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Quick explainer: contextual marketing on campus

Contextual marketing has been sweeping the marketing world as a key term for a while now. But hey, it’s more than a buzzword – it has a lot of substance. And as campus media specialists, we feel contextual marketing can span both digital and IRL channels. Let us take you on a journey…

What is contextual marketing?

Contextual marketing makes use of personalisation to create the most exciting and meaningful marketing experience for consumers. It takes what we know about users – their interests and behaviours – and creates a marketing journey that’s tailor-made for them. 

In the digital sphere, marketers might use contexts like demographics, time zone, device type and more. Step one, then, is data collection – and enhanced understanding of your audience. Step two would be the process of personalisation across digital channels. 

Contextual marketing has been proven again and again to increase conversions and sales – there’s a clear benefit to working it into your digital marketing strategy. 

Ok – but how does that work on campus?

Campuses are spaces that span the physical and the digital – which means that some principles of contextual marketing do apply directly in the digital campus spaces. But even indirectly, we can take the idea of contextual marketing – i.e. marketing within an area where students are active and engaged – and watch it play out very successfully on campus physically. After all – Hubspot defines contextual marketing as “delivering the right content, to the right people, at the right time.” It doesn’t have to just be digital! 

If you ask them outright, Gen Z students will tell you that they don’t like to be advertised to. Brand-new native research shows that 79% always skip ads when they can. 57% use ad blockers, and 80% have been known to mute the audio on your ads when given the option.

When you think about this a little more, it’s understandable – ads can be invasive. They’re designed to disrupt the scroll, intercept the episode, or pop up when you least expect it. This is a great way to get attention – but not a great way to build rapport and curry favour with an ad-skeptical generation. 

On campus, though, this all changes. University is a time where Gen Z students are naturally open and receptive to new experiences – and many of those new experiences can be provided by brands. Take Freshers, for example – many of the areas they move through are naturally enhanced and improved by brand presence. And students tend to be spread out across these areas –  55% of the students attend Freshers Fairs, while 54% can be found hanging out in on-campus spaces, such as bars, cafes and gyms. 

At the start of the year, there’s also a growing interest from students in the Students’ Unions’ digital platforms – 45% of students we surveyed recall visiting their SU website during Freshers, and 43% hit “follow” on their SUs’ social media pages within this time. 

Taking a campaign to the next level 

Marketing in these contexts is likely to be well-received. Students come in a ready-made context all of their own – each campus has its own identity and quirks, and you’ll benefit from engaging with them on a local level by meeting with them where they are. This also makes personalisation that bit easier – you already have an understanding of who you’re targeting, and how they behave on campus. 

This is not the bedtime TikTok scroll, nor is it the teatime series binge – forums where brand discovery isn’t top of mind. Instead, students are actively venturing out into their brave new worlds, figuring out where they’ll be eating, what they’ll be wearing, and who they’re ultimately going to be. It’s the perfect time to make an introduction. 

Get into the context that students inhabit on the daily – talk to us about campus media opportunities today.