The results are in: Nike is crowned the most admired brand for students

Today’s students represent the next consumer powerhouse. Currently aged between 16 - 22 -years old, Generation Z are expected to make up 40% of consumers in the US, Europe and BRIC countries by 2020. With a consumer’s spending peaking in their 30s, companies need to attract a following now in order to create a loyal, meaningful relationship for years to come.

This is exactly why we’ve recently conducted research amongst 2,225 British university students via the UK’s largest social network for students, Campus Society, to find out which brands they most admire and why.

 The findings were fascinating, and somewhat surprising. Despite this generation commonly touted for its passion for social activism and working for their success, 87% of students say it’s the quality of a company’s product that makes them most admirable.  

Beyond this, students say they prefer brands who are innovative and invest in inspiring content. Just over a third (34%) of those questioned said they wanted a brand to have an innovative approach, while a third (33%) of students cited its inspiring content as a draw. This would explain why renowned innovators Nike, Apple and adidas came out as the top three most admired brands of all.

So, what can brands looking to grab a piece of this profitable pie learn from those successfully engaging this audience?

Well, aside from the top three all being renowned for the quality of their products, they also communicate this with compelling campaigns that resonate specifically with this audience. Nike chose Colin Kaepernick as its face in 2018, after he refused to stand for the US national anthem in protest against racism and police brutality. Meanwhile, Apple’s latest holiday advert encouraged people to share their own unique ‘gifts’ and talents, even if they’re scared of what people will think. Adidas announced its plans to produce 11 million pairs of shoes made from recycled plastic waste this year alone; they also produce football shirts made from recycled materials and have committed to stop using ‘virgin plastic’ by 2024.   

All these global issues have a strong connection to the student demographic, who are concerned by world events and looking to be affiliated with brands with a good environmental footprint (13%), who champion diversity and inclusion (17%), and have a positive impact on society (13%).

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But, of course, it’s not just about what you communicate, it’s how you communicate it that is important, particularly for a group with such a multi-faceted approach to social media. They use different platforms for different activities. On Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information, according to a study recently conducted by Response Media.

The communication landscape is rapidly evolving, and the brands who get the frequency, relevance and mechanism of content delivery right will reap the benefits of better, more meaningful connections with their next key audiences. The large social media platforms are not as effective as they once were for content delivery or relationship-building, with a growing emergence of student desire for community-based platforms whose members, whether student or brand, are clearly talking about their shared interests.

Those brands who focus on producing high-quality goods, while having a positive impact on the wider world and communicating that in creative ways through the right mix of channels, will rise to the top. With that in mind, I can’t wait to see who’s topping these rankings in our next student brand survey.

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