Should Beverage Companies Seduce the Ureps?

As millennials are fast becoming the most influential demographic in the United States, the highly populated and digitally savvy group of 18-30 year-olds has dramatically changed that way that businesses spend marketing dollars and communicate with consumers. A recent study found that 93 percent of millennials belong to one or more social networks for personal use and, in recent years, dozens of beverage companies, including Pepsi, Red Bull, and Starbucks, have launched online marketing campaigns revolving around social media. Moreover, it’s now a common practice for advertisements to include a link or call to action inviting consumers to visit a company’s Facebook page or chat via Twitter.

However, the growth of non-traditional and social marketing has not been without quite a few stumbles, pitfalls, and outright disasters. In the wake of these public relations nightmares, a number of new marketing companies have popped into the corporate mainstream promising to ease the burden – and potential problems – associated with new media and marketing to millennials. Brand Adoption is one of these new companies.

Founded in 2009, Brand Adoption describes itself as a “word-of-mouth marketing company” that utilizes a combination of social media and guerrilla marketing to connect brands with millennial consumers. The Tempe, Ariz.-based marketing firm has created marketing campaigns for a number of companies including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Pop Chips, and Pepsi MAX and featured a strong presence at the recently held NACS show in Chicago.

Brand Adoption’s primary operating platform is called the “urep network,” a group of nearly 1,000 influential and social media savvy-college students, recent college graduates, and local bloggers. These “ureps” – short for university representatives – are located at 300 colleges and universities across the United States and take part in a variety of Brand Adoption campaigns based on their own personal tastes and preferences.

Ureps promote brands within their social networks and participate in guerrilla marketing and sampling events. Ureps are compensated through a system that awards points based on how often and effective they are at sharing information about a brand both online and offline and the total number of accumulated points can later be cashed for a check.

Don May, the VP of Marketing and Acquisitions for Brand Adoption, explained the company actively recruits “interactive ‘people’ people” to become ureps. These individuals are highly sought out for their ability to engage friends and colleagues in targeted marketing campaigns that drive trial and, eventually, influence purchases.

“At colleges, we’re going to athletic club leaders and organizers, bloggers, and other social media influencers who can create advocacy within their network and then outside their network,” May said.

May claims that peer exchanges are the most trusted source of information about new products, however, research from TalkTrack, an ongoing study piloted by market research firm Keller Fay Group, found that the overwhelming majority of word-of-mouth communication takes place offline.

To bridge the gap between online and offline messaging, May said that Brand Adoption works with clients to develop marketing campaigns in which ureps will post and share promotional information about a product or brand on Facebook and Twitter as well as take part in a variety of offline activities, including street marketing and product sampling.

“We’re combining online peer influence with sampling and a physical presence at key events,” May said.

Each urep campaign has a measurable return on investment based on achieving predetermined objectives such as an increase in the total number of visits to a client’s website, new Facebook “likes,” and/or the number of product samples given out.

One of Brand Adoption’s most recent marketing efforts was a summer-long campaign for FRS, the quercetin-based sports drink and nutritional supplement company. The primary goals of the campaign were to distribute 2 million sample cans of FRS Healthy Energy drinks in 19 markets across the country and engage trial consumers through online interaction and promotions.

Brand Adoption chose 140 brand ambassadors from its urep network to participate in the campaign and created a turnkey program that included branded vehicles, product storage and refrigeration. May said that within three months, the company completed the sampling tour and helped to double the number of “likes” on FRS’s Facebook page.

“FRS has seen the overwhelming positive reaction from the general public when word of mouth marketing is done correctly,” May said in a press release about the campaign.

May said that Brand Adoption is currently in the contract phase of three new projects, each similar in nature to the FRS campaign, though he said that the company hopes to establish an even greater physical urep presence in key markets and retailers where new products are most often launched.

“We’re continuing to build a network of bright college students from all over the country,” May said. “We want to expand our ability to promote brands via intelligent marketing on the ground.”