The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the lives of people around the world. This has been especially true for college students.

So much of the traditional college experience hinges on interpersonal connections and shared spaces. But, given the nature of the COVID-19 virus, colleges and universities have had to take things in a drastically different direction without much warning. Institutions have been forced to adapt to a new normal, which put the health and safety of students first. 

In-person classes were replaced with Zoom lecture marathons and countless hours in front of dual screens; crowded dining halls and student unions were forfeited for virtual events and distanced social interactions; and much more.

As you can imagine, these sudden changes also drastically impacted campus marketing efforts. At YMC, we adapted our campus marketing strategies to engage students no matter where they’re living, studying, and sharing in 2020.

With 2020 in the rear view mirror, we wanted to share some of the valuable things we’ve learned and our predictions about what campus marketing will look like in 2021.

Every School Is Different

After unexpected school shutdowns in the spring 2020 semester, colleges and universities had a bit more time when strategizing their opening plans for fall 2020. One of the main things we noticed was the wide variance in the operating status of campuses based on state, local, and university-driven COVID-19 regulations.

Leading up to the fall semester, we referenced The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of campus reopening models daily to stay on top of the national landscape. On the local level, we found that our YMC student network and ambassadors provide the most accurate information regarding students’ locations (living remote, on, or off campus) and behaviors. 

We’ve leveraged this information to adapt our campaigns in real time and adjust expectations by campus. We always treat each school individually when managing college marketing programs; and in this situation, input from students helped us optimize what we could safely execute for the best results. 

Maybelline No Touch Product Sampling Example

“No Touch” Sampling Can Be Highly Effective

As we studied the varied reopening plans for the fall 2020 semester, we found that many campuses selected to offer adjusted in-person or hybrid learning models. In these cases, we found that working with local students to understand the protocols associated with activating on campus, the access level to students, and the overall comfort with face-to-face (always masked) interactions has been beneficial.

For our Maybelline program, we worked with college ambassadors to distribute pre-packed product sampling bags and gifts to on- and off-campus housing complexes and outdoor gatherings. This varied from pre-COVID interactions where Maybelline ambassadors offered students high-touch product interaction and trial experiences. 

Because in-person brand interactions were so limited in 2020, students expressed increased excitement and appreciation for Maybelline’s efforts to reach them during a difficult time. Product sampling bags reached thousands of students and resulted in over 10k product link views and a 5% conversion rate to purchase.

Pentel Digital Event Example

Digital Events Work

Digital events have also been successful, as they’ve enabled our brand partners and ambassadors  to provide brand experiences to broader audiences.

We found that college students are most likely to participate in events hosted after 7 PM EST on weekdays and early-to-mid afternoon on the weekends. Digital fatigue is real and this timing provided students with a break in between classes and another virtual activity. Meeting platforms (such as Zoom and Google Hangouts), microsites, and Instagram Live have offered the best interaction with this audience.

In our work with Pentel, we transitioned a longstanding in-person art experience into an online format and encouraged students to relax and create in their own space. We partnered with Pentel to host a 3-night Pentel Sketch Session event series featuring calligraphy, watercolor, and line drawing classes with featured artists. Hosting these events digitally allowed Pentel to bring in experts to showcase skills and answer art-related career questions with college students at scale. 

@hikari.murakami

Join the #AerieRealpositivity challenge, uplift each other and @aerie will donate to America’s Food Fund! #aeriereal #aeriepartner #aerieambassador

♬ 100% Real Love – PopUpGirl

Social Media Is Essential

While Gen-Z has been using TikTok for a few years, the pandemic and stay-at-home culture have accelerated mass adoption and endless scroll time on the platform. We found success in encouraging ambassadors to leverage short-form video clips on TikTok and Instagram to further engage their followers and feature brand products. Students were able to amplify existing brand challenges or create their own by pulling from the latest trends.

Our brand ambassadors played an important role in the launch of Aerie’s first TikTok challenge. The #AerieRealPositivity hashtag challenge created a movement around expressing yourself and sharing positivity at home. With the amplification of a paid campaign and celebrity role model support, this campaign generated 6,600+ user-generated videos with 2.1 billion views. 

Looking Ahead at Campus Marketing in 2021

As you can see, we’ve learned a lot in 2020. And, while the pandemic isn’t over yet, we’re feeling an increased sense of optimism about the year to come. 

Now that colleges and universities have more than 10 months of prevention and testing experience under their belts and the COVID-19 vaccine is in early stages of distribution in the U.S., some institutions are preparing for an increase in in-person and hybrid course offerings this spring.

As we begin planning for this year (and beyond!), we wanted to share a few predictions about what campus marketing may look like in 2021. Please note that the following are subject to national, state, and local policy, as well as CDC guidance.

January – March 2021

The early part of 2021 will likely look very similar to the past few months, with limited in-person events and classes.

Late March – April 2021

In the late months of the spring 2021 semester, we expect campuses with in-person and hybrid learning models to begin to explore the possibilities of holding outdoor, in-person events and activities. This will likely be especially true at warm weather schools in the South and West regions of the U.S..

Fall 2021

The fall 2021 semester presents the best opportunity for a potential return to “regular” campus life. At this time, it’s likely that the health and safety precautions introduced in 2020 will remain at the forefront for the next several years.

In summary, we recommend that brands continue to lean on digital events and social tactics to engage students in the early part of the year. As the weather starts to get warmer and students spend more time outdoors, “no touch” sampling can resume and the possibility of highly regulated in-person events can be explored. The summer months should allow for more in-person brand engagement, while full-on experiential activations, mobile tours, and student-led events are more likely to return in the fall 2021 semester.

How YMC Can Help

If you’re interested in learning more about college marketing during this unique time, we’re here to help. At YMC, we’ve been connecting brands with 15- to 29-year-old consumers for two decades—we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!

This year has looked a bit different than others. So far in 2020, we’ve faced a global pandemic, elected a new president, fought for social justice, and so much more. It goes without saying that this holiday season is sure to look a little different, too!

In such a unique time, the already challenging task of holiday shopping for the Gen-Z’ers and Millennials in your life is even more difficult. So, to make things just a little simpler,  we’re giving you the gift of the inside scoop!

We reached out to our proprietary community of influential 18-34 year-olds to get their thoughts on all things 2020 holiday gift giving—from how they plan to shop to what they’d most like to receive. Here’s what they had to say.

About Our Millennial + Generation-Z Community

The YMC community, including our @youthmarketing followers, consists of more than two-hundred thousand highly-engaged students and young adults from across North America. Over 90% of our network is between the ages of 18-34. In other words, our community represents Millennials and Generation-Z. 

So, to collect the best possible tips for Millennial and Gen-Z holiday shopping, we went directly to the source! We polled our audience via our internal network and directly on Instagram Stories and received an incredible number of responses. 

What We Discovered + What it Means for Holiday Shopping in 2020

Our Instagram survey helped us to uncover some interesting insights that’ll impact how consumers are shopping for Millennial and Gen-Z  gifts this season. 

It wasn’t surprising to learn that, given the current pandemic and the resulting lifestyle changes, Millennial and Gen-Z consumers are now purchasing items they wouldn’t have considered in the past. These purchasing decisions are also making an impact on their holiday wish lists. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from our research and what they mean for Millennial and Generation-Z gift giving in 2020:

75% of respondents said they’re currently working or attending classes virtually
Millennials and Gen-Z’ers are spending more time at home. So, it’s a safe bet to give gifts that align with the homebody lifestyle.

Nearly all respondents said they’re favoring online shopping this holiday season
Most Millennials and Generation-Z are staying COVID-safe and ditching the stores this holiday season. Consider ordering a gift online and having it shipped directly to your special someone’s doorstep.

Most respondents would rather receive cash than a gift card
With our audience ditching in-store shopping, it was surprising to find that people prefer receiving cash over gift cards to use at their leisure. This means a holiday card with some green definitely isn’t out of the question!

Gift cards aren’t dead (even though most respondents would rather receive cash)

While most respondents said they’d prefer cash over gift cards, they also indicated that they’d be open to receiving gift cards. There’s no shame in the gift card game!

80% of respondents admit to exclusively living in casual and comfy clothes this year
We weren’t surprised to see that 80% of our Millennial and Gen-Z survey participants are living in loungewear. So, when it comes to purchasing clothing as a gift, think fuzzy and soft!

A majority of respondents love subscription boxes
Most of the respondents said they’d love to receive a subscription box as a gift because it’s the gift that keeps giving. So, if you’re open to a monthly spend, this could be your best bet!

Gift Ideas for Millennials + Gen-Z

Based on these findings (and some helpful hints from our community), we’ve pulled together a few ideas for gifts that’re sure to please your Millennial and Generation-Z loved ones.

YMC Holiday Gift Guide 2020 Infographic

Gift Cards

While our survey participants indicated that they’d prefer cash over gift cards, a gift card adds a personal touch and is easier to use online. When asked what gift cards they’d prefer, some of the top brands our respondents mentioned were Amazon, Target, Sephora, Starbucks, and VISA. They also recommended shopping small and local, as many of those businesses are now offering gift cards and better e-commerce experiences.

All Things Cozy

A vast majority of our participants are working or taking classes remotely, but they indicated that they’d prefer receiving comfy and cozy essentials over items for their WFH setups. Desired items mentioned included blankets, sweatpants, coffee, headphones, and essential oils. 

We recommend checking out Nordstrom Rack, Urban Outfitters, and Nespresso for goodies that’ll help keep your loved ones comfy and cozy.

Loungewear

Our Millennial and Gen-Z survey participants indicated that they’d love to receive loungewear as a holiday gift. Some ideas include anything sherpa, boots, slippers, and matching sets.

Check out Aerie, LL Bean, and adidas for some on-trend loungewear gift options! If you’re looking for something more unique, take a peak at Depop’s thrifted items. 

Subscription Services

If you’re looking for a gift that’ll keep on giving after the holiday season, look no further than a subscription service. Our Millennial and Gen-Z respondents noted their favorites as FabFitFun, HelloFresh, and Winc.

Don’t Forget to Support Small, Local, + Black-Owned Businesses

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of supporting small, local, and Black-owned businesses this holiday season.

According to an article published by Salesforce, “56% of consumers — and 62% of Millennials, the largest consumer segment — say they spend more at small businesses now than they did last year.”  So, we bet the Millennials and Gen-Z’ers on your list will be thrilled to see you’re doing the same!

Here’s a list of a few of the YMC team’s favorite small, local, and Black-owned businesses to inspire your shopping!

We hope this inside scoop on holiday gift giving for Millennials and Gen-Z’ers has you feeling inspired. We wish you a happy, safe holiday season and happy shopping!

Looking for More Than Shopping Tips?

If you’re a brand manager interested in reaching more Millennial and Generation-Z consumers, we can help! At YMC, we’ve been connecting brands with 15- to 34-year-old consumers for two decades—we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!

As buzzworthy as the word “influencer” has become, influencer marketing is nothing new. Celebrities have long served as poster children for the influencer model. But with the rise of social media, it’s now possible for an average person to become an influencer. Instead of being discovered by a talent scout or moving to NYC or LA, social media has democratized who gets to be famous and serve as an influencer. All you really need nowadays is an Instagram handle and iPhone Portrait Mode.

Over the past several years, there has been a rise in influencers (AKA Instagram celebrities with millions of followers and a perfectly curated online persona), replacing the long standing reliance on celebrities for endorsements and marketing campaigns. We are beginning to see another shift that is set to rock the the evolving industry.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Instagram celebrities are becoming increasingly expensive and are often personally disconnected from their audiences, causing brands to question ROI and look for alternate avenues to maximize it. As authenticity dictates what breaks through the social media marketing clutter, brands are turning to the support and clout of micro influencers to not only help further their marketing endeavours, but also to help build a brand story, raise awareness, and connect with consumers in an engaging, relevant way.

Unlike “Instagram celebrities,” who may have millions of followers, micro influencers typically reach an extremely targeted group of followers. While they tend to have fewer followers than Instagram celebrities (anywhere from 1,000 – 100,000 followers), they normally enjoy a higher level of engagement, likely because they are perceived as being more relatable. Since they’re able to create and cultivate a kind of relationship that isn’t likely for individuals with millions of followers, they’re 4x more likely to get a comment on a post.

The Student Sweet Spot

Student micro influencer sips tea

The student demographic is where micro influencers flourish because students are particularly interconnected and social. As a group of digital natives, Millennials and Gen-Z are used to sharing their lives on social media. They’re constantly creating their own content and building their following while managing to make it to class and pass exams.

And long gone are the days of the “broke” student stereotype. In fact, college students spent $523 billion dollars in 2015, 39% of which was discretionary spending (food, entertainment, clothes, transportation). Research shows that students are more than willing to spend their money on the brands they love and are looking to their friends for honest recommendations. Brands would be wise to embrace the “less is more approach,” and fully lean into the power of student micro influencers.

Higher Engagement

Students tend to have higher engagement rates than celebrities due to their ability to be more interactive, responsive, and build stronger relationships with their followers. They aren’t strangers—they’re your sorority sister, your lab partner, your class president. According to a HelloSociety study, these campaigns can deliver a 60% higher engagement rate than the average campaign powered by a celebrity or Instagram celebrity.

While celebrities definitely have a larger reach (potential number of people who could see the content organically), the demographic makeup of their followers can result in a lost message, as many people may not care about that they are trying to promote or it may not be relevant to their lives.

Authenticity

84% of Millennials don’t trust traditional advertising and Gen-Z places the most trust on messages from their peers. These demographics have refined B.S. meters that allow them to spot when promotions are solely based on a contract. When students feel like they are being sold to or that the content doesn’t directly relate to them, their built-in adblock is activated.

Instead of a brand reaching out to desired customers directly, brands can use student micro influencers to accomplish this task in a more natural way as a peer. They can give more authentic endorsements because they like a product, not because of a contract or compensation (although typically both are involved). When it comes to celebrity accounts with millions of followers, no one actually believes that they are a real fan of the product…they’re just trying to get paid.

To incorporating this level of authenticity and accessibility, it’s important to do your research. Recruiting and selecting student micro influencers on college campuses can be tricky business. It doesn’t matter how much strategy and thought went into the campaign—if you select the wrong students, it can be detrimental. Showcase students who reflect the lives of the target consumer and you’ll connect your brand to that target consumer in a meaningful way.

Content Creation & Ownership Rights

Millennials and Gen-Z respond best to content that looks like them, so there’s no better way than going straight to the source for content. Student micro influencers are content generators for a brand. Student content can outperform celebrity content while maintaining authenticity (and it comes with a smaller price tag).

Brands can also repurpose student content to generate additional revenue from a campaign. Repurposed content increases the value you get from your campaign, and has been proven to drive further sales. Depending on the contract, your brand may be able to secure unlimited, royalty-free rights to content, instead of having to pay usage fees.

Offline Conversion/Word-of-Mouth

Student micro influencers have a unique power to take their online conversations offline and power them through word-of-mouth, striking up conversations with their networks on campus (hello thousands of college students) and directly influencing their networks face-to-face/peer-to-peer. According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers value referrals from friends or family members.

Cost

According to HelloSociety, micro influencers are 6.7x more efficient per engagement than influencers with larger followings. You can generate the same (or larger reach) by assembling a team of student micro influencers on varying campuses for a fraction of the cost, while adding a more diverse, yet still targeted audience.

While celebrities and mega-influencers hone their monetization strategies to make their social media presence a sustainable business with well-developed pricing structures, the average college student will be more than happy with free product or services and a small stipend.

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How can YMC help?

Want to recruit student micro influencers for your brand? Finding the right partner is key to your success. Here at YMC, we’ve been helping brands connect with 15- to 29-year-old consumers for two decades—we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!