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Smart Branding: Campus ambassadorship

Smart companies realize brand building must happen beyond TV screens and bulletin boards. Campuses offer a unique low cost platform to reach out to prospective customer, engage & build communities, elicit early feedback on the products and services and create a band of ambassadors to influence markets. IT majors use campus programs not only to create a pool of talented & trained individuals, but also support innovations and build credibility for their products. Establishing a centre of excellence through CSR is a nice way for companies to create campus influence marketing. Involving faculty for external seminars or creating industry chair is another way in which companies extend campus led branding to influence their markets. While faculty led influencer marketing may no be feasible for all companies, campus ambassadorship is a potent and highly effective tool. Brand ambassadors are volunteers selected by the company to represent their products and service on the campus. The brand ambassador helps in promoting the product and services by informing, creating brand identity and brand velocity. This is an age old concept which was practiced by Red Bull and Anheuser Busch back in the day and is getting a revival because companies like Google, Microsoft and other startups use this to expand their brand presence. Tinder introduced this concept among college students through the hosting of events and parties where people met and socialized and that was shot this program up to stardom.
So, how does a Campus Ambassadorship program work? In general the program consists of 4 steps i.e. Identifying – Evaluation- Designation- Execution. Companies comb the campus to identify individuals who can represent their brand and carry the association nonchalantly to inform and influence others. Like a job interview, companies realize there are certain characteristics that make for a best campus ambassadorship. Students going abroad, or students with all round performance or ones applying abroad with strong academics but no social or voluntary work best. Persons who had formerly stood for the elections in the campus but lost out will also be a good candidate as he/she will have a sizeable influence on others.
Prospective students are contacted through E-mail, asked to fill out a form and share a video. Prospects are asked to do a presentation of various events happening all around the college and identify how the brand could associate with these events and what could be achieved. The candidate selected need not be the most academically adept, but if they have a good network in and around the campus, they can become influencer and go on to represent the brand for a long time. To kick start a community, companies can offer sign up bonus. The campus ambassadors regularly inform campus audience using e-mails to SMS to even plain brochures. Food courts and canteens are high eyeball areas and ambassadors take special care to set up signing booths or standees. Many companies prefer to have at least 2 Ambassadors per campus. Running brand ambassadorship at multiple colleges from same region and communicating the best performing team can create the required sense of competition. Companies can also gamify the complete process through rewards and awards. Effective campus ambassadorship programs require smart execution on three fronts: resources & rituals, linkages and institutionalization. Companies have to invest in sufficient resources to spread the word and hold the intensity across multiple semesters. Rituals are key to sustain continuity, deepen adoption and reinforce brand identity.
In our assessment, a major weakness of ambassadorship program is that companies often ignore the continuous training and evaluation required to sustain the efforts. Training is required beyond induction, especially how to handle objections from other groups, how to workaround administrative limitations, etc. Companies also lack a broad framework for review and recognition. Smart companies invest in monthly review of the work carried out by ambassadors.
In our assessment campus ambassadorship works for all companies, big and small. It works best when communities of interest need to be created to support consumption. Campus ambassadorship is a low cost approach to marketing. It is an effective program not just for your campaigns, but is a great platform for discovering latent needs.

Vijay Krishna J and Sai Ram Ganapathy