Connecting with young audiences can be a steep challenge for brands. We all know young audiences today are digital-first, updating their social handles IRL, and obsessing over live experiences that are simultaneously authentic and instagrammable. We know they’re influenced peer-to-peer and that a balance between online and offline is pivotal. Yet brands still struggle to get engagement right.
Young audiences nowadays are increasingly resistant to brands. Born into a digital-first world, they can fact check everything, and as they see ads in more places than any other previous generations, they are extremely used to being sold to. Gaining their trust is pivotal, but to do so brands need to be authentic. And in order to be authentic, brands need to work with their audience.
Brands need to understand how this audience engages, how they want to interact, where their passions lie, where they want to be and how best to offer them an opportunity for experience.
The original influencers
In order to engage them effectively, brands can tap into the “original influencers” and deploy brand ambassadors to spread their message.
Although the title “influencer” is synonymous with social media nowadays, at Campus Group, our Campus Ambassadors have been campus micro-influencers for decades. They have long been early adopters and brand evangelists and are passionate about a particular brand or category. Made even easier by social media, they hold the power to influence their friends and family at scale.
Word of mouth and recommendation remain the biggest influencing factors for consumers and this is where brand ambassadors add value. They know how to create highly engaged communities of advocates that are genuinely excited to talk about brands. Their content is relatable, creative and most importantly, authentic.
Students hate to feel like they’re being sold to, especially as they’ve been conditioned to seeing advertising everywhere. Having an influential student post about a product or brand online resonates far more with other students than a piece of polished marketing, precisely because it’s more authentic. Price point is still key and the demographic loves to receive rewards or discounts for being students, but these are already being thrown at them, so they need something more disruptive and authentic to really pay attention.
Brand ambassadors are influencing their peers as they too are students, or in a similar life stage. By positioning your brand at the forefront of this conversation you are allowing the consumer, students in this case, the opportunity to connect with your brand. Social proof pays big with this demographic – it’s all around them, from groups of students wearing the same brand of hoody to a lecture to students all attending the same club night. People like to ask friends for advice and therefore tend to follow the same trends.
User generated content can therefore go a long way. In order to ensure positive output from users, brands need to act as an extension of who their followers are and how they want to be seen in the world. This helps build trust among the demographic and encourages greater engagement.
Tapping into data
At Campus Group, we use our network of brand ambassadors across the country as focus groups and sounding boards, both nationally and locally.
At local level, they feedback ideas, event concepts and ways in which they best think a brand can add value to theirs and their peers’ lives by being up to date on the hottest night club, the best bar, what’s working on campus and what isn’t and perhaps what’s missing from the university experience.
At national level, we can analyse key trends in the feedback from our ambassadors, look at differences between cities and university towns, campus centric vs non-campus centric universities. Not every campaign concept will suit every university.
Data and research overall is always important but for this generation it is even more so. Their habits, preferences and environment change very quickly. A particular bar could be the place to go one semester, then next semester it’s all changed. There are more brands than ever being explored by this generation, thanks to platforms like Instagram; even the smallest ones have visibility amongst this demographic, again meaning trends and preferences are constantly changing.
The power of live experiences
While the first step is to establish a presence in university life, the most effective way to craft a strong brand connection is to have an engaging experience that’s more than a simple introduction to your product or service.
Student life can be crowded with brands vying for every student’s attention, and regardless of the end goal, the key is to make sure you don’t just have a presence, but that you stand out from the crowd and your competitors.
Gone are the days of the touring 3×3 exhibition. Best engagement now comes from finding a unique space to operate; a location that enables discovery, where creating a were you there moment is possible. Think of what the best moments to integrate your brand into their lives are. They’re more likely to engage if you take their day-to-day lives into consideration, whether that’s engaging them in the early morning in between classes or breakaways from study, or in the evening as part of their night out or journey to and pre-event.
Youth audiences today are also looking to better themselves, to find out more, and dive deeper into a topic to drive better understanding. A brand that opens up shows they have nothing to hide and are happy to have a conversation with their audience, which builds trust. These can still be entertaining or fun.
Above all, live experiences bring them into the story, enabling interactivity and involvement in the process itself. As a generation for which the online and offline are one and the same, live experiences not only allow them to experience a brand outside the always switched on nature of their lives but also allow them to create content themselves.
After selling this business to the publisher and co-founder of the Auto Trader group, Gavin went on to head Surfing Students, an internet marketing business, which was subsequently sold to the Virgin Group where Gavin became Commercial Director.
Gavin joined Campus Media plc in May 2003 and was appointed to the plc board on 1 February 2004. Campus Group became MAMA Group in 2005 and Gavin ran the marketing business until MAMA’s sale to HMV for £64m in 2010.