The college scene is, without a doubt, one of the most valuable markets a company can hack. Students are fresh out of mom and pop’s house, willing to throw family brand loyalty out the door for a sense of independence. They’re suave with social networking and keen on innovation. Campuses are highly concentrated with potential buyers, and it only takes a few positive impacts for buzz to begin. Plus, college students are young, and likely to accumulate a substantial consumer lifetime value

However, tuition has increased 169% in the past thirty years, and 77% of college seniors say they ran out of money at some point in their college career. This leaves many brands fumbling. How do you get the perpetually broke to bite? 

Fortunately, The Black Sheep has infiltrated college campuses from the inside. Our nationwide network of student contractors has kept us in the know, from the chaos of the student union lunch-rush to the trenches of the local college bars. With the help of real college kids, we’ve been successfully marketing to real college kids since 2009. And we’ve picked up on six bona fide strategies along the way. 


Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing. A glowing recommendation from a trusted friend (or admired acquaintance) can spark curiosity in potential consumers: especially in college, where the social scene is everything

College students are already integral parts of their campus communities. Each one has access to an expansive network of classmates, study buddies, dormmates, club affiliates, sorority/fraternity sisters/brothers, intramural teammates…the list goes on and on. If we station them on campus, statistically, students are going to want to come talk to them (more than some random guy from  your marketing department, though we’re sure he’s great!). The mere presence of peers is magnetizing. Introducing your brand through genuine social interactions, rather than shallow advertising gimmicks, will help you make a name for yourself as honest and authentic: and there’s nothing college students want more than honesty and authenticity. 


Most college students aren’t driving every day, so they don’t see billboards. They read every day for school, so they aren’t leafing through magazine ads for leisure. They may see your promo flash across their Instagram, but their tired eyes won’t always stop to read it. 

To actually snatch their attention, you have to take to the streets. Pass out samples at student involvement fairs. Station your team (with snacks) outside the most popular bar in town. Set up camp on the quad—and be sure to do so on a sunny day. Hang around the student center with promotional materials, and don’t be afraid to approach anyone who walks by. College students won’t go out of their way to come to you. So don’t stay out of their way. Get on their home turf, and make your brand at home. 


College students love free things. A plastic cup becomes the perfect container for a night out. An extra pen is always a saving grace on those hectic class days. A nice koozie can help them beat the spring heat…and all the while, your brand is burrowing into the back of their brains. 

90% of people who receive promotional products remember the messaging later. 83% say that when choosing a brand, they are more likely to go with one they’ve received promotional products from. The link is evidenced, but it also just makes sense: if you drink out of a cup that says “Brand A” every day, “Brand A” is going to be at the front of your mind when you suddenly need a service they provide.


College students are always hurting for cash, and they’ll appreciate you more if you acknowledge their struggle. 73% of college students say they would be more likely to buy from a brand that offers a student discount. 

A freebie or a trial discount is likely to lure students in, and gives them a clear reason to choose you over the competition: just this once. If you give them a good experience, they’re bound to keep coming back, even once the promotion fades and they’re back to paying full-price. 


TIME Magazine reports that young people know all the online marketing gimmicks, and see them as frustrating distractions from the content they want to consume. They tend to scroll past brand ads to get to the good stuff— pictures from people they chose to follow. 

That’s where Micro Influencers come in. Nearly half of Generation Z has made a purchase based on an influencer’s reccomendation. When an advertisement is woven into their feed via someone they love or respect, it feels less like an invasion and more like a friendly piece of advice. Placing your products in the hands of college students is crucial, but making sure those students have a ring light and a couple-thousand followers is critical.  


Students pursuing higher education tend to have high standards for themselves and others and— thanks to all those essays—they tend to be adept at communicating them. Invite students to witness your brand firsthand, whether handing out samples of your product or welcoming them to your building for a tour. Intentional conversation is key to effective innovation.

The next time you’re looking to amp up your marketing strategy, try focusing on the future’s best and brightest. The benefits could last you both a lifetime.