Companies use students to create brand loyalty
When walking around campus, it is not unusual to be approached by a promoter publicizing the latest deal to students. Many companies hire these brand ambassadors in order to foster brand loyalty.
“Companies make an assumption about the future purchasing power of college students,” said Tammy Nelson, vice president of marketing and research at Re:Fuel, a marketing firm.
The Target Corporation has been using University students for the past two days as brand ambassadors.
The student brand ambassadors wear red Target T-shirts and hand out coupons and candy to promote “Target Night,” during which buses transport students to and from nearby Target stores after normal store hours, said Jeff Beneducci, a brand ambassador for Target.
The retail store worked with the University’s Residence Hall Association and Student Life to help promote the event, said Beneducci, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
Beneducci, while passing coupons at the College Hall bus stop on Douglass campus, said Target was smart in using students as brand ambassadors because marketers do not know the typical college environment as well as students do.
“We know where the high traffic areas are,” he said. “We have people at the campus centers and the popular bus stops.”
Beneducci believes Target employees would also not be as successful as brand ambassadors because they would not understand the mentality of a student.
“We come from the mindset of being a college student, we can talk to and approach [other students] the way a marketing executive from Target couldn’t,” he said.
The Target brand ambassadors get to keep their T-shirts and are reimbursed with a $100 gift card, Beneducci said.
Another company promoting itself on campus has its own kind of brand ambassadors.
Indigo Hair Salon on George Street promotes itself on campus with traditional advertisements, but its patrons act as brand ambassadors themselves, said Fawn Kritzler, co-owner of the salon.
“The best way to advertise is when people walk around with their new haircut and people say it looks great, and they reply ‘Thanks, I got it cut at Indigo,’” she said.
Kritzler and Nelson both agreed that word of mouth is the most powerful way to promote a company’s brand.
“Word of mouth creates viral buzz about the new product or brand,” Nelson said. “College is the most communal environment in our lifetime. It’s the optimum environment to create buzz [as] there is this hive mentality.”
Brand loyalty has helped foster the hair salon, Kritzler said.
“I still have customers who used to be students but now live in Brooklyn,” she said. “I even have clients who live in Texas and come to the salon when visiting family.”
Companies target college students because of their status as consumers, said Sandy Becker, professor of marketing at the Rutgers Business School.
“They have a lot of influence, which translates to purchasing power later,” he said. “They are risk-takers when it comes to new brands, and when they like something it is a big deal.”
Companies use different marketing strategies such as using student brand ambassadors because traditional advertising does not reach college students well.
“The best way to reach a college student is in a dorm or in between classes,” Becker said. “The goal of the [strategy] is for the student to become connected and engaged and to understand the value of the brand.”
Chris Boggs, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said it does not matter what the marketing strategy is as long as both parties benefit.
“So long as the students come out ahead it doesn’t matter what the business principles are,” he said.
Silvio Marin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he has seen many companies marketing to college students around campus.
“I’ve seen the Monster energy drink trucks around campus and the Red Bull Mini [Cooper] driving around campus as well,” he said. “[College] is a huge market for those companies.”
Marin called the Target promotion campaign especially well thought out and convincing.
“Even if I don’t go to the event, they’re successful,” he said. “I looked at the logo and now it’s ingrained in my head.”
Cole Clinton, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, was the Target brand ambassador in front of Brower Commons on the College Avenue Campus on Wednesday.
He handed out coupons and candy to many passing students and said many students were waiting for the promotion after it had been postponed due to Hurricane Irene.
“When passing these promotions out there are so many people I know [personally],” he said in between hugs and handshakes.
Target expects about 3,500 students to shop on “Target Night,” Cole said.
“Target Night” began 10 years ago at a college in Minneapolis near Target headquarters and now has 66 events at colleges throughout the country, said Target spokesperson Kristy Welker. The company uses brand ambassadors nearly exclusively to promote the event.
“We find that brand ambassadors connect directly with the students,” she said.
While corporations benefit from the advertising, marketing specifically to college students does not seem to present any extreme adverse effects, and companies believe they are helping the students as much as the corporation, Welker said.
“We don’t just show up with buses, we work with the school and its programs,” she said. “Plus it’s an opportunity for new students to connect with fellow students and help them get last-minute things when they don’t have transportation.”
But students this year are not as optimistic of the economy compared to years past and sales remain flat, Nelson said.
“In the past years there has been relative optimism in college students, but the rising tuition costs [this year] have really had an effect,” she said.
Nelson said this is even more of a reason that brands need to make an effort to target to college students.
Another reason is the lack of brand loyalty that exists in the market, Becker said.
“All consumers are not nearly as loyal as they used to be and since it’s so low companies need to market constantly,” he said.
Even though sales have not increased, college students are still the number one consumers in certain areas.
According to Re:Fuel’s research there are a few indices in which college students over rank other groups by a large margin in where they spend their money, Nelson said. These include health and beauty products and technology devices. But the number one category where college students outspend other groups is in food.
“This includes food purchased in dining [but not college dining services], groceries and convenient stores,” she said. “College students love to eat.”