The Good, The Brand, & The Ugly – To the College Audience

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How do some brands manage to create and maintain meaningful relationships with their loyal college students while other companies seemingly repel those who pay for their services?  How can huge brands, Apple and Nike for example, retain an almost cult-like following amongst the college demographic, even after scandals surface, like workers’ rights issues?  These companies, who have successfully stayed relevant throughout the years, have done so by making great, lasting impressions.  In order to accomplish that, the most successful brands use “emotional currency,” drawing and leveraging meaningful insight into true human nature.  Regardless of whether or not they truly care, by catering to our emotions and feelings, marketers see exponentially larger success rates in retaining engaged loyalists.

Social media was a tidal wave for companies looking to build engagement, especially in the 18-24 year old age group.  Those who use it most effectively have been able to facilitate customer storytelling and experience sharing, both good and bad.  Even the huge corporations that seem to have no shortage of nightmarish customer experiences have figured out ways to spin them, through direct B2C interaction, in order to bring about a resolution that makes everyone happy.

College kids are great at complaining, and these customers will inevitably have a bad experience with your brand. The brand promise you created through your advertising did not live up to the expectations. When the brand promise falls short, college students are going to want you, and all of their friends, to know about it.  Effective college marketers treat the situation as an opportunity to create a real connection with the consumer making it a valuable way to rectify the situation.  Building the brand story through all touch points will successfully create a positive experience.

It is possible to engage with college students even before they start turning to social media to complain about a performance. Engagement takes more than just a fancy new logo and tag line to lure people in. It’s imperative to understand the identity of a brand and tell that story and brand promise to college students.  A better way to add excitement is by delivering an incentive to consumers. Coupons, sales, contests, even consumer input forums are the best ways to make the brand story interactive.

Apple, for example, offers back-to-school promotions for the college demographic in the form of iTunes gift cards. They recognize that incentivizing the fence-sitters and brand loyalists alike is a slippery slope, so they’re very careful not to over-discount or over-coupon this market.

It is vital to create evangelism and tribalism surrounding your company.  Without even realizing it, highly engaged consumers will take an active role in promoting their favorite brands within their social circles, both in person and online.  This group of loyalists doesn’t just materialize; they are earned through authentic and compelling brand relationships.  As companies walk the fine line between unrolling “more of the same” and “more of the different,” they need to be aware of the ramifications of their actions, looking at who they’re attracting, who they’re alienating, and applying lessons learned to constantly improve their positioning within the minds of the public.

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