Looking to tap into the nearly $574B spending power that 21.4M college students have? With school back in session, college students are a great way to expand your brand’s footprint & discover a new crop of brand loyalists–the key to success is building a campus ambassador program.
Whether it’s flyering around the dorms, hosting events on campus, or driving social engagement, college ambassadors can help you increase brand awareness and sales with the target Gen Z audience.
Check out some of our best tips & tricks for activating your brand on campuses.
1. Choose the Right People
Hiring students who are naturally motivated to talk about your brand to their friends is important. Your brand has an identity, so the people who represent it in the real world should share some of its qualities and the brand should seem like it authentically fits into the ambassador’s lifestyle.
Lululemon, for example, when they built their ambassador team, they wanted the brand to feel like it had a hyperlocal feel, so instead of paying for traditional endorsements with celebrity athletes, the yoga-focused brand built an ambassador program of local influencers, elite athletes & top-notch yoga instructors who create a community, provide feedback on product and partner with the brand for social impact programs.
By fostering more on a grassroots model the ambassadors feel connected to HQ and therefore take pride in their role. For example, if you have a women’s clothing brand you probably don’t want members of a men’s basketball team representing you on their campus.
2. Clearly Outline a Path for Success
If you don’t have a strategy with a quantitative plan in place — with clear expectations mapped out — managing hundreds or even thousands of college students will immediately feel like herding cats. Don’t forget — their #1 priority is being in college — so don’t make it complicated for them to spread the word about your brand.
Once you have hired the right people, you should make sure you give them a clear checklist of what they will need to do and give them tips and tricks on how to be successful. By being transparent about the standards and the goals you have for the program your ambassadors will be more likely to stay engaged. Checklists and leaderboards will help you keep everyone on track.
For example — if your ambassadors are expected to hang 50 door hangs, ask them to submit evidence and then automatically verify via photos and Google Maps that they completed the task.
Once you have your foundation tasks in place, give ambassadors easy ways to unlock more rewards / payment in exchange for creating increased value for your brand. For example — if your #1 goal is new subscribers, increase the compensation model for your ambassadors to get more emails/downloads/sales.
3. Establish Expectations
Don’t forget that most college students have never been salespeople — in fact, most have probably never had a boss or even a job (other than maybe walking dogs or mowing lawns) — so you need to give them the tools and training they will need to be successful critical thinkers and problem solvers who can — most importantly — meet deadlines, without losing the human touch between you and the ambassador.
Create an onboarding experience that clearly communicates your expectations so you can get them set up to succeed from the start. For example, use calendar reminders for important deadlines or create forms for them to fill out that makes it easy for you to collect important information rather than going back and forth via email.
For teams really looking to scale, identify Team Leads and empower them to take ownership of managing the ambassadors on their teams and then compensate the top-performing Team Leads when they deliver great results. The key is to continuously reinforce the ambassadors and what they are contributing to the business so they feel that they have ownership in the process and help to validate that their relationship with you — the brand — is priceless.
“I don’t want to lose the relationship we have with our ambassadors, our program needs a human touch,” and we agree. But this doesn’t mean that your brand’s full-time employees need to be bogged down with every individual request that comes from an ambassador. Trust us, it’s a slippery slope and it actually means your ambassadors are confused if they keep reaching out with questions.
Use community-focused tools like group chat, message boards, and Team Leads to help keep your ambassadors engaged.
Put everything in one place — like a Google Drive — so they can easily find answers and get back to repping your brand in their voice. By giving them access to things like up to date logos/brand guidelines, knowledge banks / FAQs, articles, receipt folders, event recap forms, templates, and approved sales language, you are empowering your team to quickly discover the resources they need.
This will give ambassadors an easy path to get their questions answered quickly and your brand team time to focus on the overall strategy of the program.
5. Empower the Team to be Creative
Now that you have your team selected, on-boarded and have clearly communicated expectations — unleash your team and challenge them to tell you what will work on their campus. For example for a Big 10 School, a tailgate for a homecoming football game might provide the perfect backdrop for your brand, but for a Northeast city school a St.Patrick’s Day event might create a bigger impact.
Create event forms for ambassadors to fill out. When approved, set a budget and set them loose. Just remember to make sure you give them the checklist of things you need in your event recap at the end like photos, surveys, etc.
Always remember, campus reps are there to give you feedback about your brand. Listen to them. They know what will work with their friends so trust them to meet your expectations. This way your brand’s persona will match what works on their campus vs trying to give your ambassadors a “one size fits all” list of tasks that work for your brand. Ultimately this will feel more authentic which will result in more conversions & organic impressions.
A college ambassador program can act as a powerful tool for all kinds of businesses– festivals, consumer apps, retail brands, political candidates, privatized campus housing, and more. And the best part is that there is mutual value because college students are hungry to learn and to improve their skills. By giving them a meaningful introduction to the world of business — and more importantly, teaching them the fundamentals of sales process & entrepreneurship– you can develop a network of lifelong brand advocates–and potential new employees after graduation.