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College Marketing Trends from Refuel Agency That Will Win Gen Z Customers in 2021


By Jeff Miller, Head of Teen & College Markets, Refuel Agency

2020 was a year that put brands of all sizes to the test. The world has shifted drastically, creating an entirely new marketplace full of Gen Z consumers with different lifestyles, preferences, and shopping habits than when the year began. As we begin 2021, brands are striving to regain their positioning. 

Data from Refuel Agency’s research in 2020 has given us a clear understanding of where the market is headed — and how your brand can create and execute on an effective 2021 marketing strategy that wins over the influential Gen Z consumer audience.

Get Ready for Gen Z to Return to School

When students left high school and college campuses, brands dialed back their on-campus and in-school out-of-home advertising campaigns and instead opted for more direct-to-consumer models to target young consumers. With a vaccine on the horizon, we are all hopeful that students will soon head back to their in-person learning environments.

What this means for brands is that in-school and on-campus advertising campaigns are back on the table for mid-to-late 2021. Our forecasts predict out-of-home advertising spend will increase, so make sure out-of-home campaigns are a part of your omnichannel strategy to keep up with your competition.

Gen Z is Even More Mobile

In recent months, we’ve seen brands get creative with how they’re integrating with Gen Z consumers’ lives. Teens have spent a lot of time socially distanced and on their phone, and your brand can utilize apps they’ve become connected to to reach your audience. If your brand can offer a mobile-friendly personalized ad experience in 2021, you’ll be winning the game.

Gen Z is Even More Committed to Social Cause

Gen Z is a highly conscious generation, aware of their surroundings and passionate about social, political, and environmental change. They have a wealth of information and diverse perspectives at their fingertips, and it’s made them well-informed, empathetic, and self-assured. This generation views their purchasing behavior in line with their values, so they are more likely to support brands that they believe are making a positive impact.

The events of 2020 did nothing but increase Gen Z’s awareness, empathy, and belief systems. Gen Z is looking around at a country that has experienced vast change, isolation, and loss in the last year, and they want to help.

In 2021, we’re seeing brands take a stand and leverage their unique products, services, and technologies to drive change and benefit their communities. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, H&M quickly leveraged its supply chain to begin producing PPE for frontline workers. Cards Against Humanity rushed their free, family-friendly version to keep families entertained at home. Multiple fashion brands let WHO take over their Instagram accounts. Brands have powerful platforms with which they can enact change — and in 2021, Gen Zers most of all, want to see them use it.

Ready to Capture Gen Z?

Download our new ebook: Students Speak—What They Want from Brands and How You Can Win Their Business. Or contact SheerID to learn how you can deliver digitally verified personalized offers that increase conversions, revenue, and ROI.

Download our new ebook: Students Speak—What They Want from Brands and How You Can Win Their Business.

About the Author

Jeff Miller oversees the college and youth division at Refuel Agency. With his comprehensive understanding of this attractive consumer audience and extensive marketing experience, Jeff brings strategic, insight-driven thinking and unparalleled enthusiasm to decoding and engaging these consumers on behalf of his clients and the Refuel team.