Get Schooled- a Marketing Student’s Takeaway for the Year


One day I want to grow up to be a full-time social media activist, using technology to fight for the greater good.

Currently- I’m a busy college kid just trying to pass all of my classes, be the best club president I can, and get any available ear to listen to me about compassion and sustainability. As the President of Youth for the Environment and Sustainability for the 2013-2014 school year, I got a ton of firsthand experience. Here is my reflection on the most important things I learned and the benefits you can derive from them!

So, why does my advice matter? And how on Earth are you supposed to use it for your business or real life?

Here are a few reasons to keep reading:

  • Our target market is gigantic, and we tailor our marketing to reach as many of those people as possible. 
  • Guerrilla marketing and shock value are our expertise.
  • Most people in college are like me, busy and poor. We have expert tactics at using those “drawbacks” to our advantage.
  • We have no shame asking for free stuff, which has given us a tremendous insight into the importance of giving, and giving-back.

Our Target Market is Large and Complex. We get that.

I’ve been doing a lot of research about inbound marketing these days; and the way to effectively affect an audience is to build a buyer persona. This helps an organization base decisions on pleasing a semi-real person who is a representation of an intended Target Market.

Here is who we use:

Name: Casey Smith

Employer: Local chain restaurant downtown

Goals/ Values: Pass school, do not die of debt overdose, enjoy socializing, look and feel cool, and find niche in the world to excel.

Motivations: Free stuff, extra credit, new mutually-beneficial relationships, and personal growth.

Frustrations: Time management

Information Sources: Internet and word-of-mouth

The Problem: This is almost every person on a college campus. A driven millennial, trying to find out how they fit into the world, who wants to share their experiences with all of their friends. So in essence, YES’s problem has been: How do we get this vast population to see sustainability as a unique opportunity for them, and how can they make it a shareable and rewarding experience?

But, how do we appeal to everyone? And where?

Guerrilla Marketing- “An unconventional way of performing marketing activities on a very low budget.” 

That’s right! YES is a street team of individuals who consistently look for out-of-the-box solutions to our problems. Flyer-bombing and run of the mill Facebook posts aren’t something we believe in.

College is a time for the extraordinary. It is a pivotal transition period in everyone’s life. This is the point where all generic efforts are ignored. To get our generation’s attention you have to be bold. 

How to do it right:

  1. Meet your audience on their terms- no one read your flyer on the community board, it was covered by two “Roomie Wanted” announcements and a coupon for free shots. Instead, put yourself, your brand, or your product where your customer already is. YES believes in leading a more plant-based lifestyle. So, foregoing the old “hand-the-pamphlet,” we handed free “on the go” vegan pancakes with fun facts about non-meat ways to get the daily recommended amount of protein. It was 8 am, they were hungry and we were on the busiest pedestrian walkway on campus. Did we run out of food? Damn right.
  2. Be unexpected- awesome things happen daily. So many awesome things, in fact, that most of them go unnoticed. A person with a clipboard trying to approach people will have an adverse effect. No one likes surveys or spam email. Even if you have the best incentive, a person with a clipboard screams “I want your information so I can destroy your inbox.” Instead, try to embody what you are promoting. YES arranged a raft trip for five to be the top prize for our Earth Week Scavenger Hunt. A group of fully-adorned “rafters” took the campus by storm. There are no rapids in Greeley, bystanders felt obligated to ask us what was going on. Did we tell them all about it? Damn right. 

    Photo by: Youth for the Environment and Sustainability

    Photo by: Youth for the Environment and Sustainability

  3. Be passionate- I’m just going to say it- NO ONE WILL CARE ABOUT YOUR CAUSE UNLESS YOU DO. I live everyday for my top priorities. I eat breakfast with animal rights and I tuck environmental sustainability in at night. I fill every crack in my leadership with devotion. Why? Because exuding that commitment and passion makes people curious. Conviction can be contagious if confronted the right way. Don’t preach and belittle, it hurts a reputation and excludes people. Instead, help people understand your cause and let them know the tiny changes they can make that will make a huge impact. Give compassion, receive compassion.        

Capitalize on Your Audience’s Needs

I’m a college kid, and the struggle is real. We are poor, overworked, in need of fun, and busy. I believe in my causes because I think investment in them will make the world a better place. Most people do not share my beliefs. Lecturing friends or forcing them to watch animal rights videos is a good way to lose friends. So, I opted to host events that meet their needs. YES is passionate about the benefits a plant based diet has on the ecosystem, so I put on vegan dinners for all fifty of my closest friends FOR FREE. Why do they come? The food is free. It is already made. I clean up the mess.

What do I gain by this? When everyone’s hands and mouths are full of succulent quinoa, baked bean, brown rice Sloppy Joes they are at the prime time to listen to my mission. They made it clear they love the food, everyone got seconds. They want the recipe. But the real sustenance during the night is explaining (with undivided attention) how the meal they are ingesting is humane. No one was exploited in the process. Nothing harmed. Nothing killed. 

I never try to make people feel guilty for their food choices. I do however understand college kids need food, and they adore it if it is free. Why not meet on a middle ground and inject a little of my agenda into all of their free food? 

Creative Fundraising:

We are a college club, but we need funding like any other organization in the world.  

We knew what we wanted to achieve, we knew how much we ideally wanted to spend. How did we get it? We asked for free stuff… A LOT. Most companies were more than obliged to help us out. We received a lot of donations, discounts, and overall support. Recognizing we are opinion leaders is one of YES’s strengths. Realizing we are broke and need help though, is also a strength. Overall, being a community citizen means investing in that community. People want to help. They especially want to help people that are trying to immediately reinvest that help as a means to spread a wider message.

It’s not easy to ask for help, we’re human. But believing in your cause and yourself will build a support system that people want to assist in.


Being a college club is a lot like being a nonprofit. The difference being that we are in the perfect environment for stimulating change and attention. However, consistently implementing a focused target market persona profile, insisting on cost-effective guerrilla marketing, reaching our audience through their needs, and asking for help can carry into our “real lives.”

What will you do to grasp your audiences’ attention?