Why Every (Half) Decent Marketer And Company Must Create Scholarships

I remember when I started studying in the UK some 20 years ago, I was shocked to learn how much my fellow (non-European Union) students were paying each year to study the same course I was attending. Some of them came over on a scholarship, but the majority simply paid their full tuition and living expenses out of pocket. Keep in mind the cost of living (and surviving) in London at that time was also not to be neglected. We are talking pre-Brexit British Pound levels.

During my first year at college, I was bombarded with all kinds of marketing activities. This ranged from sponsored college fairs to stress ball giveaways, from complimentary coffee gift cards when opening a student bank account to free whiskey shots at the student union. At first, I was amazed and grabbed everything I could, but my excitement quickly faded when I realized these were all marketing tricks to get me to take a different action.

Stduents are offered all kinds of gift cards when they enter college

On top of that, the marketing spiel kept repeating itself, until I started ignoring it like YouTube ads. Those were the banners and ads of my age, and I quickly stopped paying attention to them.

Zero Creativity, No Lasting Brand Value

None of the big companies, recruiters, or even charity organizations were even attempting to undertake anything unique in their marketing campaigns. There was no creativity in their approach. Above all, the vast choice of offers and their accessibility made each of them even more unattractive and less unique.

Everyone got the shopping voucher with their new bank account, not just me.

Everyone got the first month off their gym membership.

Everyone got the same stress ball, and you could see a hundred students sitting bored in the lecture halls squeezing them non-stop for a while until they eventually got bored of that as well.

Special offers fro students is on overdrive in the first weeks of college

Reaching students with your product or service is essential for a lot of companies. Students (especially nowadays) are very brand aware (they have been bombarded with marketing messages since they were toddlers), they have more and more purchasing power, make their own buying decisions, are super-social (whatever they like or don’t like all their friends and social network will immediately see in an Instagram Selfie). And even though they are more and more brand agnostic, they still prefer sticking to a good service or product long term and value the intrinsic value the branded good or service makes them feel.

Subscribing Your Audience To Your Way

One reason we are seeing such an increasing trend in subscription-based payment models, besides the monetary rationale behind it, is because it allows consumers to only pay a portion of the value of the goods or services they consume each month, while also creating a higher sense of value (it only costs $9.99 a month…think Netflix), versus buying it would have cost me $100 upfront) and loyalty.

Netflic's Subscription Model is s easy to digest but worth more than you pay for it
Consumers only pay a portion of the value of what Netflix actually offers

Switching from one provider to the other is always a nuisance (how often have you switched bank in recent years? How often did you change your phone provider?), but due to increasing competition and billions of dollars spent on marketing to explain users the value, or perceived value, of competing offerings makes switching more likely, and brand loyalty a thing of the previous generation.

At the same time, students today are exposed to a sensory overflow from every direction. They skip hundreds of ads daily on Youtube, instinctively overlook banners, and they even stopped caring about sponsored stories or paid Posts on Instagram and Facebook.

And still – given all of that, 93% of online marketers still use Facebook on a regular basis to reach their desired audience.

93% of online marketers use facebook to reach their desired audiences
Are you one of the 93% of online marketers using Facebook to reach their target audience?

It is certainly true that Facebook, Google, and others have come up with more effective methods using ‘big data’ allowing them to loosly target and cherry-pick what ad to show to which user at what specific point in time. These targeting mechanisms – while being obviously much more effective than previous targeting methods available in the past – have come under scrutiny in recent years (I don’t think there is a need to reference the countless stories presented almost daily to everyone who reads the news).

Simultaneously, while advertising is increasingly becoming a ‘one-on-one’ game (‘versus one-on-many’ just 20 years ago), consumers are increasingly understanding and becoming aware that their behavior, personal data, and soon probably even their thoughts, are being used to sell to them goods and services they didn’t even know they needed.

This is also why social network unicorns constantly need to come up with alternative ad formats and creative ideas to reach, and more importantly, engage with GenZ over and over again.

Ads in every thinkable format, whether on the web or on buses, Taxi cabs, on the underground, on TV, on your cupholder, on your phone cardholder are being shown non-stop and experts estimate that the average American is exposed to up to 10,000 advertisements each day.

Ubiquitous Advertising

Ubiquitous advertising is becoming ineffective and Ineffective advertising is a waste of money.

At the same time, Generation Z is used to getting a lot of stuff for free. Ad-supported versions of all kinds of products or services are available in almost every industry, and Teenagers take full advantage and also understand this business model behind it. 

At the same time, many use ad-blockers to avoid seeing those ads constantly. 

It is estimated that about 47% of global internet users use ad-blockers. This just shows how much money is going to waste each year on ads that are never even being seen by anyone.

There clearly is a need for advertising to become more creative and engaging. To provide value to the user instead of additional unwanted annoyance.

Being Socially Impactful Is Woke

Generation Z is very well aware of the social, economic, and environmental impact their actions have on themselves, others, and the future. 

‘Buy one – give one’ promotions (which are mostly also a sort of marketing strategy used by many companies trying to push on the consumers’ sensitive social awareness) are set to become the new standard in many industries. Toms Shoes famously give a pair to someone in need when one pair is purchased.

Toms donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased
If you’ve ever purchased a pair of Toms, you probably felt good in the fact that they donated a pair on your behalf

Justifying the purchase of an expensive pair of shoes or spectacles because a child in the third world will be able to wear the same pair of shoes making the buyer feel good about himself, is a marketing technique that has found a lot of resonance among start-ups and established companies alike. 

This allows the consumer to become ‘active’ for change simply by making a purchase. And even better, it can fully justify their purchasing decision while creating some sense of brand awareness and pride.

For companies, on the other hand, it is free marketing. Well, not completely free, as they still need to provide that charity they promised the consumer, but it hardly comes better than getting customers to purchase an overpriced product and showing off their pride and charitable action on social media, identifying themselves with the cause at hand.

Giving Back as a Scholarship Solution

When we launched ScholarshipOwl about 4 years ago, we were on a mission to revolutionize the outdated and cumbersome scholarship application process for students and provide matching scholarships through a simplified and comprehensive online application technology. 

While I believe we have a lot more to improve (I guess you always do), I can proudly say we have done a pretty good job so far and are providing real value to students in their scholarship search.

As part of our ongoing thought and development processes on how to provide more and more efficient access to scholarships for students, we also realized that there is enormous value to marketers and companies by providing a scholarship.

The common misconception that a student can only get a single scholarship that may or may not pay for his or her whole tuition has left students in the dark about potential opportunities they could have received, while leaving marketers and companies unaware of a huge, extremely effective (and benevolent) route to reach a high in demand audience efficiently. 

A scholarship can even be a $500 or $2,000 giveaway. It doesn’t have to be in the tens of thousands of dollars in range.

Giving out a scholarship can actually become a great way to reach and engage with your target audience.

Think of the (by now) traditional display advertising and remarketing strategies.

marketers spend a lot of time and money finding, testing, optimizing, targeting, and retargeting the exact users

A marketer would launch a campaign targeted for specific search terms, specify a demographic range, maybe add some interest-based targeting and if he is more sophisticated, even add some IP ranges or geographical areas. He will spend a lot of time and money finding, testing, optimizing, targeting, and retargeting the exact users that may provide value to the advertisers’ bottom line. Along the way, tens of billable hours will be invested and thousands of dollars will be spent.

Where Does the Real Value sit?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in smart and precisely targeted marketing campaigns that are properly tested, but I also believe that thinking out of the box and providing real value to your potential customers can often provide an even better route to success. 

Of course, both approaches – the analytical marketing approach and the more creative approach – are not exclusive. In many cases a marketer will see the best results, combining both – a creative experimental approach, with more analytical conventional techniques. That is what has worked best for us and others as well.

Some examples of scholarships from previous years

Kia Motors, for example, spent millions of dollars promoting their scholarships during the 2019 Superbowl, as part of their ‘The Great Unknowns’ campaign. The ad directly played on the viewers’ heartstrings, while Kia benefits from the positive image boost to their brand. I don’t claim to know all of Kia’s marketing efforts, but their sales figures following this year’s Superbowl show the highest increase in the last 2-3 years, after a few years of stagnating growth numbers.

Kia Motors hit the nail on the head with a campaign targeting the viewers’ social awareness and being ‘the good guys’ in the corporate game. A brand you and I want to identify ourselves with.

Over the last few years, I have seen scholarship providers from every possible vertical. Whether they are lawyers offices providing $1,000 scholarships to recruit talent, accounting firms looking to find the new Frederick Whinney, mom and pop shops, insurance companies, market research companies, supermarket chains, marketing companies, SaaS companies, mobile app developers, essay review companies, charity organizations, honor societies, student loan companies. The list goes on.

How This Scholarship Solution Can Help

An interesting case was when a known pepper spray company launched a $15,000 scholarship two years ago. They asked us to promote their scholarship and get them more applicants, which we happily did. Within a period of about a month, we helped drive over 10,000 applicants to their scholarship and the winner was eventually one of them. After talking to this pepper spray company, they explained that they have two major groups of consumers. 

The police being one, the other one being women, in particular women in college. Knowing that it made complete sense why they would be offering a scholarship of $15,000. They received tens of thousands of leads, raised awareness for their brand, and were positively viewed by their target customers.

We also recently helped a big private student loan provider launch and promote a $3,000 scholarship. I guess there is no need to explain why it makes sense for them to provide a scholarship targeting students. The scholarship was launched on the ScholarshipApp and was therefore directly offered to students using ScholarshipOwl

Within less than a month the provider saw over 3,000 applicants to its scholarship. Effectively, it cost them $3,000 and maybe a couple of hours getting through their own compliance nitty-gritty. So they reached an effective CPL of $1. To put this into perspective, CPCs in Google Adwords for some relevant Keywords for private student loans can range as high as $50 a click.

tracking your costs of advertising is important

In addition to all the things mentioned so far, there are several other benefits of providing a scholarship, which are all worth mentioning in this context. I won’t elaborate on them as I think they are pretty self-explanatory, and this article has most likely already reached the tip of most readers’ attention span.

The major benefits of scholarships for marketing

There are quite a few advantages to using scholarships for the purposes of marketing, but they get very little mention since most people think only about the benefits that students get. Here’s what you can expect once you start using scholarships for marketing:

  • SEO Juice. For one, you can launch a scholarship on external websites and get a nice backlink for free with it. Secondly, many online scholarship directories and colleges (yes, .edu backlinks!) will gladly list your award. This will bring you nice SEO power and surely also additional applicants.
  • Providing a scholarship as a non-profit organization (or even through one) will give you some tax benefits. While that should not be the reason to give out a scholarship, it surely is a nice bonus.
  • Lead generation. Yes I know, I am stating the obvious, but when I experience the vast amount of targeted leads some of the providers we work with receive I am often stunned.
  • PR. Journalists love stories that are unconventional and interesting to their readers. A company that has no direct interest in the education industry handing out a scholarship can definitely gauge interest.
  • Branding and brand positioning. The ‘doing good for society’ factor, and helping students in the age of social awareness (advertising) can only help your brand’s image and recognition.
  • Engagement. When offering a scholarship you are effectively giving away free money to one or more lucky (or hardworking) students. You can require the applicants to take a certain action, such as writing an essay, watch a video, answer a short set of questions, or fill out a survey. By doing that for example, you can engage directly with students who will be exposed to your brand while also providing you with valuable insights.
  • Targeting. When you offer a scholarship it is up to you to decide who is or isn’t eligible to enter. So if you only want specific age groups, genders, professions, etc. to apply, you can easily offer your award to only those specific groups.
  • You could start offering a scholarship for as low as $1,000. What other marketing campaigns do you have that allow you to test for that little?
  • Get real testimonials from smiling scholarship recipients.
  • At last, but I think very importantly nevertheless, by providing a scholarship you simply do something good. You help someone in need to finance their education with the prospect of having a better, more prosperous life. That alone, in my opinion, should be reason enough.

In today’s marketing landscape, we are facing new challenges and increasing competition. A great way of standing out is by providing real value and something your target users can identify with.