Campus Marketing: Apple, Barnes & Noble Lead the Charge

In the rarified air of US college campuses, you will find two American companies leading the charge to capture top brand loyalty and affinity. Apple and Barnes & Noble’s direct-to-consumer channels, student ambassadors, and outsourced sales and service leave their daily imprint on millions of students and staff on campus. The result is an annual crop of well educated customers with discriminating tastes and generally higher earnings potential (says the dad of a recent grad, optimistically…)

Barnes & Noble College is the outsourced campus bookstore at over 600 US campuses, touching over 4 million students and 250,000 staff daily. Through the subtlest of branding, shoppers might notice that B&N is running the place. While such outsourcing helps institutions control operating costs — I’m all for that — it’s generally difficult to unseat an incumbent retailer/outsource provider once entrenched. And, along with that comes the risk of complacency in pricing and quality of services, borne by shoppers who pay premium pricing in exchange for a convenient location. In a store where $65 hoodies prevail and the majority of customers live within a half-mile and are shopping on their parents’ dime, there will be no bargain basements.

Aside from their outsourcing services, B&N is masterfully marketing their Nook-based technology resources straight into the college market, wherein its NookStudy is positioned as the online reading and study platform.

Apple grabs incoming students and their folks with promotions, displays and kiosks. Educators and students are the only set of consumers on the globe who can enjoy discounted Apple products, it seems. So, again, the college campus marketplace is an ideal channel for such a globally cool and technically powerful brand as Apple.

Besides the books and bits market, popular food and beverage makers such as Naked Juice deploy college ambassadors, stocking dorm room fridges and social gatherings. Ambassadors are generally vivacious, friendly students who are fun to be around… hence their products are fun to drink/eat. We see early evidence of campus ambassador marketing in grades 7-12, wherein clothing and shoes are test-marketed on the backs and feet of good-looking, popular people who are nice to look at and fun to be around.

Apple, Barnes & Noble, Naked, and other friendly brands know that campus marketing channels are insular, price-inelastic, and ideal breeding grounds for successive generations of brand-conscious shoppers.

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