Chegg Uses Data To Connect College Students With Brands

Elizabeth Harz launched in 2007 as a website for college students to buy and sell used textbooks. In the past couple of years, Chegg has evolved into a community platform with a range of data on an elusive market: high school and college students.

Elizabeth Harz, Chegg’s VP of business development, says, “There are a number of points along the student life cycle where technology and a large national platform that takes advantage of mobile, search and social networks could help reinvent education and save students a lot of time and money.”

Today, Chegg connects with students in high school as they decide where to attend college, staying connected throughout their college years and even into their first jobs. AdExchanger spoke to Harz about the data Chegg collects on students and how brands leverage data for strategic partnerships and targeted marketing.

AdExchanger: How much penetration do you have among college students, and what kinds of data do you collect on them as they work across your platform?

ELIZABETH HARZ: We talk about how Facebook is the social graph and LinkedIn is a professional graph. Chegg is the student graph. The data piece is extremely interesting because not only do we reach approximately 30% of college students…we also have very rich and interesting data on these students. They are visiting, they are transacting and they are sharing with us what courses they’re taking, what books they’re renting and information such as gender, class year, major. That’s extremely interesting for us and for the brands that we work with as well. [Note: Chegg declined to release the exact number of college students on the platform, simply saying there are “millions.”]

Your target audience is 16- to 25-year-olds. What trends do you notice about this group?

A lot of marketers talk about this audience as extremely skeptical and tuning out a lot of marketing because they’re so inundated by media messages on all platforms. But what we find is that students are actually just very savvy. They are very receptive and, in reality, can be a brand’s best advocate, but it depends on the way that the brand interacts with the audience. There is a need to be authentic, to add value and to speak to the audience appropriately, in the right format with the right messages.

Can you give us some examples of that?

Red Bull is a big partner of ours. They have a big student sampling team that they run themselves, and then they work with us to get samples to any geographies and campuses where they don’t have brand ambassadors. For example, in January, Red Bull put a couple hundred thousand cans in the boxes that went out to our students who were renting physical textbooks with a cute marketing message saying, ‘Nobody ever wishes they’d slept more during college.’ There was no hashtag mentioned or specific call to action, but tons of students retweeted that message directly. They were just so delighted that Red Bull invested in them, providing a can of Red Bull along with their books for the semester.

A lot of the partners that we work with – including brands such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom and HP – have done product scholarships for students. Brands can promote financial scholarships that they already have or create them and promote them to students, but a number of them have also done these product scholarships. HP gave away a laptop and gaming console. Bed, Bath & Beyond also did a great promotion for back-to-school last year that had a number of different aspects, including a scholarship for books for a number of students and a dorm scholarship. Brands can provide all these different pieces that are a huge help for students and their families as they face the expense of school.

Do you have advertising on the site at all, or do you mostly work with brands for integrated programs?

We do have ads. You need to communicate to students about the brand and how we’re working together, so there’s certainly promotional real estate throughout the network. We basically have three sets of assets, and the first bucket is digital, which is everything you can imagine: digital ads, video, mobile, social, all the usual suspects.

The second bucket is our boxes. We send millions of boxes to students every year with the books that they are renting, and there are lots of cool things brands can do with the box, whether it’s a sample of shampoo in the box or a paper insert with a coupon or a catalog. Brands can also co-brand the actual box.

The third bucket is our experiential offerings. We do everything from brand ambassador work to a national music festival to individual events on campuses for back-to-school. We worked with great brands like PayPal and Microsoft and others on the on-campus front.

Looking at these partnerships and these integrated campaigns, how much do you leverage the data that you’re collecting while developing these, and how do brands take advantage of all this information that you have about the students?

They do extensively. These are strategic partnerships where we’re trying to leverage the relationship to do great things for students. We use things as basic as gender targeting all the way down to majors to make sure that students are getting personalized, relevant offerings. As an example, a recent partnership we did with Adobe focused on students with a creative focus in their coursework and made sure that they were given the information and the opportunity to enhance their employability. Students had a positive experience because we were able to use the extensive data that we have, find the right students, prepare the right messaging, depending on their year of study and the major that they’re in.

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