Influential Insights: The Success of Waterloo’s Brand Ambassador Program  

Background & Objectives

The first 30-story tower in the West Campus neighborhood near the University of Texas at Austin, Waterloo was a cutting-edge student housing project set to deliver for Fall 2022 move-in. Due to the competitive nature of the off-campus housing market near UT, Waterloo began leasing in Spring 2021. 

Prioritizing an amenity-rich mindset, the innovative project was designed with sprawling lounge areas and study spaces, an in-house coffee shop, on-demand yoga and spin rooms, a health and fitness center with two saunas, and a rooftop pool deck featuring unobstructed views of the UT campus and downtown Austin skyline. 

Towering over every building in the neighborhood, Waterloo visibly broke every cookie-cutter student housing mold. UT students had seen plenty of new developments before, but none of this caliber.

The team knew that an unprecedented development needed an unprecedented approach. Rather than targeting the entire student body through typical student housing methods like flyering and open house events, LV believes in the importance of targeting the right influential individuals within the market. Rather than spreading energy thinly across the entire student body, LV predicted that focusing a higher allocation of resources on these key individuals would spur leasing momentum.

With lease-up success and long-term brand reputation in mind, the Waterloo Brand Ambassador program was born.

Brand Ambassadors were created as a contract position where students have the opportunity to earn referral compensation by successfully marketing the property. By identifying influential individuals within the target market, Waterloo was able to leverage Brand Ambassador platforms to establish brand awareness throughout their peer groups. 

Acting as a micro-influencer, Brand Ambassadors were responsible for setting a positive tone for word-of-mouth within their network in the UT community. With the objective of sourcing 20% of total leases from ambassador referrals, these influential early movers were the basis for creating momentum around the Waterloo name.

Implementation & Execution

To jumpstart brand awareness prior to peak leasing season, offers were extended to Brand Ambassadors starting as early as 16 months before Waterloo’s grand opening. By onboarding during the late spring and summer, ambassadors were fully trained by the time peak leasing season began when students returned to school in the fall.

Taking into consideration social media engagement rates, student organization involvement, and overall compatibility with the property’s branding and mission, the Waterloo team identified students with high social capital within the target market to function as faces of the brand.

A key element of selecting ambassadors was forgoing a traditional application process. Instead, potential candidates were invited to a casual coffee chat with a member of the leasing team. In this low-stakes setting, the team had the opportunity to both pitch the emerging Waterloo brand and accurately assess if the individual would be an involved, enthusiastic and influential representative. 

To many ambassadors, the initial draw was the potential to earn hundreds of dollars on referrals when prospective residents used their unique promo code in a housing application. While this incentive bolstered leasing and reinforced the program as a prosperous lease-up strategy, the overwhelming consistency from Brand Ambassadors was due to far more than the position’s monetary value.

A pillar of the program’s popularity was its ability to go beyond a typical referral program and become a fully fledged social campaign. 

The social media component was a significant activation that kept the Brand Ambassadors continuously engaged. Ambassadors were asked to post one story or feed post about Waterloo and repost one of Waterloo’s stories or posts per week. 

In addition to the referral bonus structure, they also had the chance to earn bonuses by completing social media-related challenges like reposting construction updates or sharing their coffee order at Daydreamer, Waterloo’s in-house coffee shop.

To the studious UT crowd, the opportunity to grow your marketing skills and build your resume was a no-brainer. But what really sealed the deal for the busy students were the exclusive networking events. 

Waterloo brand ambassador boxes swag

Brand Ambassadors were invited to join free, fun events once every few weeks that could range from a happy hour at a popular West Campus hotel bar to a private group yoga session or a catered brunch inside the leasing office. Not only did these experiences garner attention throughout the community as a reflection of the aspirational Waterloo lifestyle, but they served as a strategic way to gain organic social content from the lens of a student just having fun. 

Because ambassadors were sometimes encouraged to bring a friend, these events could serve as a pipeline for sourcing additional ambassadors while widening the awareness of Waterloo and multiplying the social impact of the campaign as the leasing season continued. 

In addition to receiving exclusive merch (perfect for photo-ops while out and about), ambassadors were invited to participate in lifestyle photoshoots for Waterloo’s social content. Not only were these a fun way to meet other ambassadors and earn some extra money, but models were also welcome to repurpose these high-quality images for their own social media. 

At the end of the day, what truly kept the Brand Ambassadors authentically invested in Waterloo was the sense of community that the program offered. Reflecting Waterloo’s mission as a hub for creativity, the leasing office served a dual purpose as a study space for ambassadors and future residents. Ambassadors were also invited to stop by the Waterloo leasing office at any time for free hand-crafted coffee from Daydreamer. This welcome integration of Waterloo into their day-to-day routines allowed ambassadors to have an organic connection with the brand.

Waterloo brand ambassadors at the park with Waterloo merch
girls at daydreamer bar

Summary of Results

The ambassadors’ authentic commitment to Waterloo’s brand resulted in nearly doubling the program’s initial goal of leasing 20% of the property through ambassador referrals. A total of 298 beds leased were attributed to Waterloo Brand Ambassadors, accounting for over 37% of the property’s capacity. 

After contracting a total of 50 Brand Ambassadors from Spring to December 2021, the program resulted in $18,690.75 in total expenses. Referral commission accounted for $15,550 of this total. The average Brand Ambassador cost $373.83 throughout the nine-month contract period, meaning the average cost per lease when referred by an ambassador was $62.72.

LV saw the value in focusing resources in a strategic market segment, and Waterloo’s lease-up rates reaped the benefits.