How are you connecting with the most connected of travelers?NewsBy Viewpoints | April 26, 2011Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest post by Atle Skalleberg, executive vice president at US-based online travel agency StudentUniverse.There are more than 14 million full time and five million part time college students in the US alone - and they are better educated than any previous generation.They are peer-oriented, tech-savvy trendsetters that spend more time together than any other social or professional group.In this article, we will discuss factors that could impact your view of the segment and perhaps even affect your marketing strategy.Decision-makers in travel companies across the globe might think keg-stands, spring break and low-yield when they hear the word "students".Self-fulfilling prophecies will be preached in corner offices. College students will be treated just like any other segment or not even targeted at all.Retail marketing departments recognize the importance of one of the biggest consumer spending events of the year; back-to-school.In 2010, the US National Retail Federation expected college back-to-school spending to reach almost $34 billion, while surveyed parents estimated that their children were making 70% of the purchase decisions on their parents’ credit cards.Travel is an established and important part of this event. More importantly, it shows a clearly defined segment that has purchase power. Regardless, most travel companies do not seem to have a continuous marketing plan for the young and restless.Not only do they speak the same language to the 60 year-old customer from Fort Lauderdale and the 21 year-old living in London, but they use the same marketing vehicles.They do not provide an incentive to interact with their brands. They do not have separate landing pages, email marketing strategies, social media accounts or mobile applications.Why is that? Why are they not seeing what Apple is seeing?There are certainly numerous reasons for Apple’s incredible success over the past few years. Great product design, smart marketing, and a more complete product line are merely a few.According to numbers from Student Monitor and Fortune, Apple has gone from a college market share in the teens to the thirties, all in five years.Among students planning to buy a new computer, almost half now plan to buy a Mac. Needless to say, these are staggering numbers.Apple understands the value of the college market. They have been committed to the idea that today’s savvy college students are tomorrow’s business men and women, doctors, engineers and teachers.They have also understood the importance of price differentiation. The Apple Store for Education provides college students with a discount on Apple products. Apple gets it.If the product is right and the perceived benefit is greater than the cost, well then student budgets are suddenly more flexible. Apple’s computers are significantly more expensive than Dell’s. Yet, they now have a greater market share.Ask yourself; what’s the future value of all those illuminated apples in classrooms all over the world? Do you still think college students can’t be loyal? Apple clearly thinks they can and so should any company believing in what they do.There is a reason Red Bull allocated the majority of their budgets to marketing targeting Generation Y. Cars on college campuses, free Red Bull at parties, extreme sports events, racy language – it is no coincidence.Now you might be thinking "well that’s Red Bull and Apple, that’s not like travel".Think about this: at StudentUniverse we get deals from 40 airlines, our site gets visited by almost one-third of all US college students and verified students can become members for free.Airlines establish a connection with students, drive incremental business and fill seats – all in a socially acceptable manner (If you as a business traveler sat next to a student that got a discount on the same flight as you, would you mind?). Most importantly, our airline partners are building relationships today with the students who will soon be their business travelers.We know how hard it is to change and similar arguments could possibly be made for other segments too. However, you can get started without a verification tool or price differentiation strategy.Here are five things you can do to treat future decision-makers better:1. Admit that you are oldIt is a fact; most decision-makers are too old or disconnected to have a finger on the pulse (having a kid in college does not qualify).That is fine, as long as you do not pretend to speak their language, understand their tastes or tell them what to do. Keep things simple – common courtesy and short messages are better than trying to be hip.All age-groups respect honesty and brands that are true to themselves. If you can afford it, we would strongly recommend hiring someone that has a PlayStation 3 or knows how to play beer-pong. If you cannot afford it, how about an intern?2. Go socialYou have probably been to several conferences where the importance and future of social media has been discussed.There is no doubt, the mobility of technology and social networks will continue to change how we do business. However, there isn’t any doubt that most people find these subjects so confusing, foreign and frustrating that they opt out.It is easier to leave it for later. Do not do that! Start with the basics – if you do not have a Facebook page (a lot of relatively solid companies do not), get one. If you still have not started using Twitter, Linkedin or blogs, wake up.Then, make sure you update them.3. Enable sharingAsk yourself this; how easy do you make it for someone that loves your service to tell their friends about it? Dedicate social sharing buttons to your landing pages, create campaigns that require user engagement and give users an incentive to share.4. Embrace segmentationA natural first step is to make sure you know which of your users are indeed college students. Do you? Only when you know this can your marketing become truly effective.Then you can change the message, send relevant emails, create college landing pages and design campaigns that look like they were meant for students.5. Provide an incentiveAmazon provides free Prime subscription to students. Edhance has built technology that lets merchants offer cash back to students that register their existing debit or credit cards.Microsoft offers deep discounts on their software. We could go on and on, but the all familiar student discount is not the only alternative here. Could you offer better service? Better terms and conditions? Free trial?Whatever your decision is, make sure there is an incentive in place.ConclusionsSo how are you connecting with the most connected? These emerging adults have the money and freedom to start choosing which brands will lead them through college and into adulthood.Attract them now or risk losing out on the next generation business and leisure travelers.NB: This is a guest post by Atle Skalleberg, executive vice president at US-based online travel agency StudentUniverse.