The well established marketing technique of earning the brand loyalty of college students in order to keep their loyalty after graduation has been challenged by a recent post-graduate loyalty study from loyalty research consultancy, Brand Keys.
College students are traditionally considered an attractive and profitable market for many marketers, even beyond the obvious textbooks, beer, and snack foods categories. Gaining the brand loyalty of a college student seems like an ideal situation: they use your product for up to five years, and are expected to remain loyal after they graduate.
But according to the study of 17 product categories used by students while in college, compared with their post-graduation brand usage, students proved more likely to switch brands after they graduate.
In 70% of the categories examined, post-graduates proved to be four or more times less likely to be loyal to brands that spent years developing them as loyal customers. The chart shown below (courtesy of Brand Keys) reflects the likelihood of a college graduate remaining loyal to a brand used during their student-hood:
According to Brand Keys' president, Robert Passikoff, the study raises some interesting questions. What accounts for this apparently huge disconnect between marketers' perception and the reality of post-graduate loyalty? "Even assuming that a previously adored brand is still around after 4 or 5 years, why would customer loyalty erode so abruptly?" asks Passikoff.
It could, for example, indicate that current college marketing efforts are less effective than previously assumed, or that students are simply getting wiser as they get older. Awareness of alternative brands may also increase as students leave the often-cocooning effect of the campus, or there may be a post-education change in the basic values that influence their brand choice and loyalty.
Whatever the reasons, the study suggests that marketers may need to undertake more serious studies of the continuity of hard-earned student loyalty.
The calculations for this study are the results of an analysis of seven years of Brand Keys' Customer Loyalty Index assessments, with data being collected twice a year from a sample of 16,000 brand users in the USA. The student sample was drawn from 52 US colleges and universities, with a 50/50 split between public and private institutions.