FORTUNE Small Business:

Marketing to college students

Getting home addresses can be tricky, but there's plenty of other ways to reach the collegiate demographic.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I have a product that I'm interested in marketing toward incoming college students. I would like to introduce them to my service before they show up to campus. How can I get the lists that contain addresses of incoming freshmen, or current students?

- Rita, Orlando, Fla.

Dear Rita: Marketing to college students can be a tricky process if you're using snail mail; many universities refuse to give out incoming students' addresses because of increasingly strict privacy laws.

According to Jerome Katz, a professor of entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University, the only credible sources of information are the universities themselves. In order to obtain home mailing addresses, you would have to contact each school individually - and you may find that they are unwilling to release information.

"There isn't a national clearinghouse for student addresses," Katz says. "If you want to target freshmen in a particular college, you contact the admissions office."

The admissions and housing offices are often the best on-campus resources for companies looking to advertise products and services through the school. Not only do they have home information for incoming and current students, they know where students reside on campus and have access to college dorms, where your company could flier or give out free samples and coupons.

According to Beth Goldstein, CEO of Marketing Edge Consulting Group and author of The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Toolkit, working with the university to market your company gives you credibility. With approval from the school, companies can include their information in welcome packets provided to students, or the schools can mention the company's services in welcome e-mails sent out before the academic semesters start.

Suzanne Otte, director of marketing at Boston University, also recommend advertising in school publications, which are often produced for the summer and the first week of school, when students are just moving in.

"Working with the student publications on campus is usually really inexpensive," Otte says.

Goldstein suggests making your company visible on campus when students first arrive; often, schools host vendor fairs or events where local companies can advertise their services.

"There are events that go on for students within the first few weeks, and those are great opportunities to get access to the incoming students and their parents," says Goldstein. "That's key because, depending on the product, the parents could be a better asset."

In addition to contacting students and future customers via direct mail or campus publications, our experts urge companies to take their marketing online.

"Incoming freshmen classes are electronically driven," says Katz. "If you're trying to sell to the parents of those students then, yes, direct mail is the way to do it." But rather than focus all of your energies on accessing students at home, utilize e-mail and social networking websites through which the college generation is available almost 24 hours a day.

"That demographic tends to respond well to buzz marketing and viral marketing," says Otte. "Using Facebook and Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) YouTube is one way to go."

Goldstein adds that on sites like MySpace and Facebook, setting up accounts, rather than purchasing sidebar advertising, can be more effective.

"If people see the account set up as real and authentic, they might have a better chance than if it's someone just trying to sell them something," says Goldstein.

All three experts caution that relevancy is the most important facet of your marketing strategy.

"If you don't know your target audience well, their bandwidth for dealing with marketing is pretty narrow," says Otte. "If they feel they're being marketed to, they tend to shut down. In order to reach them, you have to be as targeted as possible with your message."  To top of page

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