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How to Market to College Students

Step 1: Don't think of them just as college students. They're a lot more three-dimensional than that.

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Q: What is the most effective means of marketing to college students in the United States?

A: Most colleges and universities have their own newspapers and often their own campus radio stations with ad space for sale, and lots of businesses sponsor campus activities, events or contests in student haunts. If you have the money, you can wrap a few buses with your ad and request that they operate on runs that service those institutions.

But you also have to look beyond the fact that these adults are in college and approach them demographically (by age and gender). They make up a good portion of the 18- to 35-year-old population, so you can also reach them via appropriate nonstudent radio stations, TV shows and publications, all of which have audiences made up of very specific demographic groups. It's age and gender that binds these audiences together, not individual traits, habits and hobbies.

To make matters even more complicated, you'll also need to consider psychographic information-education, wealth, habits, etc. Psychographic information tracks people by their unique personal traits, such as what musical instruments they play, what magazines they read, what credit cards they use, how many children they have or in what neighborhood they live. That kind of information makes sure your marketing efforts hit the right targets.

It all boils down to understanding more than one thing about the people you're trying to reach-in this case, more than the fact that college students go to college. Yes, that's important because you know their physical whereabouts for most of the year. But where do they eat their meals? What do they eat? Where do they shop? How do they get around? How do they pay for products? Do they bank locally or get money from home? What's the climate like where they live? Are they buying hot soup or ice slushies? Parkas or bathing suits? Tires for their mountain bikes or snow tires for their trucks? Sandals for the beach or insulated boots? Clearly, the fact that they all go to college can't be the only factor in deciding how to reach these people.

By way of example, let's consider cable TV's The Golf Channel. If you've got a newly designed golf widget, you know you can advertise on The Golf Channel and reach the right audience. But not every advertiser on The Golf Channel is selling equipment or club memberships-financial services, luxury car companies, and cruise and resort operators also advertise on The Golf Channel, knowing that viewers tend to be wealthy professionals who look for high-end products and services to satisfy their active lifestyles. So no matter what your product is, there are multiple advertising channels available to you.

It's worth your time to learn everything you can about your consumer, both demographically and psychographically, before you spend your dollars trying to reach them.

Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book, Advertising Without an Agency, was written for businesses owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy at (315) 487-6706 (weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST), or visit her Web site at www.silentpartneradvertising.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.