restrictions on large groups and gatherings?
  • First year student numbers are growing year on year. The freshers student market has a population of over 500,000 in Higher Education alone.
  • Student spending is set to increase. Student spending isn’t slowing down, combining the above can help brands unlock a huge potential market, with a predicted worth of £30Bn!

Live Events. Face-to-Face, Freshers Fairs and Experiential Marketing:

With  face-to-face marketing not being possible last year, the students’ appetite for events is massive. We’re excited about the roadmap introducing live events and cannot wait to get back to connecting brands with students.

A detailed roadmap to live freshers events in 2021 can be found here.

When things finally start to go back to normal, it is important to be prepared for what many marketers agree is the number one way to promote your brand to students: face-to-face marketing.

Here is a story from one of our previous clients at Freshers Festival:

A well-known drinks company launched a new energy drink in 2019. This drink was to be targeted at young people, and the company’s marketing team were given £1 million to promote the brand. As is normal for a large company, the team pursued a number of different marketing avenues, including social media promotion, digital marketing, billboards, and other ads. The team also attended Freshers Festival to promote their drink at the event. A few months after the launch, the company undertook a survey to see where young people had heard about the drink. Here are the results:

  • Traditional Adverts – 24.4%
  • Social Media – 17.3%
  • Freshers Festival – 56.7%

The cost of the advertising efforts: more than £1 million. The cost of attending Freshers Festival: a few thousands pounds. The event took up less than 0.3% of their advertising budget, but provided over 50% of brand awareness for their new product amongst the students they surveyed. That’s what you call a good ROI.

The point of this case study is not to show off the success of our event (okay, maybe a little), but to show off the potential success of face-to-face marketing.

Research has suggested that 98% of people feel more inclined to purchase a product after attending a face-to-face activation (EventTrack).

What is face-to-face marketing?

Face-to-face and experiential marketing simply involves directly promoting your product to potential customers through in-person means, often at an event or pop-up. Face-to-face marketing does not just have to be about sales, it can also be used to help improve brand awareness, brand experience, and brand engagement.

Face-to-face marketing works through the psychological process of ‘affect transfer’. If a customer has a fun or positive experience with the employees / marketers of the brand, they will ‘transfer’ these emotions to the brand itself, and the brand will be thought of as fun or positive in the customer’s mind. Face-to-face marketing also works due to its personal nature. Customers are much more likely to purchase products from a brand if they have a perceived emotional or personal connection to it, something that can easily be

The rapid advancements in technology over recent decades – particularly since the turn of the century – have indisputably changed the way brands talk to customers and, more importantly, how customers talk to brands, and brands listen.

In a world where companies are able to reach millions of consumers with the click of a button through social media, it’s necessary to evaluate the benefits of the different tactics available within the 21st Century marketing mix. Evaluating these as a combination of available tools will help companies decide on the right blend of solutions that will best support them to reach qualified customers and build meaningful (and profitable) relationships. Regardless of how valuable social media and other mass marketing tools are at reaching large audiences, CMO of MC2 Rob Murphy points out that “face-to-face engagement creates a personal connection and builds trust between a company and its target audience.”

Through Freshers Festival, we’ve found that face-to-face marketing provides brands with a platform to build deep relationships with customers and, as Rob Gibbs, Business Development Director at Appco UK claims, “give the brand a real personality”.

Still unsure about face-to-face marketing? Here are some stats that you might find surprising:

  • 90% of consumers have more positive feelings towards a brand after attending an event
  • 85% of consumers consider themselves ‘likely’ to purchase after participating in face-to-face experiences
  • 71% of consumers share information about their experience of face-to-face marketing with their friends / family.
  • 75% of large companies who engage in face-to-face marketing see a huge ROI of 5:1 (EMI & Mosaic, EventTrack)

Evidently, face-to-face marketing is one of the best methods of connecting your brand with a student audience.

So with live freshers events looking likely in 2021, creating a plan to include face-to-face marketing in your future marketing strategies is a good idea, in order to fully engage with students.

We are already seeing hundreds of sign ups per week for our live Freshers Festivals even though we have not started to promote them so we can clearly see there is a desire from students for live events to return. Last year, more than ever before, students did not have the ability to meet students through traditional channels so we understand that events such as the Freshers Festivals provide more than just a chance to meet brands and grab freebies. We are currently planning our live Freshers Festivals so that they can return, in a new COVID-19 suitable format. More information on the UK’s biggest freshers fairs (Freshers Festival London and Freshers Festival Glasgow) can be found here and if you need help in creating an amazing, engaging freshers campaign feel free to reach out to us.

Virtual Events:

Before discussing the more ‘traditional’ student marketing methods, it is only right that we discuss how student marketing has been impacted by the tragic Covid-19 pandemic.

With lockdowns and social distancing, many of the best methods of marketing to students (such as face-to-face marketing) have been unavailable. Furthermore, digital marketing budgets have been cut, and some forms of influencer marketing are much more difficult than they were before.

However, one thing that has grown significantly throughout 2020 is the push toward virtual events. Hosted on online platforms, these events have the potential to reach a much wider audience. The events can be paid-for or free, and are usually hosted on an online event platform. Don’t know where to start? Here are some of the best platforms to host your virtual event. There are a few types of virtual event we have seen working well for students:

  • Virtual conferences & tradeshows
  • Webinars
  • Live music events and festivals

Webinars are shorter online video conferences, allowing you to present either live or pre-recorded video. They can allow for Q&A sessions, and are generally best for educational purposes. Many students have already experienced ‘webinar’ type functions if they have had online lectures which makes this channel known. A webinar is not too different from a Zoom call, as it allows for live interaction between an expert and the attendees.

But how can you market to students in a webinar? Webinars are highly conducive to learning or employment content. If you are looking to hire student employees, or bring in student ambassadors, then webinars are a great way to do this. Simply run a free webinar, and use it to teach students about the benefits of your brand. The good thing about free webinars is that they are fairly cheap to run, and even cheaper to market. You will get many sign-ups for a free webinar, and conversion rates from sign-ups to attendees is still strong given the vast increase of options (2018 benchmarks suggest these are around 45%), which is an excellent return for a free ‘event’.

Virtual conferences, on the other hand, are much more advanced than webinars, and are very similar to a real physical event. Much like in-person events, virtual conferences include keynote speakers, live Q&A sessions, pre-recorded content, networking opportunities, promotional content, giveaways/competitions, and much more. Virtual conferences have an agenda/timetable, and attendees can watch exactly what is relevant to them, just like in a physical event.

Virtual conferences have limitless marketing potential for students.

Through creating relevant content, you can promote any sort of brand to an interested student audience. For example, if you are a sustainable food / drink brand, you can deliver a talk about sustainability in the food industry to students with a passion for the environment. Within this talk, you can promote your own brand, and the engaged audience will be much more likely to visit your website and order your products as a result.

Giveaways are another fantastic way to engage with attendees at a virtual conference. Many virtual conference platforms offer engaging ways to deliver giveaways, such as anyone who watches a short promotional video can be entered into the giveaway. This will allow you to get your message across, whilst still creating a positive brand experience for your customers. Overall, there are countless ways to market your brand in a virtual conference, and they provide a method of truly engaging with an audience that is otherwise almost impossible during this period of social distancing.


Virtual Freshers Festival Events:

Speaking of virtual conferences aimed specifically at students, Virtual Freshers Festival 2020 was the biggest in the UK, with more than 36,500 students taking part.

In 2021 we will be ramping up further providing brands with a platform to engage with students in a variety of creative ways, helping to deliver everything from brand awareness, to greater brand experience and engagement.

We have a number of digital and virtual events planned to cater for the time of year, focusing on the needs of school leavers and students at that particular time.

Each brand receives a “channel” within the Virtual Freshers Festival and from within that channel, they can showcase every element of their business which is relevant to our audience. So for a food brand, for example, it’s not just about the food itself (although that can be a big part) but about the job opportunities they offer, the sustainability programmes they are running, talks on their corporate diversity, interactive cooking sessions – giving a much deeper insight into the brand and what it stands for.

With tens of thousands of students in attendance, it is the perfect way to showcase your brand to the UK’s student audience throughout 2021.

If you want to find out more, please check out our information page here.


Influencer Marketing:

One form of marketing that has seen rapid growth over the past 5 years, of course, is influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing simply involves using a person of ‘influence’, usually someone with a large following on social media, to promote your product for you. This works so well as influencers have an extremely loyal following, and their audience will be much more likely to listen to them about a brand promotion, rather than listen to the brand itself. As a result, influencer marketing often achieves significant return on investment, with firms earning an average earned media value of $5.20 for every $1 spent on influencers.

Influencer marketing can also be fairly cheap. Depending on the industry you are in, influencers with less than 10,000 followers (micro-influencers) will promote your brand for free or at low cost in exchange for free product.

Even influencers with up to 100,000 followers can often be extremely cost effective to collaborate with. However, don’t be afraid to invest in a larger influencer. Smaller influencers can often have a ‘fake’ following based on follows from other influencers (who follow for engagement purposes), or fake accounts. For large influencers, this is much less likely to be the case, and this is something which you should always bear in mind.

Like any form of marketing spend be sure to carry out due diligence on the platform and influencer you are interested in working with.

Finding influencers is often the trickiest part. Of course there are influencer agencies who can do this for you, but these are often expensive. The best way to do this is to simply search on Instagram, Tik Tok, and YouTube for influencers who make content within your niche. For example, if you are a London-based food brand, simply searching “London food” on Instagram will bring you hundreds of results of London food micro-influencers that you could contact.

But how do you get influencer marketing right?

Firstly, make sure the influencer is RELEVANT for your industry. This is the most important thing. If you are a fashion brand, do not try to contact a food influencer to promote your product, it simply won’t work. You need to be as specific as possible. For example, if you are a clothing brand targeting female students, don’t just ask about their followers but make sure that those engaing with their content are the demographic you are seeking to reach. It sounds obvious but many don’t dig deeply into the audiences an influencer actually engages with. Don’t be afraid to ask influencers for a screenshot of their audience insights / demographics in order to ensure you are targeting the right audience.

Secondly, make sure the influencer has a genuine following. Use a website such as Social Blade to check out their statistics over time. If they saw an extremely rapid rise over a short period, and then no growth since, there is the potential that they have bought followers. Similarly, look at the comments on the influencer’s content. If they have 10,000 followers, but only 1-2 comments on their content, then this is likely to be fake/bought followers. When working with influencers, you need to make sure the engagement is as high as possible (at least 5%) so that you will see some traction with your brand.

Lastly, you need some sort of call-to-action that the influencer should encourage. A particularly useful technique is running a giveaway with the influencer, where the audience has to ‘tag a friend’ in the post AND follow your brand’s social media account in order to enter. This ensures your social media following will grow, the post will reach as many people as possible, and your brand experience/image will automatically improve due to the giveaway. Like any marketing campaign, a strong call-to-action is critical.

Overall, influencers are one of the best ways to promote your brand to students in the current climate, and should form an intrinsic part of your marketing strategy moving forward.

If you need support with your Influencer Marketing we have a comprehensive done-for-you service, drop us a line to find out more.


Sponsorship Marketing:

Sponsoring university teams, competitions, and prizes has become somewhat of a forgotten marketing tactic in recent years. Indeed, for smaller brands, the lack of direct sales that can be attributed to sponsorship marketing often means it is not made a priority. However, sponsorship marketing achieves 2 key goals amongst students: Brand awareness and brand image. If students have not heard of a brand, they are not going to purchase it. Similarly, if students do not associate a brand with the student demographic, then they will be much less likely to purchase it. Sponsorship marketing can help increase brand awareness amongst students, as well as improving your brand image, something which is crucial to success in the student market.

What type of university sponsorships are available?

One of the cheapest and most effective sponsorship opportunities involves sponsoring university societies. Sports clubs, interest groups, and student communities are always looking for sponsorships to fund their activities, and this can be a great way to reach a specific niche of students. Platforms such as Sponsor My Society allow you to sign-up and browse potential sponsorship opportunities. Remember, make sure the society you sponsor are as relevant as possible, as you want students to associate your brand name with the activity. For example, if you are a protein bar / energy drink, sponsoring a university rugby or gym club might be a good idea.

You can also sponsor specific aspects of universities, including prizes or events. The Brighton University website has a fantastic range of sponsorship opportunities. If you are looking for recruitment to your company, you should perhaps think about sponsoring a university job fair. Often, this will allow you a specific stand at the event, or a 10 minute guest slot for speaking, which can be an invaluable way to get your brand across to an engaged audience. You can even sponsor a specific prize, enabling your brand name to reach thousands of students simply by purchasing an Amazon gift card to give away (or something similar).

Finally, don’t forget freshers fair sponsorships, whether live or virtual. This is one of the best ways to reach students right at the start of their university life. You can be a named sponsor, have a stand at the event to promote your services, or even receive online social media/email promotions. If you want more information on sponsoring our Freshers Festivals, please get in touch.


Email Marketing:

Email marketing is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Out of all the ways a brand can communicate with its audience, customers generally say that email is the preferred method. Whilst you might not associate email marketing with being effective for students, you cannot ignore the significant ROI that email brings.

Research has suggested email marketing is one of the best possible marketing channels, generating $42 in revenue for every $1 spent. The reason for this is that it is an extremely cheap (or free) marketing channel, meaning every brand should be making use of it.

But how can you market to students using email marketing?

An important thing to remember is that students are much more tech-savvy than the average customer. They have been bombarded with digital marketing tactics throughout their life, and will easily tire of sales speech. Instead, the best thing to do is to create content that they will enjoy. As always, content is king.

Newsletters, for example, are a great way to do this. By putting out a weekly newsletter with interesting student content, links to blog articles, and engaging language, it will dramatically improve your brand image amongst the student demographic. Including some sort of giveaway in your newsletter is also an excellent strategy, as it engages students past simply reading the email. Once you have engaged students via a newsletter, you can then start to promote your products and services.

Early in lockdown we created a new weekly email series “Antidote to Isolation” to bring our subscribers helpful advice, messages of inspiration, deals, freebies and a chance to smile. From its launch until this point we have received consistently strong open and click-through rates showing our audience continues to engage with email.

For consistent and reliable results an email funnel is key in creating an effective system to promote your products to students. This automated series of emails, each one sent a specified period of time apart, helps to build a relationship with the customer before trying to make a sale. In the same way as a newsletter would work, this helps build up brand trust, with each part of the funnel delivering a specific piece of content. Email funnels often work best for more expensive products or services, as these require much more buyer decision time than smaller impulse purchases. Throughout the funnel, you can slowly outline how your product/service can solve a problem the student is facing, so that when the final part of the funnel comes with a call to action to buy, a sale will become much more likely.

What platform should I use?

Whether you want to create a newsletter, an email funnel, or simply market your brand through email, you need an email marketing platform. Even if you only have a small audience, using an email marketing platform is crucial for keeping on top of your marketing practices. Here is a list of some of the best email marketing platforms.

Mailchimp is a good value for money platform, giving you the ability to create lists, email capture forms, audience segments, and more. For more sophisticated email automation, better split testing and a higher email deliverability rate (including more success in getting into the inbox and not the promotions folder in Gmail), we recommend ActiveCampaign.

Whatever platform you use, make sure it has the correct features your brand will need.

Many Universities offer brands the chance to place promotional messages within their internal student emails. The results differ greatly from one institution to another with some offering industry-beating open and click through rates, others perform very poorly. We are currently compiling the media solutions offered by Universities across the UK, so if you wish to receive that information leave your info here and we will send it on when it’s available.

As with all forms of marketing, the stats and data are key to success with email marketing. Most mailing platforms allow you to view stats such as open rates, click through rates for your links, and unsubscribe data. These are crucial. If, for example, one of your emails saw lots of unsubscribes, then maybe you used too much ‘sales’ language, and you should alter this for next time. Similarly, analyse which of your emails has the highest open rates. Did you send it at a different time? Did you use a more engaging title? These are all areas which must be analysed to ensure your emails are as optimised as possible.

At Freshers Festival, we have a ever-growing mailing list of UK students and we find our weekly email newsletter a great way to stay connected and generate feedback.

If you want to promote your brand to a wider and more engaged student audience, feel free to get in touch with us.


Digital Marketing:

Every marketer knows the value of digital marketing.

Students are some of the most tech-savvy people on the planet, and digital marketing is therefore a sure-fire way you can reach them. If you are new to digital marketing, here is a quick guide to get you started.

But what are our top tips for marketing specifically to a student audience?

Firstly, don’t ignore organic digital marketing. Students love social media, and many brands have grown an extremely engaged following on social media through a variety of techniques. If you can get students to follow you for free, then you can GUARANTEE a return on investment for any organic marketing you do. Think about what students actually like.

Like any demographic they are selective on where they spend disposable income so freebies and giveaways are a great way to get students interested.

Students also love memes and funny content to share with their friends. Therefore, by basing your social accounts around these areas (funny content, free giveaways, student-only deals), you can easily build an engaged following who will be interested in what you are posting. This following will be far more willing to engage with your brand and your promotional activity, and as a result will lead to more sales!

On the other hand, don’t ignore paid digital marketing, particularly paid social media marketing. Digital marketing costs are extremely low at the moment, allowing you to reach thousands of people with a very small budget. In fact, even spending £10 / day could see you reach 10,000 people. Student specific marketing is slightly more expensive, but you can still reach thousands of UK students without breaking the bank. The most important thing to do is to create an engaging and eye-catching ad. Students scroll through social media at a rapid pace, and any low-quality or boring stock image will result in them scrolling right past without looking twice. The only way to really find out the best marketing material is, of course, to test. A/B tests for digital marketing are extremely important. Advertise to the same student audience, but with multiple different copy and images, in order to see what performs best. The most important thing is to use a Pixel or tracking software to ensure you can see exactly how many actual purchases/leads/results your ad brings in. An ad can have an extremely good CPC (cost-per-click), but still receive no purchases. As always, testing is key.

Digital marketing is of course one of the best ways to promote your brand to students right now. With the right combination of paid and organic content, you can reach and engage with as many students as possible, without the need for high budgets.

Let us know if you want to know how we grew out TikTok account from 0 to 70,000+ in only a few months, we’ll be happy to send you our case study.

Augmented Reality:

There has been an huge surge in the use of Augmented Reality, especially through apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Tik-Tok.

Google continue to release AR objects to view in your own space (check them out if you haven’t already), Pokemon Go took the world by storm and retail giant IKEA have been placing virtual sofas in homes for years now.

The AR features made available through these apps have been widely successful and have proven the value of Augmented Reality experiences for students and Gen Zs. For brands looking to launch their own immersive marketing experiences, web-based Augmented Reality (Web AR) should be the first port-of-call.

Web AR is accessible by users through their standard iOS or Android device (2.9 Billion compatible devices worldwide). This means that users don’t have to download an app to view the experience. All of the AR content is contained and functions within the mobile web-browser, simply using the native camera. This slick and smooth user-experience allows brands to deploy highly engaging and interactive Augmented Reality experiences quickly and easily.

Here are a few video examples of Web AR experience in-action.

In terms of analytic performance, dwell time and engagement rates inside Web AR experiences are typically very high – as shown in this marketing case study, which resulted in:

– 40.3% engagement rate
– 2.08x page views per user
– ~2mins dwell time inside the experience

These results are outstanding when compared with social media advertising and other forms of traditional marketing. This is further boosted when considered that the average demographic of AR users is 16 – 34, therefore deploying a Web AR marketing campaign to target students should deliver solid results.

Freshers Festival Group offer one of the most experienced student marketing agencies in the UK and can deliver live, virtual, digital, social media and AR campaigns for your brand.

If you are unsure what options you have to reach UK students this year, be sure to get in touch with us.