Klein College came in third from among 270 participating teams in Marketing Edge's annual marketing competition. Participants in the Collegiate ECHO Challenge had one semester to create a marketing campaign for Fossil smartwatches and pitch it to judges from the industry. 

The team of five included Nick Downs, KLN '18, who focused on market research Nicole Milstead, KLN '18,  and Elena Barishnikova, KLN '18, media experts, and art directors Joe Starosa, KLN '18 and Quyen Truong, KLN '19. 

Professor Alison Ebbecke, who advises the team, pointed out that the team's skills were strengthened throughout the process of participating in the competition. 

"The challenge isn't so much in having those skills at the outset," said Ebbeke "as it is watching the students reinvent themselves to put forth the strongest entry possible."

According to Truong, having two team members from the art director track was an advantage, with Truong providing graphics and Starosta making decisions about the overall flow of the campaign.  "Having two different style and two eyes on the project gave us a boost," she said. 

Only one thing was missing—a copywriter. 

"I think that's why we got hung up on the tagline," said Downs. "It was our biggest challenge"

The team spent two weeks working on the perfect tagline for their overall concept, which highlighted the simplicity and style of the watch.  After hours of agonizing, Downs said "We just had to pick something." 

Ultimately the campaign described Fossil smartwatches as "simply smarter"—a tagline that came from intensive research.

"The benefit of competitions like ECHO is the opportunity for students to apply what they have been learning in the classroom to a scenario where there is no "right" answer," said Ebbecke. "ECHO takes it a step further by challenging students to not only have confidence in the strategy they select, but to dig through first- and third-party data to find the insight that supports it."

That research, which included looking into competitor marketing, consumer surveys and interviews, had revealed a market saturated with smart watches marketed as high tech with multiple applications. Their product stood out because it was fashionable and functional. 

"With other smartwatches, the focus is on the watch. It's not on you," Downs pointed out. 

The team's campaign reinvisioned Fossil smartwatches as a lifestyle item, not a tech item, which helped their pitch to stand out among competitors. 

Truong points out that the team had help from a wide variety of supporters, including professionals in the field and the previous year's winners, and that the encouragement and advice of Ebbecke was particularly invaluable.  

"She was always by our side, answering our questions with honest words," said Truong. 

From Ebbecke's perspective, advising is a delicate balance. "There's a constant temptation to roll up my sleeves and help them shape their submission," she said. "As much as I might enjoy playing a more active role, it's so much more rewarding to listen as students arrive at insight that I honestly never would have considered."

The combination of extensive support and hard work led the team to take home the bronze in this year's challenge, as well as very valuable practical experience in managing a marketing campaign. The day after the competition, Downs got more good news: He will be bringing his research skills a job in marketing analytics in a tech marketing firm.