Students still love beans
Discount voucher site studentbeans.com has grown to become an important online channel in the student market, with over 100,000 unique visitors a month.
Reach Students spoke to co-founder James Eder about its success.
Explain how it all started for you and Student Beans
The idea behind Student Beans is derived from three main problems with the student market:
1. Students are generally unaware of their new local environment
2. The financial burden of studying
3. Businesses have great difficulty in marketing effectively to students
With the power and accessibility of the Internet, Student Beansí aim was to provide a solution to these market imperfections.
Student Beans is a revolutionary online voucher system for student offers. Businesses provide us with student offers for their services, which feature as vouchers on www.studentbeans.com that can be printed and redeemed with student ID. The website is actively promoted to local university students throughout the academic year. These marketing activities are coordinated by a dedicated and highly trained local studentbeans.com brand manager team, as part of a national campaign run in partnership with Procter & Gamble and accredited by The Chartered Institute of Marketing.
What was your background before Student Beans?
The business was setup by me and my brother Michael with the aim of bringing together businesses and students for mutual benefit through a unique interactive voucher system.
Launched in September 2005 studentbeans.com is now the UKís leading student offers website.
Michael graduated from Nottingham University in 2003 with a degree in Economics. He has spent time as an oil futures trader and on the bond trading floor of an Investment Bank. Before launching studentbeans.com he set up a Chinese importing operation which developed into a successful ebay business. Michael is responsible for all aspects of the Company’s operations, including systems and infrastructure design and operational strategy.
I attended The University of Birmingham, where I graduated in Business Commerce. During my degree I worked with over thirty top brands, helping them target the student market. This included working as a brand manager for The Yell Group. With this background I saw a niche in the market for an online marketing platform to engage with students and set about forming studentbeans.com. I am a regular speaker at student and enterprise events sharing experiences and inspiring other entrepreneurial minds. Iím responsible for the sales and marketing team.
How have things developed with the business? What changes and learnings have there been?
Since the launch of studentbeans.com the website and brand has gone from strength to strength. Initially we established ourselves in the Birmingham University student market. After we had signed up the majority of local students to the site and thousands of vouchers were being printed off the site every week we knew we were on to a winner. We leveraged our experience to roll out across the country and engage with many more national brands, including Nandoís, ODEON, wagamama, Bella Italia and Alton Towers.
The website has developed to deliver national campaigns to the heart of the student market. We now have a mix of hundreds of local and national companies listing exclusive offers on studentbeans.com and we are approaching 100,000 members. Since its launch the website has seen a number of substantial revisions and revamps to keep it looking fresh and up-to-date. A recent member survey has provided new insights to what our users want and reflect the pace at which the Internet has evolved in recent years.
We are currently working on a number of developments, which will be released in the coming weeks. We are constantly in touch with our members who ensure that we are continuing to deliver and improve on our offering. Alongside the printable vouchers studentbeans.com now offers user generated content in the form of a community for students across the UK to share tips, deals and discounts for other members to benefit from. With our strong user base this is gaining good traction and will help the site to grow even quicker in the future.
Why should marketers target students?
Students are a fantastic demographic to target, not simply to gain their attention today as opinion formers and early adopters but as ABC1s of the future. Students have more time than most and should you choose to engage with them in the right way they could be spending that time, and their money with you.
What have you learnt about marketing to students? What are your tips for those wanting to reach the student audience and engage with them?
Marketing to students can be a challenge if approached in the wrong way. Students are very media savvy, they are very quick to judge and it is important not to patronise them. If you are looking to target students you should consider what you are offering them. Is it something that would appeal in its current form or do you need to re-package it? If you are going to provide a unique offering for the student market it is important to do your research, focus groups, polls and a phased launch will all provide useful insights to helping your campaign be a success. It is also important to remember that each year the student market is refreshed, allowing for this requires a constant presence and drive to ensure impact in the long term.
What campaigns/brands do you think have succeeded most in this arena?
The most successful campaigns are those that have kept to a core offering and simple message providing real value. As we provide a free service to students, they choose what to engage with and naturally there are certain offers that stand out. Two-for-one promotions generally strike the right note. The option for companies to provide restrictions, for example Monday to Thursday, enables a promotion to give good return when it is normally quieter. A promotion that is complicated and difficult to redeem simply creates a barrier to success for everyone concerned. wagamama run a promotion with us along these lines and they have really benefited from this approach.
What future developments will we see in student marketing?
In our recent survey, answered by 1,000+ of our members, over 66% of students questioned spend over 2 -3 hours a day online (over 25% spend 4+ hours everyday online). There has been a tremendous growth online in recent years and this will naturally continue to evolve. Our survey indicates that students now spend more time online than doing any other activity (apart from sleep). This is highlighted by the explosion in the use of social networking sites, in particular facebook. These sites have enabled students to connect in more ways than have ever been possible before and are likely to continue. Advertising through these sites however has been a challenge due to the focus of the audience being online to communicate with each other and not be distracted by adverts. In contrast studentbeans.com has created a service which integrates with student purchasing decisions and actively encourages users to engage with advertisers.
The future of marketing to students will involve integrated campaigns communicating and engaging with students. Previous campaigns that have seen isolated marketing activities will struggle to be heard amongst those that build a relationship with students. Brands that will win are those that support students, helping them as they grow and develop through their student experience from their fresher days until graduation.