Student engagement: building brand relationships

Greg Consiglio, CEO of Connectt, discusses how brands and student relationships are evolving

2.34 million. That’s the number of students studying at UK higher education institutions, according to Universities UK.

Aside from the huge number, it’s a group that amasses attention from brands who are looking to recruit graduate talent, invest in R&D and tap into their purchasing power that significantly increases after completing studying.

This has led to the sponsorship of sports teams and student societies, while graduate fairs are consistently jam-packed. However, marketing to this audience is not easy and, actually, it’s getting harder. They’re a tech-savvy group switched on to superficial campaigns and partnerships and engaged in current affairs – sharing their opinions online that can both positively and negatively impact a brand’s reputation.

Indeed student unions across the country, including Warwick SU, have banned oil and arm companies from advertising on campus in the past – and just this summer the president of Goldsmith’s University waged a campaign against beef being sold.

They’re a tech-savvy group switched on to superficial campaigns and partnerships and engaged in current affairs

Fundamentally, if a brand is going to engage successfully with a student audience, then they are going to have to find like-minded interests with specific groups they want to connect with. Whether that’s an engineer, a netball player or the whole debating team – think beyond how you can support with money and more about how you can help them to achieve their ambitions and help elevate and support what they actually care about.

Brand research

Earlier this year, Campus Society released research of 2,225 students revealing the brands they most admire and why: in an open poll, the top brand – Nike – scored more than double the votes of Apple, who ranked second. Product quality, innovation and delivery of inspiring content were the stand-out performance differentiators – and something both organisations have spent years (if not decades), refining and tweaking to ensure mass appeal.

In an open poll, the top brand – Nike – scored more than double the votes of Apple, who ranked second

Dig a little deeper and you start to see why these brands are so appealing. Just over a third (34%) of those questioned said they wanted a brand to have an innovative approach to communications. While another third (33%) of students cited inspiring content as a draw. This may explain why those renowned innovators, like Nike and Apple, that push the boundaries of developing engaging content, scored so highly.

For students, different platforms serve different purposes

But not everyone is Nike, Apple or Adidas (who ranked third) and have the multimillion-pound marketing budgets that these brands can afford. Creating that meaningful engagement doesn’t need to just be about what you communicate; it’s how you communicate. It’s here where marketeers must align to the platforms students are using, tapping into relevant social media channels to reach and connect with students.

There must be the recognition that, for students, different platforms serve different purposes – and they expect brands to understand that and act in tandem with them. For Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; and on Twitter, they get the news.

Campus Society, on the other hand, is a social network built specifically for students – allowing brands to engage with members who share like-minded interests. On this platform, students set up their own forums and profiles for their societies and clubs – free from things that might clutter their news feeds on other platforms.

The brands who get the frequency, relevance and mechanism of content delivery right will reap the benefits of better, more meaningful connections

It allows them to ‘own’ their own network in a way that creates an engaged conversation on specific issues that matter to them. Brands should consider these issues and how they can enter the conversation, too. Some already are: with Gen Z moving away from Facebook, for example, organisations like Sephora Beauty, Lego, Starbucks and Xbox are investing in their own nuanced brand communities with success.

This all points to the constant, rapid evolution of the communications landscape and how the brands who get the frequency, relevance and mechanism of content delivery right will reap the benefits of better, more meaningful connections with their next key audiences.

Using insights to create direct engagement: a lesson from Barclays

While social media has created a means to build safe, scalable and more meaningful relationships, traditional social networks may no longer be fit for purpose. In many ways, the incumbents have made it more challenging to achieve a meaningful relationship with consumers – thanks to a myriad of channels, evolving platforms, new algorithms and automation. They’ve created opportunity but also the danger that the brand / consumer relationship is less personal, less tailored.

Barclays, for example, recently announced a new scheme to offer students access to a library of e-books, where they can pick up to three free course text books – in light of research finding that money is the number one concern for Gen Z students, over and above exam stress.

A brand that can communicate that level of insight, with a genuine purpose to make university life that little bit easier, is going to be one that builds closer affinity with its students than others.

What does this mean for brands that are looking to build these life-long relationships? It means looking at the original engagement idea: that the right product and content, communicated in the right way to the right audience via the right platforms, will have a lasting impact.

Those brands who focus on having a positive impact on society, demonstrating an ability to understand what the core issues facing this audience are, and being able to communicate that in creative ways through the right mix of channels, will be the ones that rise to the top.

https://www.connectt.us

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