The craze for marketers these days is learning how to best
reach millennials and motivate them to buy their brands, and one of the biggest
segments of this demo group is college students.
A recently released survey by marketing firm re:fuel,
conducted by Crux Research, offers marketers some insight into the 22 million
students who will head back to college campuses for the 2013-14 school year.
For one thing, they control a massive $117 billion in
discretionary purchasing power, and the biggest expenditure among students is
food. Some 36%, or $42.1 billion of the total discretionary spending, is
projected to be dedicated to food purchases. Broken out in the survey, that
means $21.1 billion spent at grocery stores, $7.9 billion at convenience stores
and $13.1 billion in restaurants.
The second largest projected discretionary expenditure for
college students is $17.5 billion for automotive—car payments, insurance,
maintenance and gas. Next is $13.1 billion for apparel.
This year's "College Explorer" survey, re:fuel's 13th
annual, found that students increased their technology arsenal by 50%, and now
each student averages 6.9 tech gadgets. A total of 85% of students now own a
laptop. Smartphones have moved up to second place on the gadgets list this year
with 69% of students owning one. Close behind as most owned technology devices
are video game consoles (by 68%), MP3 players (67%) and printers (62%).
When asked what devices they intend to purchase in the
coming year, smartphones were the frontrunners, with 31% of students planning
to buy one.
How do students use their laptops? Seventy percent use them
for research and coursework, and 47% use them in class for note taking. And
tablets and smartphones are also being used more in the classroom: 33% of
tablet-owning students regularly use them for work and research, 33% say they
use them for note taking in general and 13% of students report using their
smartphones for taking notes in class.
However, while students are using technology more in the
classroom, most still also embrace the more traditional note-taking with pen
and paper. A total of 79% of students still use the less tech means of taking
Despite increases in tablet and e-book ownership for
classes, the study found that 59% of the textbooks acquired each term by
students are still in a printed format. "It seems that highlighted passages,
notes scribbled in margins and dog-eared pages are tried-and-true study methods
that will last well into the 21st century," says Tammy Nelson, VP,
marketing and research at re:fuel.
As far as media habits for college students, 64% regularly
watch TV in real time on a television set, and 20% watch TV via computers.
Downloaded TV content is consumed primarily on computers (43%) and on tablets
(23%). Movies are consumed across devices with 51% of students watching movies
on televisions, 52% watching on computers and 30% watching on tablets.
The types of mobile apps most coveted by college students
are games (73%), music (67%) and social networking programs (64%).
Forty-nine percent of students report daily usage of a
second screen while watching TV. Facebook or Twitter is used by 63% of students
while watching TV, 58% are surfing other online sites, 50% are playing games
and 37% are doing school work.
Only 18% are researching TV content they are viewing, 17%
are checking to see what their friends are watching and 7% are responding to
Showrooming -- researching a product using a mobile device
while in a store -- is both popular and influential among students, according
to the survey. Seventy-five percent of students who own a smartphone or tablet
report using it to conduct research while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores,
74% went on to purchase something at the store, 38% were motivated to shop
somewhere else and 32% were influenced to purchase a different brand than the
one they had been considering.
"Marketers should expect that students will conduct purchase
research on the fly and that they will be well-equipped to do so," re:fuel's
Among the social network sites, Facebook is the clear leader
among students, with 86% reporting they use the site regularly, up five
percentage points from last year's survey. Twitter is next most popular, with a
38% user rate, up eight percentage points from last year. Instagram debuted on
the survey list for the first time this year and was listed by 30% of students
who reported using it regularly. Google+ was the only site to show a decline in
use, falling to 29% from 32% last year.
Of students using social network sites, 46% stay up to date
with celebrity news, 36% share links to their own videos and blogs, 29% share
locations and activities with friends and 17% look at friends' photos.
And here's a number that will make marketers happy: 34% use
social network sites to stay up to date with brands.
Ads on social sites are unpopular with students, however:
32% say they avoid advertising on social media sites. Other ad types they
consider intrusive are text messages (32% avoid opt-in text messages and 49%
avoid non opt-in messages) while 38% avoid pre-roll ads.
Students do welcome ads that deliver value to them, such as
those that offer samples (only 15% avoidance), on-campus signage (15%
avoidance) or campus newspaper ads (17% avoidance).
The least avoided way of learning about new brands or
products is word-of-mouth, with only 9% avoidance.
And a key point marketers should keep in mind is that students
may be living away from home but they do keep in touch with their mom and dad.
The survey finds that students connect with their parents 31.1 times per week,
including 9.1 times via social media.
"As students both expand and re-evaluate their social
networks, they continue to make decisions on which information is important to
them, which messages they'll welcome and which they'll avoid," says Nelson. "Mom
and dad, however, continue to be their main source of information, advice and
approval throughout the college years. Marketers can be part of this process of
self-discovery and growth by providing relevant and valuable engagement on
campus during this incredible life stage, and by looping in mom and dad
The survey was conducted by Crux Research online
in January and February 2013. A total of 1,527 college students ages 18-34