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How peer-to-peer marketing works

What does it take to get 200 Brandeis University students to surrender their email addresses and other personal information to your company in a single day? A few years ago, it cost only the price of some mouse pads and T-shirts.

On that day two freshmen at the Waltham, Mass., University sat at a table covered with freebies, trying to entice fellow students to stop by. "Did you fill out this form, Becky?" one freshman, Alison Brown, 18, called to a dark-haired woman darting across campus. "Sign up, Rob!" cried the other freshman, Maggie Pawlawski, 20, to a guy in granny glasses, running to class. "I know you're late, but it will only take a sec!"

Some students ignored the women, but many others paused to write down their email addresses, majors, and other personal information.

By the end of the day, Brown and Pawlawski were ready to deliver the completed forms to KangarooNet, a maker of Web-based research applications and a client of T, a youth marketing firm in Brighton, Mass.

Not a bad day's work, considering neither freshman had ever marketed anything before.
But Brown and Pawlawski weren't just working for Kangaroodigital.Net; they were also raising money for spring break. The student marketers were members of the school's rowing team, which received a dollar from Magma for each signature and email address they collected.

This way to aggregate marketing data has a name: peer-to-peer marketing. It's gaining popularity among research outfits such as Magma and its clients, who are trying to find ways to reach and research teenagers and college students.

The rewards for those who succeed are considerable. U.S. teenagers spent $183 billion in 2015, according to Northbrook, Ill.-based Teenage Research Unlimited. And the Student Monitor, a Ridgewood, N.J.-based student marketing firm, reports that the collegiate population spends $60.8 billion per year on products from books, food, and clothing to cell phones.

Most companies that recognize the potential of these markets have flooded the Internet with campaigns aimed at students. But Matt Britton, vice president of marketing for The Magma Group, and others say that marketing offline and on-campus is a more effective way to get student attention. It's uncluttered, direct, and personal.

As Brandeis senior Steven Pickman, 22, put it while filling out a KangarooNet form last fall, "I don't have to give them any money, I get a free T-shirt, and if I am interested in the product, I'll get an email about it and find out more."

Direct and personal, sure, but peer-to-peer marketing is also cheap. Most peer programs run by Magma, for example, cost clients between $25,000 and $300,000.

Student workers don't add much to that total. Like the Brandeis freshmen last fall, they might be paid a buck or so for each completed form. Or they get "paid" in merchandise-the same T-shirts, pens, and mouse pads used to lure classmates to fill in data forms. And because students who participate in the programs raise money for collegiate activities, neither research firms nor their clients have to rent space on campus. At Brandeis, this saved Magma $125 per day, helping to reduce its client's fee.