| Shopper News
“Digital marketing is not a skill that can easily be taught in lectures,” said Annika Abell, University of Tennessee assistant professor of marketing and behavioral researcher.
“While I was studying at USF (University of South Florida), I was also teaching, and we did simulations and tried to work with industry partners,” she said.
Partnering with United Way
“Simulations aren’t 100% real, and you need to find a new industry partner every semester. That’s where the idea for the WearKnox apparel shop materialized. I needed to find something that gives them a real context, that is consequential and where they have access to all of the (digital marketing) tools.”
Each semester, students work in teams on social media marketing, data analysis, advertising, search engine optimization, and email marketing campaigns for WearKnox.com.
Abell said that for ethical reasons she could not set up an online store to make money. Collaborating with the United Way of Greater Knoxville meant that any profit would go toward a good cause.
Fifty percent of the revenue currently trickles back into the students’ advertising budget. The other half goes directly to United Way of Greater Knoxville to benefit local charities in and around Knoxville.
Abell spent the summer of 2020 setting up the fun project and launched WearKnox with the fall semester class, while she taught a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes. “We are back on campus and teaching fully face-to-face this semester,” she said.
T-shirts, hats, totes, mugs
WearKnox does not carry inventory; the website store was built in WordPress and every order is printed and shipped by an external provider.
Abell and her husband used their graphic design skills to create designs for T-shirts, totes, hats and coffee mugs. During the fall semester her students collaborated with the UT College of Architecture and Design to create additional designs.
“They came up with 15 new designs in addition to the 10 we already had,” added Abell.
So far, the beanie featuring the Sunsphere logo and the bear print T-shirt have garnered the most attention on WearKnox.com. Last semester the “Mind Matters Most” shirt, highlighting the importance of mental health, generated the most sales.
While the printing-on-demand model removes the expense and hassle of purchasing, storing and shipping inventory, it does shrink the profit margin. “This semester, we have a small teaching grant from the Haslam College of Business,” said Abell. “It is real money and we are analyzing real results.”
When it comes to coming up with more product ideas and designs, the class has to avoid direct competition with the VolShop.
“It is really just supposed to be a class project. We aren’t trying to make money. We sell to sustain the class project and the ad campaign,” said Abell.
The first semester revenue was $650, and half of the $280 profit was donated to the United Way of Greater Knoxville. “I’m hoping in the next three semesters we can sustain it,” said Abell. “Once we find the flow, we hope to be more impactful.”
Last semester each group had specific responsibilities. “I got really good feedback last fall and a lot of students said they wanted to do a little bit of everything,” said Abell.
“Each team now has a content manager, an app manager, someone tracks Google Analytics, they do a bit of everything. I am trying different systems to make sure they get the most out of it.”
The 56 spring semester students take turns working on the different aspects of WearKnox.
“They make sure to post on social media, write blog posts and monitor Google Analytics, and spend money on Facebook and Instagram advertising,” said Abell. Students maintain the ad campaign and content calendar to keep WearKnox running smoothly.
“Each week we cover a different topic and WearKnox goes hand in hand with that,” said Abell. “Timewise it’s about 50% of their class time and 30% of their grade. They submit a report at the end of the semester including their digital marketing strategy.”
Abell teaches only seniors. “They are close to stepping out and finding a job in the real world,” she said. “Those things really give them a competitive advantage.”
Digital Marketing students have attempted to tie designs to on-campus themes, a T-shirt for March Madness, a coffee mug for coffee shops, and they are researching Scruffy City concepts.