MAK­ING THE GRADE

Pre­cious de Leon as­sesses how brands are con­nect­ing with the re­gion’s $2 bil­lion stu­dent sec­tor.

Gulf Marketing Review - - COVER STORY -

AT NO OTHER point in time has en­gage­ment be­tween brands and con­sumers been as high as it is now. And no other de­mo­graphic ex­pects brands to do more than the youth. Be­sides, this ex­pec­ta­tion isn’t ex­clu­sive to youth-ori­ented brands alone.

Prod­ucts or ser­vices that want to build long-term brand loy­alty could gain more by un­der­stand­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers and chang­ing pur­chas­ing habits.

How­ever, to be part of the youth con­ver­sa­tion is like en­ter­ing a com­plex con­sumer jour­ney. To­day’s 14- to 25-year olds not only have com­par­a­tively more pur­chas­ing power, their buy­ing habits are also dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions’. So digi­tis­ing con­ven­tional mar­ket­ing strate­gies alone isn’t enough, at least for this gen­er­a­tion – known as Gen C – be­cause they are al­ways dig­i­tally well con­nected.

Deal­ing with a tar­get mar­ket that is fre­quently online can lead to dra­matic re­sults. The im­pact of a mar­ket­ing cam­paign – good or bad – is in­stantly am­pli­fied as con­sumers have no reser­va­tions about shar­ing their brand ex­pe­ri­ences. They will­ingly en­dorse the brands they care about and those that care about them.

Equally, a neg­a­tive brand ex­pe­ri­ence will not only re­sult in the dam­ag­ing of a sin­gu­lar con­sumer re­la­tion­ship, it has the po­ten­tial to sour a brand’s rep­u­ta­tion within that in­di­vid­ual’s net­work of peers, which has been mul­ti­plied, thanks to the web and so­cial me­dia.

The hu­man net­work “For this par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­thing they think and do is im­me­di­ately shared. This gen­er­a­tion has cre­ated a very pow­er­ful hu­man net­work that didn’t ex­ist in the past and has be­come phe­nom­e­nally in­flu­en­tial in a con­sumer’s jour­ney,” says Vasudevan KS, di­rec­tor of global busi­ness at the UAE-based in­for­ma­tion man­age­ment firm Navo, adding that “up to 60 per cent of pur­chase de­ci­sions among the youth are in­flu­enced by this hu­man net­work”. Navo’s clients in­clude Dubai Duty Free and Vir­gin Me­ga­s­tores.

So just how does a Gen C’s con­sumer jour­ney dif­fer from its pre­de­ces­sors’? Vasudevan il­lus­trates: For Gen C, the first step is to go on so­cial me­dia plat­forms and an­nounce its in­ten­tion to buy and ask peers for brand rec­om­men­da­tions. Then, go to third-party web­sites to com­pare prices be­tween com­pet­i­tive brands. Af­ter nar­row­ing down the op­tions, Gen C take to video sites, such as Youtube, to watch prod­uct demos and re­views. Af­ter that, it looks for news and ar­ti­cles on its prod­uct of choice, and only if sat­is­fied will they fi­nally de­cide to buy the prod­uct.

“Where is the brand en­gage­ment in this en­tire con­sumer jour­ney? In most cases, they don’t speak to a brand rep­re­sen­ta­tive or visit the brand’s web­site at any point be­fore pur­chase and that’s a missed op­por­tu­nity,” adds Vasudevan.

Deeper en­gage­ment is key to cap­tur­ing this missed op­por­tu­nity. And you can’t have more en­gage­ment with­out truly know­ing your cus­tomer, their mo­ti­va­tions and val­ues, how they search for in­for­ma­tion, con­nect with your busi­ness and even how they don’t.

School life For Gen C, mo­ti­va­tions are gen­er­ally cen­tred around life at school and it of­fers many chances for brand en­gage­ment – ad­dress­ing stu­dents’ needs are more likely to cre­ate loy­alty and a stronger re­la­tion­ship.

“We de­scribe the youth [as hav­ing] var­i­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as pas­sion­ate, fun, chal­leng­ing, ir­re­spon­si­ble and in­se­cure.

When it comes to stu­dents, they’re not en­tirely dif­fer­ent, but they’re de­ter­mined by the role or duty they have within the so­ci­ety. So I would de­fine the youth by age and char­ac­ter, and stu­dents by the role they play,” says Jinny Ki, plan­ning di­rec­tor at cre­ative agency Cheil.

“It’s also worth tak­ing a look at the stu­dent seg­ment within the youth [cat­e­gory] not be­cause they have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, but due to the fact that they can be eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from a mar­keter’s point of

He says that there’s an av­er­age of 2.5 mil­lion stu­dents in the GCC re­gion en­ter­ing univer­sity this year. Their av­er­age spend in prepa­ra­tion for un­der­grad­u­ate life is nearly $800, which, he adds, is bro­ken down into ap­prox­i­mately 50 per cent for tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts and 50 per cent for other needs, such as cloth­ing, en­ter­tain­ment and aca­demic ac­ces­sories.

And this mar­ket is con­tin­u­ally ex­pand­ing. In Saudi Ara­bia alone, the Min­istry of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion re­ported year-on-year

With the right ap­proach, brands that mar­ket to stu­dents are po­ten­tially tap­ping into a $2 mil­lion mar­ket this year.

view. They love to gather at cer­tain places, which makes for an at­trac­tive prospect to a mar­keter [who wants to] meet and en­gage with them. Another point is that they share com­mon val­ues and goals as stu­dents, so mar­keters can fo­cus on that. And def­i­nitely, it’s worth it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Vasudevan, brands that mar­ket to stu­dents with the right ap­proach are po­ten­tially tap­ping into a $2 bil­lion mar­ket this year. en­rol­ment growth of more than ten per cent in 2011, with women ac­count­ing for more than half of it.

In the UAE, Dubai’s In­ter­na­tional Aca­demic City and Knowl­edge Vil­lage are set to wel­come more than 16,000 and 19,000 stu­dents in 2015 re­spec­tively, in­creas­ing the re­gion’s grow­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tion to 35,000. Women make up 44 per­cent of this fig­ure and Emi­ratis ac­count for 15 per cent.

Po­tent con­sumers Na­heel Ab­de­lall, mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at Beiers­dorf MENA – mak­ers of Nivea – sees stu­dents as a po­ten­tial boon for brands. They are, she says, an ex­am­ple of “in­tel­li­gent con­sumers”.

“We are in an era where stu­dents en­joy the main fac­tors that pro­mote them as po­tent con­sumers, such as hav­ing rel­a­tively good pur­chas­ing power in con­junc­tion with a high ten­dency to­wards trial.

“This cat­e­gory is also more em­pow­ered, be­ing granted the free­dom to make their own de­ci­sions and choices in terms of con­sum­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“More­over, the ex­pan­sion of the dig­i­tal world has granted stu­dents even more power which, as a re­sult, forces in­ter­na­tional and na­tional brands to mar­ket to stu­dents; leav­ing mar­ket­ing in­for­ma­tion only a few clicks away,” she says.

Usu­ally run in con­junc­tion with a larger youth-cen­tred mar­ket­ing strat­egy, stu­dent­fo­cused ini­tia­tives present an op­por­tu­nity for brands to be­come a more ubiq­ui­tous part­ner – a pre­dom­i­nantly use­ful strat­egy in the Mid­dle East, where brands com­pete heav­ily for prime po­si­tions among the young pop­u­la­tion.

“In this day and age of glob­al­i­sa­tion, con­ver­gence and con­nec­tiv­ity, it is more

re­source­ful to en­com­pass stu­dents within a brand’s strat­egy ver­sus tar­get­ing only them, un­less, of course, the propo­si­tion is purely catered to stu­dents,” says Has­sane Ya­mak, group me­dia di­rec­tor of Carat.

“Think of them as a com­mu­nity of ef­fec­tive whis­per­ers and in­sti­ga­tors that you can in­te­grate within your mar­ket­ing mix in or­der to drive chat­ter and strengthen com­mu­ni­ca­tion propo­si­tions.”

Soft cor­ner Two par­tic­u­lar sweet spots for stu­dents that brands would do well to ad­dress are their so­cial life and con­cerns about em­ploy­ment. For in­stance, P&G ad­dresses the for­mer through its ini­tia­tives un­der the Head & Shoul­ders brand.

“We want to en­gage with our con­sumers at the right life stage and that is why stu­dent en­gage­ment is so im­por­tant... Stu­dents are new users, they’re an im­por­tant mar­ket seg­ment and we aim to make them life­long brand devo­tees,” says Sana Khan, brand op­er­a­tions in­te­gra­tion man­ager for Pan­tene and Herbal Essences at P&G Ara­bian Penin­sula.

“We aim to en­sure that all of our mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties have an online com­po­nent,” adds Khan. “We also look to en­gage faceto-face in lo­ca­tions such as uni­ver­si­ties when we have an op­por­tu­nity to, but also in places that are pop­u­lar with stu­dents such as the malls.”

For Pan­tene, P&G ran an in-mall and on-cam­pus road­show in or­der to pro­mote healthy hair checks for women.

“We go be­yond the prod­uct to talk about is­sues such as health and well­be­ing that stu­dents ap­pre­ci­ate. Dur­ing our in-store and univer­sity based ac­ti­va­tions, we have nutri­tion­ists on­site to talk about and ad­vise stu­dents on a healthy life­style.”

Th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties are cou­pled with dig­i­tal con­tent that is de­signed to en­cour­age ‘fun’ brand-con­sumer en­gage­ment.

Another ex­am­ple of a stu­dent-fo­cused ini­tia­tive by an FMCG brand was by Beiers­dorf. Dur­ing the GCC launch of its Nivea Stress Pro­tect De­odor­ant – based on stress-in­duced sweat­ing – it

used the exam pe­riod as a spe­cific sit­u­a­tion and 60,000 sam­ples were dis­trib­uted at uni­ver­si­ties across the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia.

As for ad­dress­ing con­cerns about em­ploy­a­bil­ity, Cheil’s Ki shares a case study about a pro­gramme called the Young Sam­sung. It was project tai­lored ex­clu­sively for univer­sity stu­dents that ad­dressed the is­sue of em­ploy­ment. One if its ac­tiv­i­ties was the Pas­sion Talk Con­cert, which was held in uni­ver­si­ties in Korea. It saw the com­pany’s C-suite ex­ec­u­tives and pro­fes­sion­als from other in­dus­tries meet with stu­dents to ex­change knowl­edge and give ad­vice not only about em­ploy­a­bil­ity, but also on how to achieve other life goals.

“Sym­pa­thise with what they’re wor­ried about and what they’re frus­trated with,” says Ki, who sug­gests that brands must “stim­u­late a sense of be­long­ing” within the stu­dent com­mu­nity and look at ways for en­rich­ing the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Find out what they’re strug­gling with and see if the prod­uct or ser­vice, or even the brand it­self, can sym­pa­thise and help them lighten their wor­ries.”

In Lon­don, another tech brand ap­plies cur­rent con­sumer in­sights to tra­di­tional ways of mar­ket­ing to stu­dents.

Mi­crosoft uses univer­sity road­shows which, it says, does not sell or push prod­ucts, but uses demos and stu­dent am­bas­sadors to talk about tech­nol­ogy trends and ad­dress stu­dents’ tech-re­lated is­sues. Th­ese am­bas­sadors are not paid, but they are the first to try prod­ucts and have a bet­ter chance at get­ting an in­tern­ship or em­ploy­ment in the com­pany.

In the Mid­dle East re­gion, stu­dents re­main a big fo­cus for Mi­crosoft. Dur­ing the prod­uct launches of its Win­dows 8 and the Win­dows phone, Mi­crosoft part­nered with uni­ver­si­ties across the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Ara­bia to cre­ate stu­dentspe­cific ini­tia­tives. Th­ese in­cluded skill build­ing, in­no­va­tion train­ing and even a tal­ent ac­qui­si­tion pro­gramme.

“A lot of what we do high­lights to stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors how tech­nol­ogy

can ben­e­fit them. We also bring cer­ti­fied Mi­crosoft train­ers to be part of our mar­ket­ing events. We are very con­scious that stu­dents to­day have ac­cess to a wider ar­ray of tech­nol­ogy, so when we have the op­por­tu­nity, we com­bine mar­ket­ing with skill build­ing,” says Miriam Farshoukh, re­gional PR lead at Mi­crosoft Gulf.

The com­pany also holds road­shows in the re­gion. In one of its re­cent tours in the UAE, Mi­crosoft in­ter­acted with 3,500 stu­dents and the pro­fes­sors of the Higher Col­leges of Tech­nol­ogy.

How­ever, sev­eral brands, in­clud­ing Mir­cosoft, know that such ini­tia­tives come at a price. Dur­ing a youth mar­ket­ing strat­egy fo­rum, Lucy Need­ham, Win­dows mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive for Mi­crosoft in the UK, spoke about how run­ning a stu­dent am­bas­sador­ship can be “very ex­pen­sive”. With­out quan­ti­fy­ing the bud­get, she says that sub­stan­tial re­sources are put into train­ing stu­dents, sup­ply­ing them with kits and cre­at­ing the fa­cil­ity to reg­u­larly mon­i­tor their per­for­mance ev­ery month.

Mean­while, the Mid­dle East re­gion is no stranger to brand am­bas­sador­ship. Google ac­ti­vated its MENA Google Stu­dent Am­bas­sador – GSAs – pro­gramme in July, for the sec­ond time this year.

More than 700 stu­dents ap­plied, with Google se­lect­ing 234 stu­dents from 70 uni­ver­si­ties across Egypt, Jor­dan, Morocco, Pales­tine and Iraq, in­clud­ing ten from the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia.

The pro­gramme of­fers the chance to re­ceive train­ing from Googlers on var­i­ous ar­eas of work, from tech­ni­cal ses­sions about its prod­ucts to more the­o­ret­i­cal ones, such as talk­ing to the me­dia.

“The num­bers speak for the suc­cess of the pro­gramme and the cu­mu­la­tive events re­lat­ing to GSAs… The out­reach en­deav­ours con­ducted through­out the Mena re­gion last year alone reached out to more than 350,000 stu­dents and many were awarded schol­ar­ships and in­tern­ships around the globe,” says a spokesper­son for Google.

Ac­cord­ing to Si­ham Arif Syed, a GSA from the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Shar­jah, Google’s Univer­sity Pro­grammes Spe­cial­ist for the Mid­dle East and Africa held a lec­ture on the op­por­tu­ni­ties of am­bas­sador­ship and asked stu­dents to ap­ply online. Sim­i­lar to Mi­crosoft, there are no fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives, al­though GSAs have a higher chance of be­ing se­lected for in­tern­ships and jobs.

A GSA’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude host­ing lec­tures, work­shops and train­ings at their re­spec­tive uni­ver­si­ties and to “en­cour­age the use of Google tech­nolo­gies, such as Google Drive, Google + Hang­outs and Google+ Com­mu­ni­ties”. Each GSA rep­re­sents Google for one aca­demic year only.

How­ever, Carat’s Ya­mak cau­tions that am­bas­sador­ship isn’t an end-all so­lu­tion. Ide­ally, us­ing a re­source (the stu­dents) that is al­ready an avid fan of the prod­uct would have nat­u­rally helped in en­dors­ing the prod­uct, and this is sound con­cept.

To limit reach, schools im­pose fees on brands that want cam­pus pres­ence.

So with the sup­port of the com­pany, the am­bas­sador’s reach would only be am­pli­fied. How­ever, there is an el­e­ment of risk in mak­ing sure that the con­tent shared by the am­bas­sador is not per­ceived as bi­ased or disin­gen­u­ous.

Ya­mak says: “[Brand am­bas­sador­ship pro­grammes] have grown re­cently and they do work to an ex­tent, how­ever, if it is not per­ceived as gen­uine and the brand lacks value out­side this scheme, then it would fail and could pos­si­bly back­fire. So the fo­cus should al­ways start with build­ing cred­i­bil­ity be­fore push­ing the brand into their play­ground, so to speak.”

Ya­mak em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing rel­e­vant con­tent and ef­fec­tive sto­ry­telling as strong foun­da­tions for mar­ket­ing to stu­dents.

“We should never un­der­es­ti­mate their in­tel­li­gence. Stu­dents in the re­gion have proven to de­ci­pher mes­sages and in­for­ma­tion more in­tel­li­gently than per­ceived. So ad­dress­ing them with medi­ocre and clut­tered mes­sages may not go down too well. En­tic­ing them to en­gage and show­cas­ing the value that a brand can bring to their life is key.”

He be­lieves that another way to reach stu­dents is through cor­po­rate gov­er­nance.

“Stu­dents are em­phatic and sup­port causes,” he says, adding that they pre­fer to as­so­ci­ate with brands that add value to their com­mu­ni­ties.

Navo’s Vasudevan agrees: “To­day, the youth are phe­nom­e­nally char­ity minded. They are more re­spon­si­ble than the ear­lier gen­er­a­tion when it comes to car­ing for the earth. A brand’s sin­cere ef­forts to be­come re­spon­si­ble fac­tors into a Gen C con­sumer’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing when it comes to pur­chas­ing a prod­uct.”

Cau­tion ad­vised Reach­ing out to stu­dents in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment – the school grounds – isn’t easy. Of­ten, univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tions have strin­gent rules about how much brand­ing and mar­ket­ing can be ex­e­cuted within univer­sity premises.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to ad­just the level of a brand’s voice, be­cause we’re deal­ing with schools and stu­dents,” says Ki.

“It’s a re­quire­ment of schools for mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to not be too com­mer­cial and it should be ben­e­fi­cial to the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its stu­dents. So hav­ing a right bal­ance be­tween the brand’s voice and pub­lic in­ter­est is not an easy task.”

In some cases, to limit reach, schools im­pose fees on brands that want cam­pus pres­ence. Ac­cord­ing to ded­i­cated stu­dent por­tal Bab al Shabab’s ac­count man­ager, Ku­nal Thakkur, some­times the rates are as high as 30 per cent of the brand’s bud­get for on-cam­pus promotional ac­tiv­i­ties. Bab

al Shabab has MoUs with uni­ver­si­ties across the re­gion and supports brands in ex­e­cut­ing on-cam­pus ini­tia­tives. One of its long-term col­lab­o­ra­tions is with Fit­ness First. The health club re­cently ran an on-cam­pus event at Dubai’s Knowl­edge Vil­lage en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to com­pete on a spin­ning cy­cle in a bid to win a three-month mem­ber­ship.

Bab al Shabab also works with Mi­crosoft to pro­mote the univer­sity edi­tion of its soft­ware to stu­dents. It has 5,500 stu­dents reg­is­tered in its data­base and also of­fers a stu­dent dis­count card.

At the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Dubai (AUD), the ad­min­is­tra­tion has a lengthy process be­fore al­low­ing any brand or mar­keter on cam­pus.

“It re­mains an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. We are not a mall, so it’s quite ex­pen­sive,” says Reina S. Dib, head of mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the univer­sity.

“[Promotional ac­tiv­i­ties are] re­stricted to the cafe­te­ria area, where it doesn’t dis­rupt learn­ing. And the more pro­mot­ers are added, the more ex­pen­sive it gets. We haven’t made this into a busi­ness, but we make it hard, so only those who want it bad enough get ap­proved. We also re­quest that the pro­mo­tion is tai­lor-made to our com­mu­nity, such as spe­cial dis­counts.”

The univer­sity is reg­u­larly ap­proached by telco, auto and FMCG com­pa­nies. Dib adds that con­tracts may also in­clude a spon­sor­ship for stu­dent-led events. For am­bas­sador­ship, stu­dents are usu­ally ap­proached on their own and ac­tiv­i­ties do not in­volve the cam­pus, while ad­ver­tis­ers who ask to hire stu­dents part-time, co-or­di­nate with the univer­sity’s ca­reer ser­vices of­fice.

When asked what plat­forms she finds to be the most ef­fec­tive with stu­dents, Dib says that pro­mot­ers dis­tribut­ing sam­ples “al­ways work, but that has more of an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on our stu­dent com­mu­nity”. She adds that a booth, cou­pled with fly­ers and ban­ners, are of­ten what brands de­ploy on cam­pus.

“Brands that make an ef­fort to per­son­alise the pro­mo­tion usu­ally get bet­ter re­sults. The same pro­mo­tion con­ducted in

a mall won’t work as well on cam­pus. We have learnt, how­ever, that if the brand is not in­ter­est­ing or ap­peal­ing to stu­dents, then no mat­ter how much pro­mo­tion is con­ducted, no mat­ter how many free items are given out, no mat­ter how much money is spent for ad­ver­tis­ing, the av­er­age 18- to 20-year olds will not care. My ad­vice is to se­ri­ously re­search and con­duct as many fo­cus groups as you pos­si­bly can,” says Dib.

Dig­i­tal dilemma This is, how­ever, the dig­i­tally well-con­nected gen­er­a­tion that we are talk­ing about. Iso­lated on-cam­pus ac­tiv­i­ties alone are not suf­fi­cient. Brands have started to clue in on us­ing dig­i­tal to pro­mote stu­dent-spe­cific ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, some of them may fall too short of a pass­able ef­fort.

The AUD, for in­stance, reg­u­larly re­ceives mar­ket­ing mail­ers that ad­ver- tis­ers re­quest to “sim­ply for­ward” to stu­dents’ emails.

Dib adds that AUD’s of­fi­cial Face­book page is “con­stantly bom­barded by ad­ver­tis­ers”, de­spite the page’s clear stance against spam­ming.

“We of­ten have to ex­plain that one wouldn’t just show up on cam­pus and de­mand to pro­mote a brand. So why as­sume that it is okay to in­vade our pages online?” asks Dib.

School pride It’s ev­i­dent from the shifts in the stu­dents’ con­sumer jour­ney that brands will have to work even harder to re­main part of the con­sumer di­a­logue. And this brings us to, per­haps, one of the big­gest in­cen­tives in mar­ket­ing to stu­dents – you are en­gag­ing with a new set of con­sumers at an age where they are be­gin­ning to form brand loy­al­ties.

To make the cut, a brand’s strat­egy can’t just be about gain­ing the right first im­pres­sion. It must in­clude fol­low-up events at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals dur­ing the aca­demic years and ex­tend­ing con­ver­sa­tions across mul­ti­ple plat­forms.

A brand’s main in­ten­tion should be to build cus­tomer loy­alty and trust over time – some­thing that they will hope­fully take into adult­hood.

Khan’s part­ing words in­clude ad­vice for those hop­ing to build a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship with stu­dents.

“My ad­vice when talk­ing to the youth and stu­dents is the same – en­gage, go dig­i­tal, be cre­ative and go be­yond the prod­uct to talk about the is­sues that re­late to them.

“I would al­ways want to be the brand that cre­ates a plat­form for stu­dents to talk to each other and for it to be able to lis­ten to th­ese con­ver­sa­tions and learn. Our [re­gion’s] youth are dy­namic. They of­ten change their likes and dis­likes. What I did for the brand yes­ter­day may be out of date tomorrow, so if I don’t lis­ten, I won’t know or un­der­stand, or for that mat­ter, learn.”

Take ac­tion: Nivea dis­trib­uted 60,000 sam­ples of its Stress Pro­tect De­odor­ant dur­ing the exam pe­riod

On cam­pus: Of­ten, univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tions have strin­gent rules about how much brand­ing and mar­ket­ing can be ex­e­cuted

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