*Updated January 30, 2020
Scholarships are one of the most impactful branding tools. A century before SEO was even a thing, thought leaders figured out that sponsoring a scholarship was a way to create impact while educating consumers about their product.
Today, brand scholarships are more powerful than they have ever been, and possibly have the best ROI of any form of digital marketing.
However, while many companies know that sponsoring a scholarship is a positive thing to do for their brands, they fail to appreciate the sheer impact a scholarship can create in the main arena where all brands compete today — search results.
Google search results have more impact on a brand’s success than it ever had, and sponsoring a scholarship is a cheap way to buy some very positive real estate in search results.
And you will be helping students in the process.
1. Your digital footprint is your brand in 2020
Today, consumers walk around with phones millions of times more powerful than the computers that put a man on the moon. In fact, an iPhone 6 could be used to guide 120 million Apollo era spacecraft to the moon simultaneously.
So, what do spaceships have to do with scholarships? Nothing. But the point is, consumers have these powerful computers at their fingertips and they use them for everything, including searching for your brand or service.
How often do they search?
The majority of shoppers — a whopping 87% — will perform an online search of your product or service before they move forward with any transaction. And 71% of shoppers now use their mobile devices while shopping in-stores to search for reviews and better deals. The number is even higher for shoppers ages 18-44 — 83% of this age group use their mobile devices while shopping in-store.
So what will your customers see when they search for your company, product or service?
They will see the good, the bad and the ugly.
While you can’t control every review about your company, product or service, you can help your reputation through a brand scholarship. And the more you promote your scholarship, the more prominent it will become in your digital footprint, and the more likely your customers will see it when they search.
2. Scholarships give you an opportunity to broadcast your brand values
Scholarships provide an opportunity for you to tell your brand story. Businesses are built on brand perception, and a scholarship sets the tone in a very positive way. Crafting a powerful narrative about your scholarship that ties into your brand is a great way to connect with your audience and build long-term relationships.
Scholarships can be used to introduce a product, brand or service to build awareness with students and their families. For example, the Nikon Storytellers Scholarship does a nice job of introducing the brand to the next generation of creative visual storytellers.
Scholarships can also be used to shed light on an important issue that aligns with the brand values. For example, Club Thrifty tied their business model of educating people on how to get out of debt, into their scholarship which requires students to submit an essay on how to avoid debt while in college.
3. Scholarships have a long and proven history of creating brand impact
But the foundation for scholarships was laid more than 100 years ago with the Rhodes Scholarship — one of the most famous scholarships ever created — that set the bar on the impact a scholarship could create.
The Rhodes Scholarship was established by Cecil John Rhodes in 1902 to help instill a sense of civic-minded leadership in future leaders, irrespective of their chosen career paths, by giving them a free two-year postgraduate award at the University of Oxford. The Rhodes Scholarship helped create leaders like Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, Bobby Jindal, Susan Rice, Bill Bradley and Rachel Maddow, who were all recipients of this scholarship.
Rhodes foresaw the future of the 20th century and thought that “a good understanding between England, Germany and the United States of America will secure the peace of the world.”
Two world wars later, the Miss America contest was the first big brand to sponsor a pure brand scholarship when it switched the prize from “furs and movie contracts” to college scholarships, an idea championed by Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943. Bartel was the first college student to win the title of Miss America. After visiting her sorority sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma around the country, she developed the concept of awarding scholarships to those who competed in the Miss America Organization. Now, the Miss America Organization is one of the world’s largest providers of scholarships for women in the world.
Thousands of brands like Geico, Kia, Nikon, IBM, Hulu and Coca-Cola are sponsoring scholarships today.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship, which started 31 years ago, has helped more than 6,000 Coca-Cola Scholars with more than $66 million in scholarships. Each year, 150 Coca-Cola Scholars are awarded a scholarship of $20,000 each in recognition of their “capacity to lead and serve.”
Taco Bell recently got into the scholarship game with its Live Más Scholarship, which is designed to inspire the next generation of innovators, creators and dreamers. In 2019 alone, the Taco Bell Foundation awarded $4.5 million worth of scholarships to 531 students. In 2020, the Taco Bell Foundation will be awarding more than $6 million in Live Más Scholarships.
4. Brand scholarships act as SEO-adrenaline shots
Scholarships are great for your SEO because there are many companies (like ours) that will happily share your scholarship on their websites, social media and newsletters.
Shameless plug — If you have a scholarship, we will post it on our Scholarship Search Engine for free.
Many schools will post your scholarship on their websites, if you reach out to them properly and there is a fit with their criteria. Some schools will also post your scholarships in their social media, digital newsletters and intranets, and some even will print it out and physically post it on the bulletin board in their office (yes, that is still a thing).
All of this will enhance your SEO efforts.
In the early days of SEO, many companies started sponsoring scholarships just as a way to get .edu backlinks. Like anything that worked well in SEO, that concept got abused with schools being flooded with requests to post questionable scholarships. While schools still post scholarships on their sites, they are more selective today because of this. They will look at the size of the scholarship, the amount of time left for students to apply, the quality of the scholarship website page, the product or service your brand is associated with, and the scholarship’s relevancy to their students.
Pro Tip: Reach out to schools early to share your scholarship. The earlier you reach out, the better your chances of having more schools post your scholarship. If you have a scholarship that is exclusive to just some schools, let them know that — it will increase the odds of them helping you.
5. Scholarships help brands learn more about their audience or to improve product
Brands can use scholarships to learn more about their audience or to improve their product.
As an example, when we wanted to improve upon a product that we created to help students find student discounts and coupons called the Student Save Engine, we created the Broke College Student Scholarship and asked students to create a brief essay, video or infographic that tells us what was useful about the product and how we could improve it.
We got thousands of entries. The feedback was very useful, and is continuing to help us improve upon the product.
Many other brands have done the same, including:
- ChampionTutor, a tutoring company that helps students find experienced and result-oriented home tutors, created a $2,000 scholarship and asked students to write an essay on whether schools should abolish tests and examinations.
- BadCredit.org created a Wealth Wise Scholarship and asked students to write an essay on how the U.S. credit scoring system can be improved.
6. Scholarships continue to help brands after they are awarded
Display and search ads are all fantastic ways to open the doors to your audience, but are increasingly competitive and expensive. And when you stop spending, you stop getting results.
But brand scholarships will still show up in searches long after the scholarship ends. And if you renew your scholarship each year (you will when you see how effective it is), you will find that it continues to go up in search results.
Additionally, once you create a scholarship, you will gain long-term benefits. According to TUN’s Fourth Annual College Student Survey, 77 percent of students have applied for at least one scholarship in college, and 83 percent of students look favorably upon a brand that sponsors a scholarship.
That is significant. There are nearly 20 million college students in the United States alone and more than 200 million worldwide, so brands have a huge opportunity to instill brand loyalty in an audience that is traditionally hard to reach.
7. Students and parents are looking for scholarships year-round
U.S. student debt is at a record high of $1.5 trillion. Students are graduating with an average student loan debt of $37,000, according to MarketWatch, with one in six of the graduates leaving college with debt that exceeds their income.
When the tuition payments are due, parents and students alike regularly search for scholarships (and paid internships) as a way to pay for college. In fact, the pattern of this search looks like a healthy ECG given the predictability of the search volume.
Since students (and their parents) are always searching for scholarships, brands can sponsor a scholarship at any time of the year and get their attention. Moreover, at some point in their need-to-pay-for-college journey, they will see that your brand was a champion and they will remember that. You will never get that type of impact with your best remarketing campaign.
8. Auto-populate in search lets people know you care
When people search for your product, brand or service, you never know what direction they will go. Will they look at your reviews, hours, price point, or your competitors that Google is now showing under the heading “People also search for”?
Along the search journey, Google tries to help users by auto-populating the search fields. And if your brand has a scholarship, Google will let users know about it there.
A brand scholarship is not just impactful to the students and families it directly helps, but it is also one of the most powerful marketing tools available today in a world driven by the search engine results.
If you would like to get an idea of how to sponsor a scholarship, check out our guide. The University Network (TUN) can help you with the process. We can handle the whole process, or just the part that you wish to outsource. We know what works, and can help you craft your message to your target audience.
We have helped many companies, big and small, deliver their brand message to both college and high school students through tailored scholarship programs.
Contact TUN [firstname.lastname@example.org] now if you’re ready to start a scholarship, and we will get you off and running. If you already have a scholarship, please let us know about ithereand we will share it with students. If you want to start a scholarship in less than two minutes, click here.
Peter Corrigan is the CEO of The University Network. TUN is a student news and resource platform that advocates for students.