Marketing Student Deals: Tips for Brands During the Cost of Living Crisis

Marketing student deals will always chart a course to cash-strapped students’ hearts. But how can brands stand out now and foster customer retention?
Fanbytes | Marketing Student Deals UNiDAYS

In 30 seconds:

  • The cost of living crisis has overtaken climate change as Gen Z’s greatest concern. Brands that want to win their custom need to address this.
  • Students are still spending – albeit with greater consideration over every purchase. How can marketers adapt?
  • Getting your messaging right now can attract valuable customers and secure their loyalty in the long term. UNiDAYS share their inside tips.

Stretched finances are a well-known feature of undergraduate life. But in 2022, the cost of living crisis is bringing this challenge into sharper focus.

91% of the UK population are concerned about the rising cost of living. Three quarters (74%) of UK consumers say they are spending more on day-to-day outgoings than a year ago, as inflation is running at 10.1% and the costs of energy and the weekly shop are soaring. 

This is felt particularly keenly by students, who have become more discerning in their purchases; researching big ticket items and seeking out money-saving deals. Students are likely to be on low incomes, living in short-term rented housing, and are financing costly studies. Most are also learning about managing their finances for the first time – but they’re also keen to experience the freedom that comes with this.

Naturally, brands that can offer attractive student deals will make themselves more amenable to this young audience. Just 18% of the public believe UK brands will make products more affordable in response to the crisis. This expectation provides a potential opportunity for brands to strike out and outperform consumers’ expectations.

But how can brands do this now?

TikTok & student deals: a match made in heaven?

Reaching students effectively in 2022 means mastering their favourite social media platforms. TikTok in particular is known as ‘Gen Z’s favourite app’ with most users aged under 25. 69% of all Gen Zers in the US are on TikTok, and our own research found 67% of University-age Gen Zers in the UK use the app, with 72% of UK Gen Zers in education using it. 

TikTok’s ability to adapt to the interests of its users and powerful search engine means that TikTok is not just regarded as a ‘social network’ platform where users connect with friends: it’s a tool for discovery. 97% of Gen Z consumers use social media as their top source of shopping inspiration – but TikTok is now becoming “the new Google”. Users are moving from passive inspiration to active search.

Naturally, cash-strapped students will be hunting for relevant information on the app – and if your brand has great deals to offer, this is where you’ll want to be found.

James Friend, Head of Social Media at UNiDAYS says the brand chose TikTok for this reason. “It’s where our audience spend most of their time. UNiDAYS’ current audience is focused predominantly on Gen Z, and with almost 40% of Gen Z using TikTok instead of Google, it made total sense for us to push our brand on TikTok.

However, for UNiDAYS – as with many other brands – joining TikTok came with challenges. James notes, “Gen Z’s interests are forever changing.” TikTok trends – and TikTok culture – moves fast, so it’s vital that brands keep in step with trends lest they risk alienating their audience. Another problem? Gen Z’s famously short attention span. Brands have just 8 seconds to capture young consumers’ attention online. “This gives us very little time to show what UNiDAYS is, what we do, and what we stand for.”

This can complicate the process of marketing student deals. Rather than marketing a physical product, advertising student deals and rewards means brands like UNiDAYS must find new ways to execute TikTok content that clearly communicates the offering whilst being entertaining, engaging and relatable.

Using TikTok for student discovery

How can brands build top of mind awareness when young people are looking to make a purchase – especially with student deals?

The key, James explains, is to take a closer look at the consumer mindset. “We have focused on putting our members – their passions and pains – at the centre of our TikTok strategy, to create simple, relatable and honest content about helping young people ‘live their best lives’ and ‘save on every student moment’.”

“We’ve then leveraged TikTok trends while ensuring everything ladders back to our brand proposition.”

Fanbytes and UNiDAYS have worked together on a mix of TikTok account growth and organic influencer key beat activations, amplified by brand ambassadors. These tie in with memorable moments within the university experience that the brand can confidently contribute to, without sounding opportunistic. James explains, “the key moments are everything that goes live on influencer channels, based around the UNiDAYS roadmap and important, culturally relevant moments to our audience.”

By carefully considering the most important moments for activity, the brand can effectively showcase exactly what it stands for and what it can offer. Meanwhile, the brand’s “always-on” approach to its own channel means it can capitalise on relevant TikTok trends in a timely manner to secure the attention and love of a young audience.

This strategy is proving fruitful. Within 3 months, UNiDAYS’ TikTok account grew from 0 to 16K followers, with over 90% of the content achieving over 30K views, and best performers hitting 400K. 

Brands marketing student deals can learn from this example: focus on emotional connection to create a lively hub of constant TikTok content that communicates your brand in a humanised way; make sure trend-led content relates to your message to allow reach to translate into brand association; then punctuate your always-on campaign with authentic influencer activations around key moments in your customers’ experience to create a buzz, solidify associations, and prompt your audience to act on them when the time comes to purchase. 

Marketing student deals: retaining Gen Z

Offering deals and rewards will always chart a course to students’ hearts, but brands will find marketing around value is increasingly demanding in the coming months. Just 4% of consumers say they will ‘definitely not’ swap their usual brand for cheaper products or budget ranges amidst the cost of living crisis. For brands offering an economical alternative, this presents a challenge and an opportunity.

Marketing budgets are likely to be tighter. Costs of products are likely to rise. The brands that are most in line with Gen Z mindsets will be considering ways to provide student rewards – but they will not be alone. Additionally, Gen Z is already known to research products and brands thoroughly before purchase. The cost of living crisis will see this behaviour increase. Growing numbers of consumers will be researching deals and discounts to ensure they get the right product at the right price. This increased consideration time can threaten conversions: non-essentials may get forgotten entirely. 

Audience retention is therefore more important than ever. Brands may capture the attention of students and Gen Z through marketing deals on social media, but to stay front of mind, brands must encourage users to click that ‘follow’ button, so that the brand’s content becomes part of their everyday lives

UNiDAYS’ James says the trick to doing this to create content that students stick around for. “We don’t see TikTok as a channel to showcase our brand partner offers and promotions. Instead, we focus on building a genuine relationship with the audience via creating relevant, informative and funny content.” By leveraging the aspects users like most about TikTok and melding this convincingly with their brand offering, UNiDAYS ensures their TikTok presence provides value for users in more senses of the word. The brand builds on this by layering forward-thinking campaigns that have their customer experience at heart.

James explains, “we have a ‘Next Steps’ campaign where we’ll have a panel of influencers who are ex-students talking about their experiences […] and we also had a recent campaign called ‘Ready for being a Student’ which focused on everything from money saving hacks to cooking and cleaning tips.” Mixing native content with these thought-leading campaigns means the brand can attract new customers while developing a deeper and more lasting relationship with its existing audience.

Next steps

As the cost of living crisis develops, brands will be aware that the effects of it will be unevenly felt: depending on who they serve and what they sell, some brands will have to take more radical actions than others. But a crisis won’t stop consumers from consuming. Savvy marketers will look to focus on how small changes in customer behaviour can help guide their brand’s activities.

Marketing deals and rewards to students inherently provides value – but to stand out amongst the competition and win over this ad-averse generation, marketers need to go further. How else can their brand provide extra value for their audience?

Of course, the option to market deals isn’t available to every brand at this time. Price increases present their own challenges to brands, who must determine where they sit between status and satisfaction, where they can put prices up without ill effect, and how to handle communication amidst this.

Getting to grips with young audiences’ mindsets – and how brands can reach them – is our area of expertise. Get in touch to find out how your brand will convincingly market to Gen Z now and translate this into long-term appreciation for your brand.

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