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Looking Forward to Back-to-School College Marketing

Who can predict the future? We may not know exactly, but we can look at the evidence, consult an expert, and make a plan. Many brands are starting to think about back-to-school college campus marketing now. What is really going to be happening on campus?

Let’s take a look at how the pandemic changed Gen Z brand marketing this past year, and then, based on the evidence, predict what exciting opportunities will be available for brands who want to market at college campuses this fall.

College Marketing Plans in Spring 2020

At the beginning of last year, our team was running several large brand ambassador campaigns at multiple college campuses that featured event and brand ambassador marketing. One of the biggest campaigns was for First Aid Beauty. Their promotion was called FAB AID: a multi-faceted campaign that included paying off $1 million in student loan debt. Brand ambassadors were trained; a Good Morning America segment was planned, national events were booked in Sephora stores.

Then the pandemic hit. All events were cancelled. College campuses across the country began to close. Student brand ambassadors were unsure what to do. For a moment, we were all stunned.

Finding Success Amid Pandemic Panic

Even though the brands we worked with were very concerned about the health of their customers and brand ambassadors, they were understandably panicked.

The good news? They were working with Campus: an intrepid team that loves to solve challenges. And that is just what we did.

First, we took time to address our clients’ concerns. We made adjustments, encouraging our brands to go from marketing with the intent to sell to marketing with the intent to show support. Their new goal was to stay present and stay supportive. In short order, our team saw opportunities.

We saw solutions.

We saw a way forward.

This pivot was the beginning of our nano influencer strategy. Though we’ve always had brand ambassadors posting on social media, we quickly found a winning formula that worked beautifully during the pandemic.

Making Nano Influencer Campaigns Work

Brand ambassadors are skilled content creators for their own personal channels. They have a huge network of untapped resources: students that were waiting for good opportunities to work with brands online.

As an agency, we monitored the organic content that the brand ambassadors produced, and boosted the best-performing organic posts to the entire Campus community. This meant that the ads were coming from the students themselves, not the brands’ channels.

This shift had a notable impact. Because Gen Z students do not typically like to be ‘marketed to’, the peer-to-peer messaging was highly effective. The peer-generated posts had very good engagement and positive sentiment from consumers when compared with ads that came directly from a brand.

“We saw very positive upticks in social media engagement when our student influencer’s content was boosted to their campus community coming from their own account compared to our own channels” , said Caesarine Novello, Brand Marketing and Communications Manager at Vince Camuto, a Campus Agency client.

Could Experiential Marketing Be History?

With regard to impressions, a nano influencer campaign vastly outperforms face-to-face event marketing. If a brand wants to focus on brand awareness, a nano influencer campaign is highly effective.

Still, creating events and experiences at campuses is the gold standard. “Experiential marketing is always going to be king, because nothing beats being able to touch something, feel something, have a live conversation with someone in a really cool, unique way. When that opportunity comes back, nothing can replace that type of marketing. But in social media marketing, the use of nano influencer campaigns will continue to grow.”

In short, there is a place for all facets of youth marketing: nano influencer campaigns, brand ambassador campaigns, and experiential marketing.

Many brands are now grappling with how to go forward. Since Campus Agency has extensive experience and open communication with college campuses, what will the future look like this fall?

Back-to-school Marketing to Gen Z

We project that there will be some level of peer-to-peer marketing happening on campuses this fall. As the rate of vaccinated students continues to increase, the anticipation for person-to-person interaction to begin anew has never been higher. This will create opportunities for highly successful small-to-medium-sized brand ambassador campaigns, where students will interact with their peers and coordinate ambassador-led small events on campuses.

To that end, we encourage forward-thinking brands to get started on combining the effective elements of nano-influencer campaigns on social media with in-person interactions of brand ambassador campaigns.

Thinking Ahead and Thinking Bigger

Even still, we’re very excited about the return of experiential marketing. After more than a year of social distancing and isolation, students are craving social interaction and new experiences. With unprecedented enthusiasm, they will be ready to absorb new influences and try new things. Will your brand be ready to give those experiences to them?

Thinking of the overwhelming enthusiasm that students will have when experiential marketing events begin anew, Chris Nyland, COO, states, “There is a huge opportunity for brands to capitalize on the excitement in a responsible way. Students are going to be more receptive to marketing messaging now than they’ve ever been.”

Even with restrictions, we’re confident that events can still be planned – with safety protocols in place. (Restaurant takeovers and food truck events are good examples.) As a brand, you may be concerned about the uncertainties that come with planning an event during the end of a pandemic. That’s why working with a college marketing agency like Campus is a win-win. In every season, we’re problem solvers. In college marketing, there is continual red tape and we have a tradition of making what seems impossible happen.

The sudden changes brought on by the pandemic were just a new set of challenges. At Campus Agency, we’re always down for the challenge.

Are you ready to work with a team that’s battle tested for the unexpected? Reach out to us to talk about how to successfully plan your post-covid college marketing campaign.

Contact us.

Feature Image Source: Photo by Phillips Jacobe on Unsplash