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FLC student marketing consultants spritz up Ska cans

FLC student marketing consultants spritz up Ska cans

Could sparkling water taste better if the label really pops? According to Fort Lewis College’s 2022 Fennel-Saegert Student Marketing Agency consultants, that depends on the consumer.

Their question reflects the philosophy of the late Geraldine Fennell, an advertising genius in the 1960s. Instead of segmenting people into different groups based on their demographics, Fennell used various qualitative research methods, including focus groups and surveys, to understand consumers’ concerns and interests. She focused on understanding the characteristics of situations and consumers that would determine what products would be relevant to which consumer at a given moment. Fennell’s method was so compelling that she bequeathed a portion of her estate to establish the Carolan Research Institute, which supports projects that further investigate her idea. The Student Marketing Agency at FLC is an offshoot of this work.

A ska can of white peach flavored sparkling water, designed with a light orange and white checkerboard background with a black and white skeleton and shooting star illustration.

“Her ideas are more applicable to the real world of business,” said Ishani Banerji, assistant professor of Marketing in FLC’s School of Business Administration.

Banerji introduced the Fennell-Saegert program to FLC in the summer of 2021 as a paid internship opportunity for undergraduate students. She partnered with fellow faculty members Tomasz Miaskiewicz, associate professor of Marketing, and Cristián Sepύlveda, assistant professor of Marketing. 

“The way we interact in the summer program is different than how we interact in class,” Banerji said. “Over the semester, their attention is divided, whereas they work full-time in the summer program. We have 100% of their commitment and attention devoted to this project. We can give them challenges at a much higher level with higher expectations than we could in a regular class during a regular semester. That experience is difficult to replicate in the classroom.”

Finding the groove

In the summer of 2021, the Student Marketing Agency recruited four FLC students. Their debut client was Pine Needle Mountaineering and Pine Needle Dry Goods, one outdoor retailer business with two storefronts in downtown Durango.

The students spent the summer formulating a marketing strategy for the 45-year-old company. Using Fennell’s method, the students conducted interviews, focus groups, and surveys to identify why customers shopped at Pine Needle. The students used the rest of their project time to craft two marketing plans for each store. At the end of eight weeks, the students presented their findings to the local business community at a forum organized by FLC’s Center for Innovation. After the successful presentation, three students were offered positions with a local consulting agency.

Two of those students, Ashley Sage (Marketing, ’22) and Hannah Jacks (Communication Design, ’22), returned as senior consultants for the 2022 Fennell-Saegert cohort. The summer 2022 junior consultants included Peri Milner, a sophomore majoring in Economics, Karson Krouse, a sophomore majoring in Marketing, and Wyatt Goodell (Communication Design, ’22). The client: local beverage empire Ska Brewing Company.

Like the music it’s named after, Ska has a distinct brand identity, so the students didn’t need to devise a full-blown marketing plan for the well-known beer manufacturer. Instead, they focused on how to create a strategic design for Ska’s fresh-off-the-line hard seltzer and sparkling water products.

“The whole point is to struggle and not know where to start,” Sage said of the workflow. “With us being the mentors, [the junior consultants] assumed we’d hop in and help. But we were really only there to answer questions and clarify Fennell’s ideas, so they could determine how to identify Ska’s market share.”

"When you have too much freedom, you might box yourself into doing what you know. When you have a more limited scope, it can broaden your horizons. You have to explore your full creative potential. Ska’s style mixes well with my illustrative experience, so this work really played to my strengths as an artist and a designer while also getting me to break out of habits...and try new things."
— Wyatt Goodell (Communication Design, '22)

“We couldn’t have asked for a better progression,” Banerji said. “Welcoming the students back from last year gave them a chance to lead and mentor students with real clients and real stakes. Students tend to see faculty as having all the answers, so having alumni mentors put a layer between the students and us so they could figure it out together.”

Out of the box, er, can

“Having the senior marketers from last year was extremely helpful,” Krouse said. “They were there to help guide us without doing the work. I’m a step ahead in my classes this year now that I’ve had this experience. Without this, I would have no idea how a marketing agency team works.”

A natural planner and analytical thinker, Krouse most enjoyed putting together the survey and studying the data compiled from the 500 people who completed the questionnaire. Krouse and Milner, who also enjoys data analytics, voiced their findings to Goodell, who utilized his illustrative skills to mock up visuals that could target Ska’s potential seltzer and sparkling water sippers.

“We needed someone who could express ideas through drawings,” Banerji said. “[Wyatt] wasn’t just designing pretty things; he was helping move the idea into reality. I was impressed with his ability to step out of his comfort zone and think about how to design within the constraints we had; it had to make sense within the Ska brand and survey results.”

“When you have too much freedom, you might box yourself into doing what you know,” Goodell said. “You can get into a repetition of what you’re comfortable with, and when that’s cut off, you have to take a new approach. When you have a more limited scope, it can broaden your horizons. You have to explore your full creative potential. Ska’s style mixes well with my illustrative experience, so this work really played to my strengths as an artist and a designer while also getting me to break out of habits... and try new things.”

After workshopping multiple label design options, the student marketing team agreed on a collection of proposals that best captured Ska’s dynamic characters. They presented them to Ska’s Marketing Director Kristen Muraro and Ska founder and CEO Dave Thibodeau. The reception was a resounding YES.

A ska can of black cherry flavored sparkling water, designed with a red, gray, and white checkerboard background with a black and white skeleton playing a trumpet.

“[Ska has] these projects that take up so much of our time, so the research piece falls to the bottom of the list,” Muraro said. “The whole program was well thought out and well-run, and everybody was super professional. I was impressed by all the students and their level of knowledge and commitment to the work. It’s nice to get fresh eyes on our products and learn what they see. Especially considering they are the future of our community.”

Just the beginning

“We’re hoping that the experience helps the students hone in on the idea that this is the kind of work they want to do for the rest of their lives–or not,” Banerji said. “We want them to have the opportunity to consider who they want to work with and what kind of culture they want to be a part of.”

“It’s a great outlet for a student who’s thinking of staying in Durango for the summer,” Goodell said. “It’s hands-on work with real companies with the added support of professors and senior [student] marketing consultants. They focus heavily on you as the junior marketing consultant guiding the process. It offers a lot of great experience since you have to go out there and tackle market research tasks yourself, employing techniques you’ve been learning over the years.”

Goodell added that entry-level jobs often require three years of experience. But thanks to his FLC connections, including a paid internship with FLC’s Marketing & Communications Department, he wasn’t worried; his portfolio overflows with examples of his proficiencies and includes a certificate in Digital Marketing. After graduating from FLC with a degree in Communication Design, Goodell secured a job as the creative assistant at ASAP Accounting & Payroll, Inc. in Durango.

“Nowadays, if you can be at a college where you can get that practice before graduating, it puts you in a great position,” Goodell said. “You’re doing all this work along the way outside of the knowledge you’re gaining in the classroom, creating something of value that will help you in the future.”

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