Nick Fuller, President of EVERFI International, an education company working with businesses, government and charities to deliver technology-based products and bespoke educational engagement campaigns, explains how marketers can help reduce the inequality faced by disadvantaged young people.

Before the pandemic, researchers feared that attempts to narrow the gap between the educational achievements of disadvantaged children and their more privileged peers were starting to stall.

Now – several lockdowns later and as we tentatively resume ‘normality’ – that gap looks wider and considerably deeper than it has for a long time.

One study, by University College London’s Institute of Education, showed “substantial inequality” between the number of hours of schoolwork that pupils in different social groups were doing during the first lockdown.

While just under a fifth were putting in more than four hours each day, another fifth – often those from the poorest homes – were working for less than an hour a day. This should come as little surprise: under-privileged pupils are, among other things, less likely to have a quiet space to study, a laptop of their own or a fast internet connection.

Efforts to narrow the gap are underway, but what can marketers do about it?

As marketers, we need to understand our audiences’ circumstances and speak to them on their terms about the topics they care about if we are to drive sales. For many young people, those circumstances and topics have radically changed in the last year.

Here are four things we can do to help, particularly the most disadvantaged young people, over the coming months.

  1. Carry out new market research to understand young people’s needs and concerns

All our lives changed immeasurably during the pandemic, but young people’s lives were turned upside down entirely. Don’t rely on pre-pandemic market research to tell your business what young people want as customers – their wants and needs have changed.

Take, for example, young people’s career ambitions. Research shows that, since the pandemic, young people are more confused about their career path than ever, with more than two-fifths pausing their plans.

If you do decide to carry out market research to understand what young people want, ask them directly rather than polling the adults who look after them.

Go for as wide and as diverse a pool of young people as you can and ensure you include those for whom English is not their first language, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from minority ethnic groups, to name just a few groups who are too often under-represented.

The more you understand what young people want now, the more likely you are to create a marketing strategy that resonates with them and brings them on board as loyal customers.

  1. Don’t exclude young people with limited technology

It’s easy to assume all young people live their lives online. Aren’t they Generation Z after all?

Well, yes, but scrolling through social media posts or entertainment sites on a phone doesn’t mean they are confident tech users.

At the start of the pandemic, Ofcom – the government’s communications regulator – found that 1.8 million children in the UK didn’t have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.

More than 880,000 were found to be in homes with only a mobile internet connection and so might only be able to use the internet for a short period each day.

A study by the University of Liverpool has also revealed that, while many young people appear to be ‘digital natives’, some – particularly those from the poorest households – are often using their phones mainly for social and entertainment media and are actually “marked by narrow and limited digital media use and a lack of digital literacy.”

As marketers, it’s all too easy for us to exclude these young people. We need to find other ways to reach them, to listen to them and to market to them.

  1. Market the marketing profession, but not to the usual suspects

With fewer jobs available to young people and limited career help, it’s more important than ever that we give pupils and school leavers support to find roles they will thrive in.

Marketing is misunderstood by many young people and teachers, which is hardly surprising given how diverse our job descriptions can be.

We also suffer from a lack of diversity in our profession. Last year, a survey found that 88% of marketers were white, while the percentage of women in senior roles was well behind other industry benchmarks.

COVID-19 has made it difficult to concentrate on “non-core business activities”, but it is by marketing the marketing profession to young people who are unlikely to hear about it otherwise that we can make a big difference.

Speak to local schools about what the day-to-day marketing roles in your team involve. When lockdown eases considerably, perhaps invite a teacher and a group of pupils to see your business for themselves.

Research by Education and Employers, a UK charity, has shown that when young people meet employees from a wide range of backgrounds who are in jobs from across the world of work, they broaden their horizons, increase their motivation to learn and become more informed about the career paths most suited to them.

  1. Help support young people to acquire essential life skills

Marketers tend to have life skills in abundance, whether it’s financial know-how, resilience, communication skills, negotiation tactics or all of the above and many more.

Some 94% of the country’s employers and more than half of teachers say ‘life skills’ are now as important as – or more important than – academic qualifications, according to a study by the Sutton Trust, a social mobility thinktank.

Almost three quarters of UK teachers say their schools should increase their focus on teaching life skills, the same study found.

Life skills give young people a broader, more rounded education and the tools to understand themselves better. They are also a strong predictor of long-term career success and happiness.

However, the school curriculum is more squeezed for space than ever and too often, it’s the young people who need life skills the most who are least likely to be taught them.

At EVERFI, we take some of the most challenging issues of our time – how to stay safe online, for example – and create digital courses that are engaging and informative for young people. We then partner with businesses to make these courses free for schools across the UK.

Whatever it is you choose to do as a marketer in the months and years ahead, make sure it includes helping young people, particularly those who are going to struggle even more than they would have done in a pre-pandemic world.

Together, as a profession, we have an extraordinary opportunity to reduce the inequality young people face. Let’s not miss the chance.