By Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos.

Because I help companies market products and services to college students, I attend a mix of Welcome Week events on college campuses -- the ones where new students flood campus to learn about student organizations, businesses, grab free swag, eat and meet new friends.

After attending these events year after year, one thing is clear: there are always winners and losers when it comes to capturing the students' attention. And it's certainly easier for some. So how can you position your brand at college events to attract long lines of new students?

For many companies, attending events like this often presents them with a two-fold challenge. How can they deliver their message in a small space with a limited budget and capture students' attention at the same time?

The good news is the strategy has less to do with what you are giving away and more to do with how you are giving it away. Are the students getting in line for the experience or just the freebie? Cut through the noise to capture students' attention. It's important to not forget your brand isn't the only one on campus during these events and the competition for students' attention is tough.

Before attending any college event, it's critical to tackle the two-fold challenge to ensure you have an attention-grabbing strategy that wins students over.

Delivering Your Message 

What can your brand say in a few words that will get students to stop, look up from their phones and pay attention to you? Don't assume students are just going to stop because you have a tent. Chances are they won't. I've seen many events where energy drink companies simply give away free beverages, but it still isn't enough to drive student interest or lead to long lines.

My agency worked with McDonald's when they partnered with UberEATS to launch McDelivery. McDonald's wanted students to download the app, input a code for tracking and place an order.

Part of our "student attraction magnet" was to offer students a discount toward their first order. Announcing a $5 McDonald's credit aloud instantly captivated students' attention and generated a word-of-mouth buzz that built a long line. This gave us time to deliver our message and walk students through how to download the app and input their code to activate their $5 credit.

Students are willing to wait for something they really want or are interested in hearing but it's important to keep them engaged at the end of the line. Consider having a fun and easy game for students to engage with that will leave them with positive thoughts about your brand. Are you handing out coupons? Put them in a money machine and switch out the money with coupons. Convert the number of coupons they collect to a larger offer. 

Think of each part of your space like an assembly line. Before giving anything away, consider the flow of the setup to make the student experience seamless and maximize your brand's efficiency. Once you've tackled the first challenge, you're ready to tackle the second challenge: focusing on student engagement.

Capturing Their Attention

Is your set up at college events interactive? Does it entice students to participate? If you answered negatively to these questions, then it's time to do your homework. Students don't want to be talked at. They want to speak with you. They want to engage with you beyond conversation and are eager to share their experiences online for the world to see. If done right, you can use popular social sharing habits to extend your brand's exposure by simply giving them something to interact with. A simple way to do this is by including Instagram-worthy components in your set up at college events.

Display something at your booth that draws students in to take a photo and encourage them to share it on social media using a designated hashtag. When considering what to add or change about your brand's approach on campuses, consider what it's like being a tourist who stops to look at attention-grabbing structures or objects as you walk up and down an unfamiliar street. What can your captivating object be? Tackle the two-fold challenge to ensure longer lines at college events.  

Adam Grant serves as CEO of Campus Commandos, a top Youth Marketing Agency helping you market products / services to college students. 

Published on: Apr 19, 2018
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