Branding

College Students: The “Made-To-Order” Generation

Elizabeth_Harz_Chegg

We are pleased to welcome Elizabeth Harz as a contributor at The Makegood. Elizabeth is Vice President of Business Development at Chegg Inc., an online academic hub that connects students to the people and tools needed to succeed in college through homework help, course selection, eTextbook and textbook options as well as school and scholarship connections.

When I was in high school and college, students focused on fitting in. We wanted to be individuals, but individuals that fit within a group. The current generation of 16-24-year-olds doesn’t see the world like that at all.  How could they?  Growing up in the “get what you want, when you want it” world, we have all been focused on building for them, which has delivered the “made-to-order” generation.  Chegg recently conducted 360-degree research into how students interact with brands, from advertising effectiveness to customer service, and unveiled this research during Advertising Week.

At the close of the conference, I was struck by how the topic of millennials dominated so many conversations during the week, in the last few years there have been consistent mentions of millennials throughout the programming, but very little dedicated content or research on this generation.

As a company committed to serving students, the team at Chegg spends a lot of time talking to high school and college students and trying to understand what matters to them.  Last week, we unveiled our third-annual “Undercover with College Students,” where we identified many of the ways that this generation is customizing educational experiences, media consumption and relationships with brands.

Our survey of more than 4,000 current college students found they expect choice and exert control over most aspects of their lives – including the brands with which they engage and how they engage with them. So, how does a brand develop a relationship with the “made-to-order” generation?   To start, make them feel special.

One of the most important truths about 16-to-24-year-old consumers is that they can truly be your brand’s biggest fans.  84% of students report they advocate for brands that reward their loyalty.    You do have to earn their trust — 80% expect near real-time customer service, which makes sense because all of the information in the world is literally at their fingertips.  And commerce with a conscience is essential as there’s a strong belief (88%) among college students that companies must give back to the community.

In talking with students, we hear time and again about the brands they love.  They’ll seek out the ads on YouTube, open the emails in their inboxes, save money to buy the products, follow the brand on social media, and talk with their friends about these beloved brands.   An important part of establishing this kind of preferred relationship is to engage college students in dialogue  – solicit their input and put it to use.  The tenant of “let them in the process” is considerably magnified with this audience.

One effective way to engage this audience is to give them a chance to try your product or service firsthand.  For example, 49% of students who received a product sample on campus talked with their friends about it, and 23% bought the product.   They also appreciate “extras” — whether that’s a special student discount or a loyalty rewards program.   Finally, tailored communications that feel personal really resonate with the audience – even something as simple as a friendly reminder when they’re about to run out of contact lenses, for example.

Think about it, these people are busy!    College students today have heavy course loads, lots of extracurricular activities intended to help in their future job search, and part-time jobs to help manage their debt load.    They’re also exceptionally media-savvy – spending more time than ever online and on their mobile devices.    In this context, it’s clear that marketers need to be smart about how they approach this demographic.

What’s the key takeaway? Allow this generation to feel special, to feel that your marketing to them is custom crafted.  It does not have to be one to one marketing, but does need to feel relevant and authentic to them. Students want brands to walk the talk. 71% of students surveyed said that brands that are authentic resonate with them.   More said that they can tell when a brand is trying to be cool (translation: they are not being cool).

This is the “made-to-order” generation.  They customize their lives and their relationships with brands to a degree never seen before.  Listen to them, include them, allow them to tailor — and you’ll have “made-to-order” profits!

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