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#9 College Campus Marketing 101


Mickey Katz on Talk Experiential

Mickey Katz on episode #9 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Hey, guys! Welcome back to another Talk Experiential podcast episode. Really excited about our next guest. We’ll be discussing college marketing and the different strategies of engaging and promoting brands on college campuses. Please welcome Mickey Katz, cofounder of Campus Commandos, which is a new technology to help brands reach to college students. He has an extensive background on college marketing and brand awareness. Hope you guys and enjoy and get some value out of this. If you guys are liking these episodes, please make sure you five-star it and share with your friends. Thanks so much!


All right. Excited to have you, Mickey, here on our podcast. Welcome!

MICKEY: Thank you! I’m excited!

JOEY: If you want to tell us a little bit about your background, and you know, we’ve known each other for a couple of years now, got to spend some time in Vegas, that was fun for CES. We’d love to learn a little bit more about your experience.

MICKEY: Yeah, absolutely. My background is in the mobile consumer space, specifically in the industry of college marketing. I have helped a variety of different businesses both in the food industry, so marketing for college students to get online food ordered both on-campus and off-campus. I have helped companies such as I have helped companies such as Grubhub. I worked with a company called Tapingo, which does a very good job in the college marketing, specifically in the food space, all over the United States. They’ve worked directly with on-campus services, and now I run a mobile application called the Go Commando App, which is a software that allows brands to directly connect with college students on over a thousand campuses in the United States. It provides them the ability to communicate with students, compensate those students, and the students themselves have measures of compliance so they can prove the work that they’ve done from a brand ambassador standpoint, and that is a little bit of a background on me.

JOEY: Awesome! Thank you for that. We’re excited to have you on this podcast just because your experience with college marketing and I know a lot of our listeners, whether it’s a brand or agency, it’s a big market for them. I’d love to dive a little bit deeper. How do they engage with a college student? How can they get in front of them? I’d love to learn from the expert here.

MICKEY: The number one thing that I always tell people is, “If you want to get into college marketing, you have to be committed to it.” It’s not like, “I have this idea! I think college students would be good for us; let’s test it.” College marketing is a real commitment. Students graduate every year and new students come in every year. The student that goes to school on the East Coast is not going to necessarily be as responsive to certain marketing tactics as a student that might go down to school in the South; so when brands come to us, whether it’s an agency who wants to bring their brand on campus, or it’s a brand who is looking to target this demographic for the first time, I almost have to lecture them and sometimes they don’t like my process, but I like to be very honest because if you’ve never worked with college students before you have this expectation just like your normally would when you are activating a program in a city. Things are supposed to work. Things are supposed to go as planned. Certainly not everything goes as planned in a perfect world, but in the college landscape, things have a lot more nuances. There are a lot more reasons things can fall apart, to a degree. We’re working with students.

A college student has so much on their plate. They obviously have the first thing, which is their academics. School is what they’re there for. Then secondary, they’re all about their personal and their social life. Those are the two things that are the most important thing to them, and then there’s anything else that’s going to fall underneath there, and the biggest challenge is when you’re working with students you have to be okay with being number three or being number four. If you try to be the most important thing in their life, you’re going to be forgotten pretty quickly. I try to explain that to brands, because if you are willing to be okay with the fact that college marketing is not the same as marketing to a standard 35-55 year old demographic, whether it’s digital out-of-home or even experiential at a mall or at a festival, it’s a different animal, and I want to lay out the groundwork up front and say, “Guys, it’s going to be different. Are you on for the ride or are you just looking to see if this is going to work one time?” I think that’s the greatest distinction between the two.

JOEY: How do you approach it? That’s a great analogy of understanding what their focus is. How can a brand take it to that next level and actually be in front of them? Will it work for a week program, or does this need to be a long-term over semester over semester?

MICKEY: Sure. I think there’s a lot of questions I would ask a brand sort of in that discovery phase. The first thing I would do is ask them what their goals are: What are they trying to achieve from targeting this market? If someone comes to me and they say they want sales, I will likely say to them: Listen, everybody wants sales. Nobody goes into business and doesn’t want sales, so the expectation that you want your money back is not unwarranted, but when you are working with this demographic they have limited income, they’re either not making money or they’re making enough money to pay rent or just to have some money to go out on the weekends, maybe mom and dad are helping them. Money is a struggle. The other thing is that they aren’t going to make a decision immediately, so the idea of a return on your investment right away is kind of unfounded, and we have to also explain that to brands. When they understand if you’re looking for sales, we have to talk about other KPIs. We have to understand a little bit more about your brand, about your customer; and then I usually take them through a little bit of a process where I like to find out about their cost per acquisition for their users and the lifetime value of their users. I like to get that information if they’re willing to share it because those metrics can help us tell the story of “are we successful”. Then what I’ll do when I get the goals, I get the cost per acquisition and the lifetime value, I’ll work backwards. Before I say we’re going to do this one time or I say we’re going to do this for a semester, or we ever talk about a duration of time, we have to figure out what type of program can we execute that will fall in line the closest to get you to the direct target that you’re trying to hit. College students are obviously very broad. You have male, female. You obviously have different ages; each age is in a different mindset. Some are their first time in school, just left Mom and Dad. Some are seasoned at this point, they’re about to live off-campus for the first time. Some are now getting internships, looking for that job, and then the last group, they’re like, “Oh, my god! I’m an adult! I am about to graduate. Life is about to happen,” so all of these individuals are now looking at the world from a different lens, yet they’re all living under the same ecosystem. All of that is what I use to help answer that question.

JOEY: Cool! After you’ve laid the groundwork of exactly what clients’ goals are, explaining what the college students are, what are the next steps to run a successful program?

MICKEY: Absolutely. I think it comes down to understanding the expectation from the program you’re going to build. We’ll just make up a fake company. Let’s just say there’s a company that wants to increase the sales of bicycles, so there’s a bike shop and they’re nationally known, they have online stores, they want college kids to start riding their bikes. We have to figure out a way to make sure that our program is going to resonate really well with those individuals. Then people always say, “We want a brand ambassador program, get kids on campus, they’re going to market our product, and that’s the way it’s going to work.” Ultimately I will not do that right away. I will take a look at programs on campus. I will take a look at things that are currently existing. I will use what is readily available on a campus to allow us to explore and be successful. If that bike shop has the ability to bring products down there, we’re not just going to set up a little tent on campus in the middle of the day. Absolutely not. Regardless of the fact that traffic may come by, universities as a whole are not the most keen on allowing companies to just set up shop. Some universities have said, “Wow! This is a great opportunity! We can make more money and we can charge a lot of money for it,” and then some universities say, “Absolutely not, we don’t want it, we don’t care, we’re not going to allow you to put anything in front of our students.”

A lot of the investigative work on our end is how do we identify the right types of programming and events that would give us the largest audience, and we’ll work with that. It’s a lot of working direct with university officials and faculty, and if you hear a no from one person, it doesn’t mean it’s no. Universities are traditionally quite siloed. Different departments will not know what the other department is doing. That’s not to be said as a negative, they just are siloed, they don’t focus on the other departments, so the office of auxiliary services and the student activities office could be in the same building and have no idea what the others are doing, and one policy may fly for one, and one policy may be completely off-limits for the other. On our end, the rule of thumb is we want to get on campus, we want to be allowed on campus, and we want to engage in a program that’s existing. Brands have had this idea that if they are separating themselves and they can own the event by themselves, they’re going to somehow get a much better return. That’s not the case. It hasn’t been the case, and the most important thing is to bring a brand and engage with a program that all the work has already been laid out, and then you bring that experience. You’re bringing the experience to where the students are already attending.

Once we find that type of event, we then build out what that experience is going to be so that we can drive the customer, in this case the student, through the journey of what the goal is for that brand. Assuming the goal actually is sales, we would then have to explain to the brand what the chances are of getting a sale right there. Mostly, universities do not allow students to buy anything or do a direct transaction on campus, so sales are really hard to come by immediately. We’ll figure out the experience, how to tie it to what the brand is looking for, and then, again, we’ll go back to that customer acquisition cost. We’ll look at the lifetime value: how often will that person come back and buy a bicycle; how much money are you willing to spend to acquire that customer? And we’re going to use that data to help us figure out how we can get them a return on their investment. If a student signing up for an email or a text campaign has some extended shelf-life, there is additional value to that.

All of these components – and I could keep going on, we could actually talk more about what that program looks like and to that nature – but the fact of the matter is, there has to be a starting point. There’s a lot of investigative work to make sure that we are in line and getting permission from the school. There’s obviously tons of guerrilla marketing that goes on, and we can talk about that as well, but it’s important to lay the foundation for a brand and do it in a way that their money is well-spent.

JOEY: Got you! Cool! This is great. So you’re saying with no tents. You know, sometimes that just doesn’t work; you need to really get into a program. Going back to finding an existing program, can you elaborate on that? Is that working with a football team or is it a program that’s focused on a certain market? If you want to go through that, it’d be great.

MICKEY: Sure. Nearly every university has fun experiences for the students, so if we’re looking at the academic calendar, depending on the school – some schools are in a quarterly system so they’ll start differently – but we’ll talk about a traditional four-year with a fall semester and spring semester. Most of those schools will begin anywhere from the third week of August into the first week of September. Sort of Labor Day is that cut-off of okay, classes are getting started. During that time frame, there is new student orientation. Some universities will have it earlier in the summer, but for the most part you’ll find that there are programs being created by the university, specifically for students, so whether it’s new student orientation as I had just mentioned or a program that a lot of people like to call Welcome Week, where they are essentially opening up the university to all of the students and saying, “Hey! Come on down! Bring your friends, bring your new roommates, and check out all that the school has to offer!” What’s going to happen in this situation is the university will invite businesses to come and engage with those students. It can be businesses from around the campus, which it traditionally might be: food vendors; a pizza shop that students can go to; a bank that they can take advantage of; it could be brands that are nationally recognized, like Coca-Cola, who might want students to get hooked on, you know, some products. We want them to have the ability to sample our products, take a call to action, and become our customer, because students, right now, when they join their university, they’re away from Mom and Dad for the first time; and if they’re getting a stipend from Mom and Dad or they have a scholarship, whatever it is, they are now buying things on their own completely devoid of Mom and Dad. They’re going food shopping on their own. That means they’re buying all the things to fill their pantry, the things they’re going to eat during the week. They are purchasing laundry detergent, they are making adult decisions on their own, and they are going to be influenced by the things that are around them. Whether it’s going to be the first people to introduce themselves to that individual or it’s going to be their peers that is what happens. We could have a whole other conversation on brand-loyalty, but at the very least, the students do need something to start with, and this is usually the location, so events on campus, a Welcome Week would be a really good example. It’s technically scalable. Almost all universities will have some sort of a welcoming program. Not all universities will have it where a brand is allowed to be on campus. If they don’t, we just wouldn’t go there, but there are so many to select from that for the most part if a brand wants to get on campus during back-to-school, it’s really not difficult. It just comes down to their budget.

JOEY: Got you. I guess another question would be, you said earlier it’s probably better to find those major programs or big events, but do you see better success at bigger schools, or is it better to find kind of those middle-tier level schools to get in front of these? Because just from my thought process would be some of the bigger schools during Welcome Week might just get a little bit noisy with kind of the marketing.

MICKEY: You know, I have that question quite a bit. When a brand comes to me and we talk about a back-to-school program, they always ask me, “What’s the attendance? Break down the attendance for me of each program. I want to know how many people show up and I want to know what it’s going to cost.” One of the things I tell them is, “Listen. I can get you to an event with 10,000 people and I can get you to an event with 2,500 people. And guess what? Whether you’re going to the event with 10,000 people or you’re going to the event with 2,500 people, there are still only 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute, and depending on how long it takes to talk about your product and whatever we’re trying to do, whatever that call to action is to that individual, that time doesn’t change. The only things that change are we have to hire more people so that we can run more people through the experience to get more people to that goal.” If it’s 2,500 people or 10,000 people, there are still four hours in an event, so what I always tell people is once you hit a certain attendance it doesn’t matter. You’re just talking about dollars and cents here. You cannot necessarily talk to everybody, and you’re not going to get quality. If you try to rush people through an experience, they’re not going to understand the value of what you’re sharing with them. So sure, you can hand someone a postcard every 20 seconds and get through as many people as possible, but if you’re there and you want to have a meaningful touchpoint with an individual that you’re hoping to become a customer depending on: your cost per acquisition; depending on the lifetime value of that consumer; and if it’s a commodity like laundry detergent, those are not unique. Commodities that aren’t unique, you have to fight on price, so if you’re fighting on price and you look at the lifetime value that someone’s going to potentially use your product, you’re really fighting for that market share, and it’s probably more important that you explain why you’re better, and not just being price. So the end of the day, Joey, is you can only talk to so many people in four hours, so 10,000 people or 2,5000 people doesn’t really matter.

Where it does matter is in certain situations. If a brand has a specific target demographic, whether it be Hispanic or historically black colleges, because that demographic is more likely to purchase their product. There are obviously products designed more for African Americans, there are products designed more for Hispanic people. Maybe it’s a product for their skin or a product for specific hair types. Then, yes, there are reasons that you would go to a specific university. You might go to an all-girls school as opposed to a school that has a higher percentage of men versus women, depending on your product; but when it comes to Big 10 versus SEC or 10,000 versus 2,000, it’s all about time.

JOEY: That’s really good advice, there. Just definitely breaking that out. The other thing I want to ask you is with experiential marketing or just getting in front of someone. Say we have the bike shop at this Welcome Week, is there something different that you need to engage with these college students than you would do normally for another product selling it to other consumers?

MICKEY: I get that question a lot, too. I think there is this misconception that you have to have a wow-factor or you have to have this sizzle. The steak itself is not enough. You have to sell this amazing sizzle because everyone’s going to run to you, you had this awesome experience, but college kids are relatively simple and your goal still has to be “get them through the funnel”.

Think about a roller coaster. Why does every roller coaster ride have a three hour wait, but an eight second ride? Because if the ride was more than eight seconds, you couldn’t get so many people, and there is a value to pushing people through the system. The exciting part is the roller coaster itself, and that’s why everybody waits. What I always tell people is when we’re doing a campaign on campus, the hook or the bait is whatever the hell you put in front of them. A very simple tactic that I’ve used, and it actually works really, really well, is a money machine. It’s a device that sits on a table. It has a hole that is cut out for your arm, and you throw money in there. It could be fake money, which is just paper. It could just be actual currency. And the students see money flying around and they just come to it. That’s the hook, but really the goal is experience what it is that we’re trying to share. So while you’re waiting on line, you start to have that discussion.

“Why are you here?”

“Well, I’m here for the money machine, I want to win something.”

“Okay, fine, but let’s talk about why we are here and let’s try to extend our value,” and then tie in that little experience that’s going to hook them into what your call to action is. That’s the most important part, because you can spend a lot of money on super-sizzle and then get the same result. If you’re not effectively communicating your value, all you’re doing is spending a lot of money and lowering your chances of a return on your investment.

JOEY: Right.

MICKEY: That doesn’t always sit well with brands. There’s this perception, Joey, that brands need that sizzle. “We need a big truck! We need these TVs! We’ve gotta do all this stuff!”

I’m like, “Why?” I mean, if you want to do all that, don’t think sales is your goal here. It’s got to be awareness. If you want to show, that’s called awareness. But if you want to get down to brass tacks and figure out how to convert, then you would need to decrease your costs and be hyper-focused on the value that you’re about to provide to these individuals, especially if your product costs more than they can afford.

JOEY: Right, right, right. We’ve kind of talked through some of focusing on a program, how to pull them, the thought process; but what are some other ways that we can get in? I know briefly you mentioned guerrilla marketing on campus. I’d love to talk a little bit about guerrilla marketing, and then how can I get into sororities? How can I get into certain departments if I have a sports product and I want to get into the athletic side of things? Is there a way of getting into both?

MICKEY: Yeah, those are great questions. Let’s break it down. We’ll talk about guerrilla marketing. Everybody seems to be familiar with the term, but just for argument’s sake, guerrilla marketing is the idea of bringing an experience without necessarily having the permission to go ahead and do it. You go out there, you push through your agenda, and you’re either lucky to keep going or you are asked to move along. With universities, depending on the size, again , there is that siloed concept that if you’re in a location, some people have no idea whether you’re allowed to be there or not, and if you look like you’re supposed to be there, people think you’re supposed to be there, so it’s not going to be a problem.

I’ve done a lot of guerrilla marketing in the past. Some have had a lot of success, and success would be defined as the concept was executed really, really well; but ultimately it is very hard to tie it to some sort of metric that you say, “Okay, wow! We totally got our money back here!” Guerrilla marketing is oftentimes all about awareness and it could be a component of an overall marketing campaign. It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely independent. Any questions on guerrilla marketing that I can kind of focus my energy on?

JOEY: Yes. If we have a brand and they want to be in 10 markets coming up in a couple of weeks, and I want to flier, I want to send a team of four at these markets and I want them to I would see sign up, let’s just say it’s a sign up to win something so I can get an email address. I guess is that something I can do on campus? Is it something that I could just throw some people out, or do I need to ask for permission?

MICKEY: I’ve always had this mindset that it’s better to ask for forgiveness before asking for permission for certain things. I said earlier, you’ll want to get permission to be on campus, but that is when you’re trying to do a real focused effort. If you’re trying to just get your feet wet and you just want to test the waters and you just want to get out there, guerrilla marketing does provide you that opportunity to just put a team together and run out there. Sure, you’re going to run potentially into some problems where someone says, “Hey! Get out of here, you’re not supposed to be here,” in which case, campuses are pretty large. As long as you have an agenda and you’re know where you’re going, you can just move to the next location.

Let’s use an example. You want to get a team of four people together. Maybe there’s some sort of opportunity for sign-up. I’ve done it before. The most important thing is: where are you going to go? The most important location would be where there’s a lot of traffic. I almost always have students go to a union building. I usually have them go to the dining halls. Dining halls are a gold mine in my opinion because you just go in and out. You don’t have to have a special pass to walk into the eating area – not talking about where you would get your food and check out, that is clearly roped off by the cashiers or by the university – but if you walk into the dining area you have the luxury of actually a lot of people, a scaled approach because you know they eat lunch, you know they eat dinner, you know they eat breakfast; and you have an engaged audience. They’re sitting down. They’re not leaving. They can’t leave unless they’re about finished eating. It’s a pretty successful tactic if you get a team of people to hit the dining hall or several dining halls on campuses, depending on the size, and you can push your agenda across as long as you’re looking like a student, you’re dressed like a student. No one’s the wiser. You just kind of get in there and pitch your product, talk to people. As long as you’re comfortable interrupting them while they’re having a meal, you have the luxury of talking to a table of eight, 10 at one time, so now you’re talking – your 60 second pitch – you’re talking to 10 people at one time. That’s a huge value. Then you pass around your information. It all comes down to the game plan and how you attack it.

JOEY: Right. That’s just awesome. With getting into, I guess it’s the same as a program, like an athletic group or a sorority or a fraternity?

MICKEY: Not necessarily. Athletics are very different in the sense that most universities kind of hire out their athletics, and very similar, a lot of universities hire out their dining services, so if you go to a campus and you’ll see a Wendy’s or you might see a McDonald’s, that’s oftentimes the work of a third party. There are companies called Sodexo, if you’ve ever heard of them, or Bon Appétit, Chartwells. These are dining services that are businesses, and universities will essentially lease these dining services to these companies, and then those companies will bring in their chains: Wendy’s; Subway; McDonald’s; Sbarro. All those different types of companies that are chains but are now inside of college campuses, that’s by design. It’s not like Wendy’s showed up and said, “Hey, we’d like to be here.” It’s because they have a relationship with certain dining services.

The same is actually said with athletics. There are very few universities these days that will handle all of their athletic. What that means is I’m not talking about the football team or the baseball team; I’m talking about the signage in the stadium. I’m’ talking about everything that can be sold to advertisers is usually hired out. There’s a company called IMG. IMG does a lot of that. They pretty much own everything in sports marketing, so if you want to set up at a stadium and do something at halftime, you can do all these amazing things, you are going to pay a hefty price. If a company has a lot of money to spend, it could be a really good tactic, but if they are diving into college marketing for the first time and they’re really looking at their numbers, yeah, stay away from sports marketing because you’re paying for something that I don’t think you’re really going to get a return on.

JOEY: Great.

MICKEY: Greek life is another component. All of these things: Greek life; sports; dining, they are their own businesses, if you want to think about it that way, and Greek is no different. There are certain tactics to get involved in the Greek world, but they are a huge community. I work closely with a lot of national fraternities and sororities, and it is an uphill battle to be given permission. Essentially, you have to prove your credibility to them before they’re going to allow you to engage with their local chapters. You can certainly circumvent the national charter and go directly to local chapters. It’s not as efficient as on the national level, and we’ve done it with lots of success with certain brands, but having the blessings on the national level and taking those years to build and cultivate those relationships, that is what sets us apart, and that’s how you can be successful in the college market.

JOEY: Awesome! I really appreciate you coming on here. This is great information, and we’re going to have more on our website at I think we could probably talk for another couple of hours, but I’m going to stop with this. We’ll probably do another one here again because I think there’s a lot more we could dive into. Was there any other last thoughts or takeaways that you want to say?

MICKEY: I would say that if I start, we will go right into another topic, and there’s a lot to still talk about: tips and tricks and working with students; how college students can be great ambassadors but how to understand how to work with them. I definitely look forward to a future conversation with you on Talk Experiential about college marketing, and I hope that your listeners have found this information to be valuable, and maybe they can share what they’d like to know and we can talk about that, as well.

JOEY: Perfect! I really appreciate it Mickey!

MICKEY: Anytime!

JOEY:   All right, take care.

Interested in listening to the episode? Turn in here to listen to episode #9 of Talk Experiential.

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