Brand and Students' Union partnerships - a growing trend

Tom Worman is Head of Business and Marketing Services at the University of Portsmouth Students' Union and he shared his insights in a panel discussion at Youth Marketing Strategy all about how brands can power-up a campaign in partnership with students' union. Here Tom talks through his experiences working with brands and how brands can benefit from these partnerships.

Brand and Students' Union partnerships - a growing trend

The spoon-bending launch of Kelloggs partnering with Uri Geller last week served as an important reminder of how important brand partnerships are in the business to consumer market and there appears to be little change when you apply this model to the youth market.

In 2013 the Jose Cuervo Tequila and Spotify partnered with key University radio stations up and down the country in a bid to curate radio playlists that represented student nightlife but also raise brand awareness in this key demographic. The prize (because lets face it there always has to be an incentive for the youth market); the ultimate night out at your University - something I was proud to deliver at the University of Portsmouth for our students when our students won the competition.

For Jose Cuervo and Spotify the results were clearly tangible:

  • 9,800 social shares
  • Average dwell time of more than 4 minutes 30 seconds
  • 34% uplift in sales across UK Universities
  • 220% sales uplift in Cuervo Gold at Portsmouth

But the benefits also applied for the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union:

  • A huge buzz on campus with event tickets selling out in just 2 minutes
  • Uplift in bar income across both the promotion and event periods
  • Positive linked brand experiences for our students

But these two innovative companies aren't the only one’s enjoying the benefits of partnerships with the Students’ Union. At Portsmouth alone we’re experiencing a rise in demand for mutually beneficial partnerships - the days of a poster campaign in a University foyer has been and gone - so much so we’ve just invested in a full-time partnerships coordinator. Annually we’re now working with brands such as Virgin Media, TUI Travel and Under Armour to deliver partnership projects across the University market that are mutually beneficial for both the companies, the media owner and the customer.

It’s not just my belief that this is the future; we surveyed over 2,500 students in November 2013 and 98% of respondents agreed that they trust brands who partner with their Students’ Unions. The traditional impression of a Students’ Union as either a rowdy bar or a placarding institution is well and truly gone - Students’ Unions are change making brands led by students, their views and their opinions - most notably students trust their Union’s to guide them and partner with them as part of their daily lifestyle.

But lets face it you’re probably not here to read about who’s doing it well but how you can do it better - so here are my top 3 tips for partnering with a Students’ Union to deliver a strong mutually beneficial brand experience:

1. Talk to Unions directly (and listen)

Forward thinking innovative Union’s are investing in their commercial, volunteering and fundraising partnership projects to enhance the student experience. Importantly Students’ Union’s know their students better than anyone else - they’ll advise you what will work and what won’t and the best will help brands innovate and try something new.

2. Incentivise your partnership

Students are time poor, money poor and increasingly focussed on their academic experience (although lifestyle still remains important) for them to engage as part of a brand partnership they need to feel rewarded, whether that’s a discount on your product, a free burger in the Union’s bar or something a little more exciting (see what I mean below).

But equally don’t forget about the Union as a media owner; Union’s are charities and need vital income to support what they do so don’t think partnering instantly means free pathways. But it doesn't have to be a risk taken solely by you, for the right reward Union’s will work to push your brand message harder than maybe a poster or email campaign would get in some institutions, because their teams can see the real tangible benefit.

3. Create an exciting and holistic brand experience

The student experience is becoming the number one priority on campus; I mentioned earlier the term ‘exciting’ - exciting activities on campus provide interruptive breaks from the mundane and leave students creating a brand buzz on campus. Students’ Unions will help drive this through their digital and physical channels and if it’s a joint project that raises both your brand profile and that of the Union you can guarantee they’ll work that bit harder. After all Students’ Unions are rated on how satisfied students are with them now nationally in the National Student Survey.

Tom spoke at Youth Marketing Strategy on 10-11th March, tapping into his work with the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union and his 10 years of experience in the student market. Follow him on Twitter @tom\worman_