When You Are Too Old for Trick-or-Treating

It was Halloween freshman year of college. Most of my dormmates were stripping down to bits of string and cloth—items that, put together, would only pass for a “costume” at a nudist colony (or college)—and going to a party off-campus.

I, on the other hand, was adjusting my bonnet—the final touch of my Martha Washington ensemble—and doing a few calisthenics in preparation for two grueling hours of neighborhood trick-or-treating.

If you find it unsettling that I was trick-or-treating at 19, you’re not alone. After going to just one home and being practically pelted with a Kit Kat by the owner, it was time to hang up my bonnet. Goodbye, childhood.

Back in my dorm room, nursing a single fun-size candy bar, I remembered a costume contest across campus. And then I remembered the homemade sheep costume my mom had sent as a back-up.

What followed was one of my more memorable college moments. I won the contest later that night, but the real highlight was watching the reaction of passersby as I walked to the auditorium, many of whom began shouting, “Lamb Chop! That’s AWESOME!” (I was actually Little Bo’ Peep’s lost sheep, but tomato, to-ma-to). I was outside in a ridiculous costume and people loved it.

You see, professionals are looking for a nice, normal community to call home. College students are looking for an experience. And that is what makes marketing to the latter unique.

In the May issue of units, Kim Cory, Director of Sales and Marketing for University Village, and Dan Oltersdorf, Vice President of Residence Life at Campus Advantage, share three tips to becoming the B.M.O.C.—the Big Marketer On Campus.

  1. Stand out from the crowd. You don’t have to walk around as a Shari Lewis puppet on steroids, but you do need to sell the experience. Cory and Oltersdorf say marketing to today’s student is no longer just about amenities. Students want the “experience” of living there—not the same old thing. Bringing the school mascot to your events, for example, becomes something the students recognize as fun and more than just a logo.
  2. Focus on relationship building. College students crave meeting new people and are constantly looking for opportunities to create a scrapbook of memories for their future, say Cory and Oltersdorf. Having once attended a campus speed-dating event, I can attest to this.
    Resident events are the perfect opportunity for students to network—and the perfect angle for the community’s advertising. When students see pictures of themselves at one of your events, they’re going to recall a great experience they had—save speed dating—that’s directly associated with your brand.
  3. Connect with campus. Understand the college or universities’ resources, learn their values and priorities, and know what is happening on and off campus. Compile that information in a “Campus Concierge Book” and your employees will understand how to help a student while in school.

If my community’s employees had a similar resource, they would have known that it’s illegal to trick-or-treat over the age of 13 in my college town. But I had to learn that one on my own.

For more on marketing to college students, check out the Marketing Insider in the May issue of units, which mails May 8.