College is a place for firsts: A first romance, first inspiring class, and first job. It’s also where many students get their first dose of technology: cell phones, laptops, CD burners…marketers know this. That’s one reason why college students, who for the first time have money to spend, hold the key to technology companies’ success.
“[College] is an important time for marketers to connect with this demographic group, reaching them as they establish life-long buying patterns,” said Derek White, executive vice president of 360 Youth, Inc., a market research firm.
Chris Mirmirani, 20, is still marveling over his first high-tech, state-of-the art computer. When he bought his Hewlett Packard 2.53 GHz computer last winter for close to $1,200, he said it put his friends’ computers to shame.
“There’s a silent competition,” said Mirmirani, a third-year communications major at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I.”They were like, man, that’s ridiculous!'” He and his college friends often try to out-do each other, to see who has the most up-to-date tech devices.”I have a pretty healthy obsession with technology,” he admitted.
Mirmirani is not alone. Technology, and consequently, spending on technology, play an overriding role in the lives of most college students, making them arguably the most influential market for technology firms. It is no doubt a large and influential market, with close to 16 million students who last year spent nearly $200 billion.*
According to a recent study*, 93 percent of college students have access to the Internet, making them the most connected segment of the population. Ninety-two percent own a computer, 69 percent own cell phones, and more than 50 percent of students say they are likely to purchase a technology device or gadget after seeing others try it., Students also spend an average of $287 a month on discretionary items on things like pizza, beer, travel, clothing and yes, technology, according to the study.
Even if college students aren’t bringing the tech products home, tech companies are volunteering to bring home the goods anyway.
“[Tech companies] want to start brand loyalty early,” says Julie Mariga, Ph.D., a professor of computer technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
She knows many companies donate equipment, hardware and software to colleges and universities, especially at Purdue. At Bryant, freshman received brand new DELL Inspiron laptops this year.”Our library is equipped with the most up-to-date kind of equipment that exists,” said Mariga.”I believe the college market is extremely important for technology markets,” she said, noting many of her students have the latest technology.”It’s everything from the newest PDA to wireless networks with multiple workstations and servers running a variety of software.”
Mariga also witnesses the competition between tech companies on Purdue’s campus, which has close to 35,000 students.”When a company finds out that one of their competitors has donated some hardware or software they will contact our department and see if they can donate their particular product, too,” she said.
Back at Bryant, Mirmirani continues spending hours on his new computer and even more money on stuff he can put in it.”I spend at least $70 to $100 a month on stuff like DVDs, video games and software,” said Mirimirani.”But,” he continued,”I’m most obsessed with MP3s because they can easily be downloaded for no charge.”
* Source: 2002 joint study by 360 Youth and Harris Interactive market research.
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