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Marketer's Quest to Reach the Digital Natives


Marketers need to fully understand the Digital Native segment of the market. Why? They're the future technology savvy consumer of products and services.

eMarketer estimates that this year 95.7 percent of college students -- 17.4 million strong -- will go online at least once a month. They're the Digital Natives.

"College students are the most digitally connected demographic group in the U.S.," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst at eMarketer. "They have grown up with technology and it is a seamless part of their lives."

Marketers looking for the next big trend online can learn a lot from college students. "Students have played a prominent role in some of the biggest developments in the Internet and technology in recent years," says Ms. Williamson, "from social networking to the iPod."

In fact, entering college freshmen have already lived through a series of Internet era milestones -- often themselves created by college students.

"The college market is basically the testing ground for all technologies," Matt Britton, chief of brand development for youth marketing agency Mr. Youth tells eMarketer. "If it takes off there, it's going to take off in the mass market."

In addition, the college market is one of the most-attractive demographic groups for marketers because of students' discretionary budgets. According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, the back-to-college season alone is a huge purchasing occasion.

Students and parents were expected to spend an estimated $11 billion on consumer electronics in 2008.

"In so many areas, students are key drivers of change in technology usage," says Ms. Williamson. "They brought social networks into the mainstream, and such sites remain hugely popular with them."

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