Scholarship Search Engine Yields E-Mail Database of 2.5 Million

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FastWeb.com, a student scholarship search engine, claims it has the Holy Grail of college marketing lists -- an approximately 2.5 million person opt-in database of the home and e-mail addresses of students ages 17 to 25.


However, at least one college marketer familiar with FastWeb.com is skeptical of the accuracy of its list.


FastWeb.com, which has just begun to promote itself in the list marketing realm, has been quietly collecting 54 points of data from its 6 million registered students since 1995. It has accomplished this because it is first and foremost a college-scholarship search engine. It has more than 600,000 scholarships that represent $1 billion in award money for students. Students voluntarily update the data four times each year, as they must reapply for scholarships.


To be eligible for a FastWeb.com scholarship, students must enter the correct data, which is essential for marketers, said Tom Lubin, president of FastWeb.com, Chicago. "We're unlike other Web sites, that [give college students] little incentive to provide accurate information, where they say they're an 80-year-old grandmother or a 'Star Wars' hero."


Students opt in by clicking on a check box to signify that they agree to receive marketing messages.


If the list is accurate, "that would be valuable," said Tom Borgerding, vice president of business development for FuturePages College Media Advertising Solutions, St. Paul, MN. Considering "they are actually very difficult to reach, one of the most difficult to target out of any of demographic because of their mobility."


And because of this mobility and the general nature of college students, Borgerding doubts that students are going back to the site to clean up their information. "I don't know how often their numbers are being scrubbed. [If I were still in college] after a semester I'd have no idea what my password would be and if I needed to change any information."


Generally, the students' parents are more concerned about the financial aspects of schooling, leading Borgerding to believe "a high percentage of the site's users are parents looking for scholarships for their children not the students. That for me is not my target market."


Of FastWeb.com's total database of six million people, roughly 25 percent are 25 and older.


Others in the industry believe this could be a very powerful list. "They have a good shot at [being successful] because they are in a niche market. The best performing lists are always in niche markets," said John Lawlor, president of the EmailChannel, Boca Raton, FL. "General lists don't perform that well."


Also, this group could be one of the most receptive to electronic offers, said Lawlor. "That's the group that grew up with e-mail. It's not as much of an intrusion to those people as it is to those in the high-tech industry. [College students] are certainly the future of permission-based e-mail. This would be a good one to watch to see where the future is going."


The site currently derives approximately 30 percent of its revenue from its lists, however, Lubin expects the permission marketing business to grow significantly as it begins its marketing push.


The site has recently begun to run print advertising aimed at marketers. There is much more to follow, said Lubin. "[Our marketing] plans are on the table right now."


To promote the site among college students, it has been conducting low-cost marketing efforts since its launch. It currently has 12,500 high school guidance counselors recommending the site. It has 2,300 colleges and universities promoting the site in financial aid and admissions offices. A number of public libraries also push the site.


FastWeb.com also advertises on major search engines. It is on Microsoft's MoneyCentral while also being an anchor tenant on AOL. Many sites offer free links to the site as they view its scholarship search engine as a valuable link.
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