By Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos.
Student brand ambassador programs have been around since I went to college in 2004. Large companies have used students to maintain a constant presence on college campuses for a while now -- like Microsoft, Apple and Victoria's Secret PINK, to name a few. Andrew Watts, a student at the University of Texas, summed the success of these programs perfectly: "The logic behind this is simple -- who knows the college market better than college students themselves? Hiring students allows companies to tap into trusted insiders who have access to thousands of other students through their dorms, mailing lists, private Facebook groups, clubs and classes."
In my position at a youth marketing agency, I've noticed an increase in startups asking about student brand ambassador programs. They commonly ask about what motivates student brand ambassadors and what handouts incentivize their classmates to take action -- whether it's to download an app, register on a website or attend an event. Here's what I typically recommend:
Remember Cash Is King
To any startup wondering how to incentivize its student brand ambassadors: Cash is always king. Why? Most college students graduate college with debt. Anything you can do to help them chip away at student debt will be your top incentive. I am talking base-pay cash, not commission. These are college students who don't have much sales training to turn commission into instant gratification. Think more along the lines of bonuses for well-attended events.
Offer Professional Training
What if you don't have a lot of cash to give? If you're not a large, established brand like Apple or Coca-Cola, take a look at what assets you can offer. You could consider offering professional training -- if you're part of an incubator or accelerator, can it provide similar training for your student brand ambassadors?
You can also offer Q&A sessions with top executives or a path for future employment with your company (given a set of agreed-upon goals). Overall, think of the reasons why students join student ambassador programs and tailor your reasons accordingly. They typically join for work experience, compensation, and the flexibility to accommodate their class schedule.
Relate Incentives to Your Company
When thinking about incentives for student brand ambassadors to hand to their peers, consider what adds value to the students -- and what makes sense for your brand. Handing out popular items like sunglasses and earbuds is fine, but remember there are plenty of other brands out there doing the same thing. How can you break through the noise and have your message resonate with that student?
Suppose you own a car company and want to increase the number of students who take advantage of a discount for recent grads. You might be tempted to go with obvious handouts like keychains, sunglasses, and stress relief balls shaped like a car. Instead, think about the current needs of these students.
Until they are ready to upgrade to a new car, their technology may not be compatible with older cars. You could offer an FM transmitter to play an MP3 player through the radio, or a USB drive for the charger port that allows them to charge both Androids and iPhones.
Yes, you are paying more, but students going to hold on to that handout and keep it in their old car until they are ready to upgrade. Your message will constantly be in front of them where they spend a lot of time. Overall, put some thought into your incentives for your student brand ambassadors and what they'll be handing out to their peers.
Be attractive to students so they stay motivated, and give them a tool kit of supplies that will convert their peers. In doing so, you will be well on your way to a successful student marketing campaign.
Adam Grant serves as CEO of Campus Commandos, a top youth marketing agency that helps you market products/services to college students.