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Brands ramp up mobile efforts to reach students on campus

College campus mobile retail

Starbucks truck on Arizona State University campus.

Starbucks and RetailMeNot are among the marketers making a bigger mobile push on college campuses this year as they seek to engage a key group of customers who constantly have their mobile devices with them.

The ramp-up in mobile targets an audience that is notoriously difficult to reach. On top of often being cash-strapped and having limited time, students also tend to be skeptical of traditional marketing campaigns. Marketers are grasping that to grab the attention of a student on campus, they need to connect their pitch to a mobile screen. 

“Mobile is everything for college students,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief information officer with Chicago-based Vibes. “Any and every marketer absolutely must take mobile into account to be successful on campus. 

“Fortunately, the rules for mobile marketing are not new,” he said. “Make sure you take into account time, location, and interactivity when you’re creating content, and make sure you personalize mobile content.”  

Tracking location
Brands ranging from the United States Army to McDonalds to Texas Instruments also have increased mobile marketing campaigns to reach students, said Jason Bakker, chief operating officer with Bloomington, MN-based Campus Media Group.
 
“It’s the screen they all have their faces buried in,” he said. “It’s the number one device and it’s trackable.”

Starbucks is combining the decades-old concept of a curbside food truck with social media in a pilot project aimed at reaching students on campus. 

RetailMeNot's Android app.

The Seattle coffee retailer, which has just 300 of its 11,500 United States outlets on college campuses, is deploying mobile trucks at three campuses this fall to serve on-the-go customers. 

The first truck recently began service at Arizona State University in Tempe. Another opened for business at James Madison University in Virginia on Monday and one will go into operation at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina on Sept. 18. 

The trucks will announce their locations through posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social-media channels, so followers can meet them.
 
For example, the Starbucks truck on the ASU campus said in an Instagram message: “truck is open! Find us on campus parked on the Forest Mall: Mon-Fri, 7a-2p & Mon-Thurs: 4a-10p.”
 
The trucks, operated through Aramark, the Philadelphia-based foodservice company, will adjust their business hours to suit the customers’ needs, in some cases staying open later than a dining hall, according to Starbucks.

RetailMeNot last week launched a back-to-school marketing campaign with its retail partners that will leverage geofencing across 180 college campuses. Austin, TX-based RetailMeNot is partnering with a handful of retailers, including Oakley and Tilly’s, to distribute the retailers’ back-to-school promotional offers to college students via the RetailMeNot application. The campaign will rotate among different retailers for a week at a time for five weeks on the 180 largest college campuses in the country.

“Since retailers began leveraging the RetailMeNot app to reach consumers at 15,000 locations across the U.S., they understand mobile can increase in-store foot traffic, sales and profitability by targeting relevant audiences with specific needs,” said Michelle Skupin, RetailMeNot’s senior communications manager. 

Instagram alert from Starbucks truck at Arizona State University.

“Combine that with millennials’ voracious appetite for mobile content, and what you have is a convergence of contextual content and consumer demand,” she said. “In testing the 180 college campuses, RetailMeNot is helping merchants reach college students with nearby offers.”

Marketers’ shift to mobile is inevitable to reach students on campus.

“The mobile audience on college campuses is a key target for many retailers,” said Ms. Skupin. “We expect the shift from traditional means of advertising like print ads to mobile will continue to increase at a rapid rate. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by RetailMeNot, almost two-thirds of retail executives (65 percent) believe that branded mobile platforms like apps are effective at driving in-store sales,” she said.

Notwithstanding the mobile push, a solid marketing campaign aimed at the on-campus crowd should include some traditional channels, according to experts.

“One of the biggest channels for students is still email,” said Campus Media Group’s Mr. Bakker. “Because they can check their email on mobile now. Plus, they still need an email address to legitimize themselves to potential employers, to schedule interviews, etcetera.

“They understand that a lot of the time the older generation are the ones that are hiring them. Email is still number one in business.”

Big opportunity
Mobile, however, gives marketers a big opportunity to affect on-campus shopping behavior, whether the location is a bookstore, clothing store, or café.

“Mobile wallet adoption is highest among 18-24 year olds so it’s a fantastic opportunity for marketers to influence shoppers,” Vibes’ Mr. Campbell said. “Geofenced reminders also work especially well when an area is concentrated like a college campus. 

“As an added benefit, even if college students haven’t yet used mobile wallet, they’re not afraid to try it and see how it works,” he said.  “And they may even give your brand credit simply for trying.” 

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.

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Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

 
Related content: Strategy, mobile, mobile marketing, mobile commerce, Michelle Skupin, RetailMeNot, Jason Bakker, Campus Media Group, Starbucks, RetailMeNot, Alex Campbell, Vibes

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