13 Ways to Draw College Students to Your Local Business

Posted on August 14, 2014

Local Business, College Student

They’re smart.


And rebellious.

They’re America’s college students, 22 million and counting. And when you’re marketing to college students, you gotta keep two things in mind.

1. They’re suspicious of advertising, marketing, and anything that takes their money.

2. They far supersede their forefathers in technology.

Am I over-generalizing? A tad bit. But trust me. As a recent college graduate, I’d say I’m pretty close to the collegiate spirit of our era.

So if I was a local business, how would I market to this group?

13 Tactics for Local Businesses

1. Have a Website: 

“Just Google them.” 

local business website

With a website, you can do so much:

  • post your address and phone numbers
  • post available jobs
  • receive online applications
  • show your local involvement
  • post pictures
  • publish PR articles
  • and plenty more.

Some local businesses do this well. Many, however, do not.

In fact, I’m still surprised at the quality of franchise websites, mostly franchisee websites (franchisees are local businesses, too). You’d think franchises, as some of the world’s biggest corporations, would make websites for their franchisees.

The most frustrating thing is to Google a local business and find only reviews on Yelp or Yellowpages. We want you to tell your story. Not these second-hand sources.

So design a website to receive our Google searches. We’ll be glad, you’ll be glad, and Google will be glad.


2. Create an Outstanding Mobile Presence: 

“I can’t see their website on my iPhone.” 

local business mobile phone

75% of college students use their smart phones to research products while in brick and mortar stores. So if your website is not accessible on a mobile device, you lose. As Joshua Steimle says in a recent Forbes article:

If you’ve ignored previous warnings and your business isn’t taking advantage of responsive web design right now or planning on it in the very near future, you are in danger of going out of business in 2014.

College students always have their smartphones. And they’re most likely viewing you from that phone. Design a mobile responsive website and you’ll see much more traffic.


3. Do something nice during midterms and finals: 

“I need some encouragement.” 

local business cookies


Whether it’s pizza on the quad during lunch, or giving out ice cream bars outside the cafeteria, find a way to motivate students during their most stressful times.

I remember a local business doing this for us. At 12:00 am, they would come to the college, hand out donuts and coffee, and speak encouraging words. And yes. We returned the favor by eating lunch at their restaraunt.

Another local business offered happy hour lunches and dinner during and a few days after finals. Why after? Because the manager knew students would be celebrating the closure of another semester. And what happened? Students celebrated at his business.

4. Show up on Social Media Feeds: 

“Dairy Queen posted a Coupon on Facebook.” 

Most local businesses know they should use social media sites. The biggest question is how? 

You can explore many creative options here. I suggest posting coupons and promotions, as that will draw more eyes from college students.

Study Breaks College Media posted his helpful infographic, titled “How College Students are Using Social Media.


Use this to determine which social media sites you want to invest time in.


5. If you offer take-aways, give them something useful: 

“What am I supposed to do with this?” 

local business useful

Whether it’s a t-shirt, pencil, cozy, or pad of paper, offer a useful and free take-away at your business.

We’ll definitely use it. I promise.

And the more you offer, the more takeaways floating around campus.

6.  Be yourself: 

“That’s so cheesy.”

local business cheesy

If you’re not a skateboarder, don’t pretend to be. I’ve seen many local businesses create advertisements with skateboarders, snowboarders, and surfers. It’s not cool.

College students are smart. We can see right past the cheese. And when we do, we laugh inside.

You don’t want us to laugh inside.

Just be yourself. We like brands that live from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

7.  Offer discounts, good discounts: 

“I can’t go out, I’m broke.”

local business empty pocket

It’s not a stereotype: college students are broke.

Local businesses that offer college discounts instantly hook college students.

Two local businesses did this well in my college’s town. One was a sandwich restaurant that offered college students 50% of their sandwiches with a college ID. And you know what? Since cafeteria food gets boring after, my friends and I went to this local business. The other was a local gym that offered us a discounted monthly membership.

Think of something creative for your local business. Then show up on campus to advertise it. Which reminds me…

8. Show up on campus: 

“Are you going to the job fair?” 

local business career fair

Yes. We go to job fairs. Mainly for the free stuff (see tip #5).

Local businesses that market at job fairs not only market their name but also find potential employees.

9.  Sponsor an organization. 

“We need advertising support.” 

Many organizations need advertising support.

  • campus newspapers
  • literary magazines
  • sailing clubs
  • ping-pong clubs.

Find a club that fits your brand and sponsor them. Give them some funding, or offer discounts to members. You’ll be surprised at how fast the word of your sponsorship will spread on campus.


10.  Team up with Greek life. 

“We need service hours.”

local business greek life

Greeks ALWAYS need service hours.

If you sponsor a local fundraiser, make sure to ask Greeks for help. They’ll definitely accept.


11. Give them a story to tell. 

“Last night’s Trivia Night was so awesome.” 

local business good story

Trivia, karaoke, for some reason we just love to embarrass ourselves.

Some of my favorite nights were at a local pizza restaurant, singing karaoke songs, laughing at how stupid I sounded. Those memorable moments make me return to that pizza restaurant, though I’m graduated now.

Create a memorable moment. You’ll have college students returning.


12.  Support local musicians, artists, and poets.

“I wish my college supported the arts.”


local business musician

Pay a musician to play music, offer artists a wall for their painting, or sponsor a spoken word poetry night.


Participating musicians, artists, and poets will tell their friends, their friend’s friends, their professors, families, girl/boyfriends, anyone. Artists always need an audience to show their works to. Tap into this need.


13. Offer referrals. 

“They actually gave me money!” 

Last, give out referrals. “$5 gift card for every person you bring into my business!” or “Free ice cream for every fifth visit!”

We had a bank do this at my college. They gave me $25 for every person I brought into the bank. And let me tell you. I made a fortune that semester.


14. Bonus: Give us an Inviting Atmosphere to Study.

local business study area

The library gets boring.

Our rooms are a mess.

It’s hot or cold or raining outside.

We love cool places to study. The coffee shop vibe is very appealing to college students. For an inviting atmosphere, you’ll want these things:

  • Free WiFi.
  • Light, mellifluous music.
  • Painted walls (don’t leave them white).
  • Dim lights (don’t have fluorescents)
  • Wood grain tables with comfortable chairs.
  • Recliners and sofas.
  • Bulletin boards with local activities.

If you do these things, you will have a steady influx of college students.

College Students Like Local Businesses.

I urge you to try these tips out. Combine them and see what happens. Then, as always, tell me about it. I would love to hear some stories!


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