The world as we know it is upside down. A global pandemic has changed how we live and work, and a movement for racial equality is sweeping the nation. Just as individuals are trying to navigate their next steps forward, brands and businesses are doing the same.
It’s critical now more than ever for brands to be authentic in their marketing, show empathy, support Black Lives Matter and the ongoing global pandemic, and do the right thing while continuing to keep business alive. It’s an important balance to find, especially when engaging with college students, who are some of the most involved and affected individuals in today’s world.
As an agency that works with brands, we are not immune to this delicate balance and necessity to do the right thing, and we think it’s important that we do our part in not only working with brands that are doing good for the world but helping brands find the best ways to market while doing good.
Through years of experience engaging with and learning about the college audience, we’ve learned what strategies and types of programs work (and don’t work) to meet brand goals and, more importantly, how brands can best adapt certain programs to fit a changing world.
As COVID-19 continues to be a prominent issue in the world, it’s uncertain what college campuses will look like in the Fall. Some colleges have announced a modified semester, some have opted for completely online learning, and others plan to return to normal when students return. With so much uncertainty, it can be hard to plan certain types of programs and activations, and some probably just won’t work next semester. But there are a few “risk-averse” avenues that brands can leverage to students that don’t necessarily rely on massive, in-person activations.
1. Digital Offers via Email
Just like traditional marketing or advertising, giving students an incentive to make a purchase, like a discount or a freebie, will give them a reason to engage with you and buy your product or service.
While social media is popular among students, college students still rely on their email heavily to register with companies or apps and receive information from their universities and professors, so they check it regularly. Determining turnkey and efficient ways to get your brand in front of a national audience with a special student offer drives purchase and engagement. Email can significantly help with this reach, especially while in-person engagement is limited in some areas.
There are many ways to reach students via email if you don’t have access to them directly, including national campus partners and student offer websites. Newbridge’s campus partners and internal databases can reach more than 7MM students to share your offer, services, creative, or messaging campaign and can be modified to fit your target audience by DMA, graduation year, university, and, in some cases, even general interests.
2. Student Ambassadors (Micro-Influencers)
Student Ambassador Programs, some of the most influential college marketing programs we run, can help a brand utilize students’ peer-to-peer influence and affinity for social media to promote awareness, drive sales, and create unique, branded content.
Student Ambassadors (SAs) allow brands to reach their target customers more authentically and keep customer acquisition costs low. The average, well-executed SA program can garner hundreds of thousands of social media impressions, significant in-person engagement and sampling efforts, and create beautiful content for the brand to utilize in their marketing or social media materials.
One of the greatest examples of just how successful a SA program can be in both promoting a brand and driving sales is the L.L.Bean SA program, which Newbridge has been running for several years in a row. From their dedicated SAs over semester-long periods, L.L.Bean has created new loyal brand followers with the college audience, increased sales at sites across their on-campus pop-up retail tour, and, most uniquely, aggregated a repertoire of branded social content to use in their sales and marketing efforts.
3. Pop-Up Retail & Mobile Selling
One of the biggest differences we’re likely to see in our world post-COVID-19 is how retail stores operate and engage with consumers. Although the world will go back to normal at some point, we’ll likely see a significant shift in consumer shopping habits, especially after getting so used to online shopping.
One way a brand can proactively tackle this potential change, and still connect with brands near-term while promoting social distancing, is by bringing the store to the consumer in a pop-up outdoor experience. For college students, we’ve seen this tactic work extremely well, as students are more likely to purchase if they don’t have to make an effort to leave campus and visit a traditional retail store.
By utilizing an open-air trailer, a large outdoor footprint to display product, and stretching space to create a comfortable distance, we can provide a solution to the retail experience. Adding student discounts and other creative engagement for your brand only enhances success. With Gen Z starved for “connection,” any event brought to campus will be a destination. Students will leave the experience with the instant gratification that comes with retail shopping and not feel threatened by any health risks as a result of the outdoor environment and ability to social distance.
Newbridge has run mobile tours for various clients, and our access to campus space allows us to provide brands with a great solution for the 2020-21 school year. Overlaying an SA program can also work in tandem with a mobile selling experience, allowing students to pre-promote the store’s arrival and build excitement across campus, similar to our award-winning work with the L.L.Bean Mobile Selling Tour.
4. Sweepstakes (Targeted & National)
It’s no secret that students love the opportunity to win something, and Sweepstakes are a great way to engage students, build massive brand awareness, drive research, and acquire opt-in leads for remarketing and sales. You’re also providing students with useful prizes of interest and a fun distraction during our challenging times.
In our recent digital marketing reach and surveys, we’ve seen historically high response rates from students and are anticipating a big Summer and Fall semester of successful sweeps that students are excited to engage with.
In addition to putting your brand in front of the Gen Z population in a positive light, Sweeps can also make students more aware of your products and more likely to buy from you during a key purchase period, increasing sales and potentially lowering your customer acquisition cost.
But, one of the biggest benefits of Sweeps for brands is building an audience: being able to engage with students who sign up after the Sweeps has ended through remarketing emails or special offers. National Sweeps that Newbridge has run in the past get somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 entries, all of whom are students you can engage with via email afterward to share special student offers or regular marketing deals.
5. Philanthropy & User-Generated Content
An element of business that often sits passively in a company’s operations is philanthropy or corporate social responsibility. That’s not to say some companies don’t actively participate in philanthropic efforts or enhance their CSR depending on the changing world, but it’s becoming even more important for companies to do this now with the current global environment.
Through our research and studies, we’ve learned that Gen Z’s #1 cause is equality and inclusion. Whether your company is supporting Black Lives Matter, public health initiatives and COVID-19 relief, or another cause close to your heart, there are ways you can use CSR to not only do good for the world but also engage with college students – a demographic that is often incredibly involved and vocal when it comes to activism and philanthropic causes.
In 2018, Campus Causes, a Newbridge-owned shop-to-raise platform for college students, sponsored the Why I Dance competition in partnership with Penn State THON, a long-time philanthropic partner of ours and the largest student-led philanthropy effort in the country.
Students created videos and content sharing why they support THON’s annual 24-hour dance marathon for childhood cancer research, and students voted on the best videos to win a $1,000 donation. The content that came out of this contest was not only inspirational to the wider community but was widely leveraged by THON to promote their cause and get more people involved.
By sponsoring student-led philanthropy like THON, companies can show that they not only want to sell to the college audience, but they are passionate about giving back to the audience, too.
So, whether you’re just now wanting to target the college audience in your marketing efforts, have been trying to crack the code for some time, or are looking for unique ways to shift in the current environment, Newbridge wants to help.
Contact us about any of the above services we offer. We’d love to help you and your brand make an impact in the college audience this year and beyond.