Posted At: November 18, 2009 12:58 PM
by Meghan Zimmerman
Whether it’s the weekly call home that leaves their parents feeling more like ATMs than family, the odd, on-campus work-study job, a rare paid internship or a summer’s worth of savings, average college students find themselves in both the need and the possession of disposable income, even in these tough economic times. For them, starting trends has become almost as important as following them, and you better believe that companies have noticed. They have begun targeting this incredibly attractive demographic, and targeting them hard.
According to the latest College Explorer study conducted by Harris Interactive for Alloy Media and Marketing, “The focus on college campuses comes as both the number and spending power of students have grown sharply. Roughly 18.3 million students will enroll in U.S. post-secondary institutions this fall, up 26% from 14.5 million a decade ago, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The discretionary spending of 18- to 30-year-old students is estimated to reach $53 billion this year, 10% more than last year and 29% more than in 2005.”
Campus Party, a national marketer out of Philadelphia, Pa., believes there are three advantages to targeting college students: age stability, spending power and cost effectiveness. Its research reveals that 18- to 24-year-olds are key to building brand loyalty and have sufficient amounts of disposable income.
An obvious increase in spending is just an added benefit for a segment already bursting at the seams with potential brand loyalty. Their proximity to technology compared to older generations has truly made the majority almost both trend-omniscient and omnipotent in all areas of commerce. It’s no wonder that public relations practitioners have been examining this demographic to learn what it is that makes its members tick — whom do they listen to and what excites this public? The question of how best to connect with this public has landed in the spotlight of the world of marketing and public relations.
The answer seems almost too simple — they listen to each other. They listen, and listen and listen until they feel the need to tell someone else. To cultivate these peer-to-peer communications, more companies are employing a strategy of hiring college students to serve as campus representatives. Representatives are able to implement and relay corporate messages and goals to their respective student bodies.The main goal is to raise awareness of a company, but students must also increase the brand exposure. Apple, Procter & Gamble, Mocha Club, Victoria’s Secret PINK and Red Bull are just a few of the companies that have engaged in campus representative programs.
Sarah Hoekzema, campus & events marketing manager at Victoria’s Secret PINK, said the brand decided to begin a campus representative program to connect with the target audience of college-aged females. “We find it successful to have college girls talking about PINK to get that peer-to-peer interaction,” said Hoekzema. “We hope to gain further insight from the college girl and what she likes and what she responds to. We also hope this helps keep PINK front of mind when it comes to shopping, surfing the Web, etc.”
Cara Weisberger works at the PR firm, Relevent. She believes the greatest benefit of campus representative programs is the ability to reach target consumers directly. “Campus representatives serve as the eyes and ears on each campus at all times. Through them, we are able to always know what is happening on campus along with the current trends and interests of students,” said Weisberger.
“The response has been outstanding,” said Weisberger. “Becoming a campus representative allows students to access large brands while exploring the workforce.”
Mocha Club, an organization designed to fund relief and development projects in Africa, has started a campus representative program after an overwhelming interest from college students. “After receiving many requests from college students wanting to get involved, we researched what other organizations have done and analyzed how it would work best with Mocha Club. We then did a test market on a few campuses as a learning process, with hopes to grow the program,” said Marisa Van Houten who has been with Mocha Club since 2007 and is the events coordinator and director of campus representatives.
“We are truly humbled and grateful that college students would want to devote their time and energy to spreading awareness of Mocha Club and raising money for our project work in Africa. We are thankful they want to use their voices and their spheres of influence to accomplish real change in Africa,” said Van Houten.
Through its campus representative program, Mocha Club has also received positive results. “Our representatives have given us nothing but positive feedback,” said Van Houten. “We really try to make them feel like a part of our team, and offer incentives, training and multiple resources, as well as a letter of recommendation for future opportunities, and internship credit where applicable.”
As companies’ brands and messages are encompassing campuses, it is also important to note the many benefits students are experiencing through this strategy. Naomi Ratner, a senior at Syracuse University, has served as a campus representative since her sophomore year. Ratner believes that “campus representative programs are great ways for companies to connect with their target markets and are highly effective in promotion, especially because students are likely to listen to their peers who are publicizing something, rather than an advertisement.“
Through her experiences as a campus representative, Ratner has been able to learn about her field of interest while also gaining first-hand experience. “I have planned and executed events both on and off campus, managed budgets, created buzz about brands through media hits and social media efforts, and have done everything possible to raise awareness to my fellow peers about what I am working to promote,” said Ratner.
Campus representative programs are an effective strategy for both companies and participating students. As students continue to serve as the eyes and ears for companies while gaining experience, companies can continue to learn the wants and needs of a target demographic. As each school operates differently and trends are ever changing, there is no better way to stay current than to be involved. Companies implementing campus representative programs have found a way to give a target demographic, college students, what they want, while simultaneously getting the exposure they want in return.
Graphic by Niki Gautier