Connecting with the Gen Z consumer – a ferociously independent group of marketing savvy digital natives – remains a challenge for any brand keen to establish a genuine connection that lasts longer than a single transaction.
Unidays claims it has the answer to help brands create long-term loyalty with a young consumer base. Positioned as a student affinity network, Unidays partners with brands to offer student-specific discounts on fashion, beauty, food and drink, technology and fitness. The company gets paid when it drives a sale or engagement for a brand.
CEO and founder, Josh Rathour, insists it is possible for brands to create lasting loyalty with student consumers, as long as they get the experience right during their early encounters.
“Retailers often used to think that what they were seeing from students was everything they would ever get from students, so a big part of our work has been educating brands about the huge opportunity of this demographic,” Rathour explains.
“First and foremost students represent the longest lifetime value of any consumer group because you’ve got all that time to come. Data points also suggest that around the first 100 days of being a student they’re typically spending £3,000, which is huge spending power not just now, but absolutely into the future.”
Working with more than 600 brands including Apple, Asos and Nike, Unidays positions itself as a simple route to market for their student-focused campaigns.
This population have become independent consumers for the first time in their lives and are looking to make their own choices about the brands they want to associate with.
Josh Rathour, Unidays
Since launching in the UK in 2011 the business has expanded to 32 countries from the UK to China, India, the US and Australia. Unidays currently has 8.5 million members in the global university community, with plans to reach the 200 million students in tertiary education worldwide. When combined with the global 16- to 18-year-old audience, this would take Unidays’ target market to 450 million students.
“This population have become independent consumers for the first time in their lives and are looking to make their own choices about the brands they want to associate with,” says Rathour.
“We think the job of the brand is to move away from a transactional relationship which sees students as just users, to creating a relationship based on who these individuals really are and for me it aligns with the trend we’re seeing around personalisation.”
The typical conversion rate of consumers shopping with brands on Unidays is around 40-50%. According to Rathour, the platform boasts 90% penetration in the UK, 50% in Australia, 25% in Germany and 20% in the US, creating $2.4bn (£1.6bn) in sales for its partners last year alone.
“We look at the traditional marketing channels that exist right now and so many of our partners are seeing the rising costs, wastage and dubious returns from channels such as search and social,” says Rathour.
“We are in a position where we think that a student affinity network represents a credible third option for brands, so it’s no longer a duopoly.”
Know your market
Rathour’s key advice for brands looking to engage Gen Z is to assume nothing. This is why Unidays has set up three student councils in the UK, Australia and the US, spanning 20,000 members. As well as working on improvements to the platform, the student councils also approve any new brands that are added to the network, determining whether they are relevant for students or not.
“We’ve worked with Gen Z students over time to optimise our strategy and we’ve learnt that the key to engage this audience is to make sure you’re relevant,” explains CMO, Alex Gallagher.
“The other key thing about Gen Z is that they’re happy to share about themselves, but what they do expect is that you listen to them and act on it, serving them a personalised experience as a result.”
The student market is a key audience for fashion accessories brand Skinnydip London, which has used its two-year tieup with Unidays to strengthen its relationship with young people and improve brand visibility.
“In the world of Gen Z everything is fast moving and they have so much to consume,” notes Skinnydip director Lewis Blitz. “The main thing we have tried to implement into our strategy is staying really fluid and actually listening to what our audience want from us. We take comments from our customers really seriously.”
This attitude is shared by Unidays, which generates detailed surveys of its community to obtain insights into how millennials spend their time and what they value most in life. The company’s latest 72 question survey received more than 80,000 responses in less than a week.
Going forward Unidays is working on partnerships to help enrich the relationships between students and brands across the US, Europe and Asia Pacific region, explains Rathour. To deliver this growth the team is expanding rapidly, with plans to double the workforce to 300 this year.