Student loan solutionsThe soaring costs of higher education have made student loans and financial aid a rite of passage for most of today’s college students — so it’s no surprise that providing financial services to these consumers is a lucrative business. The entire industry, however, has recently spent time in the spotlight, with many states questioning some direct marketing practices.
And the challenges for marketers don’t end there: With so many offers vying for a student’s attention, financial institutions also need to stand out among the often confusing array of debt management options available to this age group.
“College students are the target audience that everyone is seeking, so they are really bombarded to the point of too much information coming at them all the time,” says Heather Dougherty, account manager at Alta Communications, which recently completed an online tool and custom magazine, YCD, for American Education Services, a student loan and financial aid company.
On the other hand, Dougherty believes that college-aged students can receive and process information at a much higher capacity than someone age 40 or 50, from many more platforms. So, targeting students with information on a variety of channels is essential.
“360-degree marketing, where we surround the audience with information in non-traditional places, is a fantastic way to intersect with students how and where they live,” she explains.
Other marketers point out that much of today’s direct marketing creative is too straight-laced and unmemorable. “Some things can get bland and fall into background noise,” says Steve Hartert, managing director of marketing for All Student Loan.
However, great-looking creative may not be enough to cut through the clutter, he says, adding that the marketing pendulum is even swinging away from traditional e-mail toward other new media, such as mobile messaging and social networking sites.
For student credit service Duck9, text messaging has been one of the best ways to target college students. Mobile marketing, says CEO/founder Larry Chiang, ties in with the trend of creating direct marketing pieces that address students the way a friend would, providing relevant advice and information — and texting is how today’s students communicate with friends on a day-to-day basis.
“The fact is, college students are bombarded with 200 messages a day, just from financial services,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter how colorful your creative is — it also needs to be something that’s functional and useful to the student.”
As for Dougherty, several key factors play into her company’s efforts to market student loan services to college-aged consumers. “They are very smart and discerning,” she says. “They don’t suffer fools, they require authenticity, are really fluid consumers, fluid buyers of goods and services, and are very unintimidated by the Internet.”
In addition, she explains, they love humor and require instant gratification, easy access and social portability. “Of course, we can’t always hit all of those things, but we use these rules to design our campaigns,” she says. “Essentially, consumers want what they want when they want it.”
All Student Loan: Postcard and e-mail campaign
All Student Loan used a humorous photo and slogan to target students in a postcard/e-mail campaign. “What we’re saying is, ‘Don’t get left out — you still have financial issues to deal with,’” explains Steve Harder, the company’s managing director of marketing. Students were encouraged to apply for a loan through a listed number or a self-service Web site. The campaign resulted in an 8.5% increase over the past two years’ average of loans given out.
Duck9: Text messages
The student credit services company uses simple text messages to attract students to its credit counseling and loan service. After all, explains founder Larry Chiang, “A student’s cell phone is his friend,” so students are likely to read a text even from an unknown sender. This “friendly” approach is working: more than 50,000 students sign up for Duck9’s personal loans and online newsletters each month.
American Education Services: Custom magazine
The student loan and financial aid company started a loan counseling tool, youcandealwithit.com, as a resource for graduating students. In addition, it produced a companion glossy spoof magazine called YCD, which was distributed at college campuses and featured humorous articles, games and puzzles. To get the puzzle answers, students had to log on to the site. The magazine was such a success when it launched in early 2007 that it was reissued in September.