Students in Marketing Class Compete With Ideas to Draw Gen Z to Graduate Hotels

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January 24 , 2024  |  By Lori McLemore

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Graduate Hotels, a collection of 33 (and growing) boutique hotels located in university towns in the U.S. and the U.K., had a challenge and was searching for a solution.  

Headquartered in Chicago, Graduate Hotels wanted to attract more of the Gen Z college student audience as patrons of its coffee, bar and food areas, and set up the lobby as a study and gathering place for students. In addition, it wanted to strengthen its campus ambassador program, The Campus Insiders. Since the hotels are based in university towns, the strategy was a solid one and would boost the brand with a younger population, securing them as life-long customers.

The challenge was getting the word out to students. To create a solution, Graduate Hotels worked with three Integrated Marketing classes at the U of A this past fall semester asking students to analyze the problem and to suggest workable solutions geared towards Graduate Fayetteville, yet scalable for other locations.

Taught by Anne Velliquette, associate professor of marketing at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Integrated Marketing is a senior-level class that uses many of the marketing techniques learned in lower-level classes for a real-world client project. The three classes formed 25 agencies or teams, which would compete for the winning marketing solution. Representatives from the Graduate headquarters' brand and marketing team would judge the teams' presentations and vote for the best solution.

Each team conducted a competitive analysis and utilized Human Centered Design to develop user personas and an empathy map (from in-depth interviews) to present the most viable solutions. After gathering data and conducting interviews, students developed a written creative brief, a brand positioning strategy, an ad campaign (three executable ideas) and a strategic pitch for the client.

And the Winning Team is … Morph Media

Marketing students Abby GarretsonErica ParkerBridget Rittenberry and Mimi Palecek joined forces to create the Morph Media team. Together they interviewed students to understand their needs for places to study or gather and compared that with the awareness of the hotel's offerings. The team then created user personas to reflect the target audience.

Morph Media's research showed that of the students surveyed:

  • Two-thirds preferred to study at a coffee shop or café regularly; and 
  • 92% were not aware the Graduate Hotel offered spaces for students.

Armed with their marketing analysis and student survey, Morph Media recommended the following to attract students and increase brand awareness within the local Gen Z population:

  • Utilize a separate social media account for the Fayetteville hotel (and each hotel in the collection) to highlight activities and events specific to the local area.
  • Promote giveaways, activities, menu offerings and incentives to increase brand awareness.
  • Modify the website by creating a space online to promote events and activities for students.
  • Partner with a local tutoring firm and host tutoring spaces within the Graduate.
  • Host networking and job fair events for students at the hotel.

"In my Integrated Marketing classes, we work with a real-world client every semester," Velliquette said. "This client project allows students to see how the theories and knowledge they are learning in class relate to industry marketing challenges and it gives them a chance to experience what a career in marketing and advertising would entail. It is not only valuable to the students in building their experience and resume but also to the clients we work with giving them access to the Gen Z mindset and unique insights when it comes to brand strategies. It is a win-win situation for sure."

Lori McLemoreSince 2013, Lori McLemore has served as the marketing and communications officer for the Sam M. Walton College of Business. In this role, she writes press releases and features articles to promote the work of students, faculty and staff. 

Prior to working at Walton College, she worked as the director of web strategy and operations for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the national headquarters for 3,500 Boys & Girls Clubs. She was part of the core team to establish an intranet site for Clubs around the globe and the public internet site for the national nonprofit located in Atlanta.

Lori holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Auburn University ... and loves BOTH the Arkansas Razorbacks (Woo Pig!!) and the Auburn Tigers (War Eagle!!)