LONDON: Students are not interested in having a conversation with brands on social media but simply want free products or discounts, research has said.

Writing in Marketing, James Eder, founder of The Beans Group and Student, outlined some findings from his organisation's Freshers Marketing Report, which polled 1,515 university students in the UK in an online survey. It found that 87% of 18-24s want brands to entertain, inform and inspire them.

Around half of respondents were clear that they did not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they did not follow a single brand.

"They want either material gain – free products, a good discount or a winnable competition – or they want to be entertained," said Eder. "That's pretty much it."

But he argued that by using the right message on the right platform, brands could engage with this demographic.

For example, the report said students spent more time online than watching TV and socialising with friends, with a third doing so for 20 hours or more a week.

Eder pointed out that students were "beginning a new journey as independent consumers and are defining themselves through the brands they choose and online gives them a great platform to do this".

Mobile was also important, with 36% of the survey saying they would like to be able to use their mobile phone to buy things in shops. And over half used their phones as the main device for checking email and social media.

The importance of Freshers' Week to engaging new students as well as returning ones was stressed. Among the brands that stood in the survey were Domino's, Nando's, Pizza Hut, Lucozade, Endsleigh and Asda.

But Stephen Bell, senior marketing manager at Dixons Retail, told Marketing Week that the retailer's marketing to this audience was now focusing on digital channels.

"We used to target a lot of Freshers' Fairs but we're doing that less-and-less now as the journey [to buying items such as laptops] starts well before that," he said.

The Student Room, an online forum, is also a target for brands. Dixon's operates a 'tech hub' within it which encourages "ambassadors" to offer support to other forum members on issues such as what equipment to buy on a limited budget. Travel specialists are also using it to help gap year students plan their travels.

Data sourced from Marketing, Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff