Brands market to college students in hopes of creating lifetime customers

Brands have focused on marketing to college students in hopes of making them customers for life. Grace Fortier | Photographer

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

One week ago, Dutch Bros Coffee opened a new location in Waco. The opening drew long lines as Baylor students flocked to try the chain’s selection of coffee, tea, lemonade and smoothies.

Colorado Springs, Colo., junior Sarah Burroughs said she has been a huge fan of Dutch Bros ever since a location opened in her hometown. She said she has been waiting for the Waco location to open since the summer and was going to go on opening day but was dissuaded by the long line.

“I went the next day, [and the line] was just to the entrance of their parking lot, which was still pretty long,” Burroughs said. “They had personnel there to direct traffic and make sure people could get in and out and show the cars where to go.”

Cooper Shippy, a shift lead at the new Dutch Bros location, said that while the lines stretched out of the parking lot and into the street, management had prepared employees well for the opening. He also said the new location was excited by the number of customers who came out during opening weekend.

“We’re just trained to be really busy all the time, so to be busy wasn’t strange to us,” Shippy said. “We were super stoked to serve the community, so the turnout just had us ecstatic. We were surprised in the best way.”

Dr. Tyrha Lindsey-Warren, a clinical assistant professor of marketing, said excitement about a new product drives people to want to try whatever the new thing is. She said these consumers are known as “early adopters” within the product adoption cycle, and college students often fall under that category.

“College students are easier to get excited about a product or service,” Lindsey-Warren said. “[College students] have nothing to lose. You’re young. This might be the first time you’re out and about on your own. You have no responsibilities. You’re enjoying your life. There’s nothing stopping you from trying something. If you don’t like it, you don’t do it again.”

Lindsey-Warren said brands will often launch products on college campuses and get their products to college students to try and make them loyal customers for life.

“A lot of brands will launch new products or services on college campuses to college students because they tend to be early adopters, so they have no problem trying out something quickly,” Lindsey-Warren said. “It’s also important for brands to connect with college students because if you get them at college, you will have young people for the rest of their lives. When I went to Northwestern for undergrad, my freshman year, all the credit cards would be there to get us to sign up for a credit card. They knew once we signed up for that credit card, we potentially would have that particular credit card for a long time.”

Lindsey-Warren also said brands utilize their presence on social media to create “empowered storytelling” and connect with consumers on an emotional level. She defined empowered storytelling as “storytelling that exudes the emotion of empowerment.”

“When you look at the entire brand of Dutch Bros, they’re doing empowered storytelling,” Lindsey-Warren said. “They’re empowering their customers in so many ways. They have a whole ‘give back’ philosophy that they give to multiple nonprofit organizations. They have a commitment to their employees. They’re trying to make their work environment and culture very healthy and empowering.”

Lindsey-Warren said empowered storytelling is particularly effective in marketing to college students.

“I research [current college students, who are] Gen Z,” Lindsey-Warren said. “Dutch Bros understands that you all, as a generation, want to buy and purchase products and services from brands that have meaning, that have their values in alignment with your values and that are giving back to you as customers — to you as our community — in a meaningful type of way. Dutch Bros achieves all that.”

Lindsey-Warren also said that social media marketing is the “new-age word of mouth” and that consumers interacting with brands’ social media content allows brands to spread their messages further.

“The cool thing about it on social media is that customers share the content,” Lindsey-Warren said. “So not only are you being motivated, encouraged and feeling good by the content that you’re seeing, but to me one of the beautiful things of empowered storytelling is that you want to share it. When you feel empowered, you want others to feel it too. I’m sure that Dutch Bros has seen the return on investment from connecting emotionally with college students because word of mouth is still big and it still works. Social media is just the new-age of word of mouth.”