Marketing masterclass, a touch of magic

Alice Savage looks at how the most successful university marketing campaigns make a splash

Standing out in the fiercely competitive higher education arena can be difficult for any university. With fees set at £9,000 and the student numbers cap removed, the market for attracting the nation’s, and indeed the world’s, brightest students is more competitive than ever. Students select their alma maters for a variety of reasons; league tables, facilities, local attractions, and prospects for future employment all have a bearing on this important decision and an on-trend marketing strategy can help you spread the word far and wide about what your institution has to offer.

Joanna Young, Senior Account Manager at Fat Media has worked on marketing campaigns for several universities in the north-west. She makes the point that: “The increase in fees has made students much more demanding than they were previously and universities have to work hard to keep up with the expectation that undergraduates need value for money for their £9,000 per year.” With this in mind, it has become clear that universities must efficiently market their product the way any other private company would.

In order to survive and thrive, universities need to identify what makes them truly distinctive and then say it in an interesting way… take a long-term approach to brand building rather than just focusing on short-term recruitment goals

So what makes a marketing campaign successful? It is difficult to appeal to everyone. University marketing campaigns not only need to attract prospective students but also gain the approval of their parents. Understanding your unique selling points and having a clear idea of the brand you want to create is the first step to building a successful campaign. Taking what’s special about your university and presenting that in a clear and interesting way can ensure that your campaign targets the right demographic and working with the right media agency can ensure that you build a brand that will be solid for many years to come. Abbie Wood, Group Account Director at Cubo Group, says: “In order to survive and thrive, universities need to identify what makes them truly distinctive and then say it in an interesting way… take a long-term approach to brand building rather than just focusing on short-term recruitment goals.”

Consider digital marketing

Living in a digital age, as we do, it is important not to forget that a digital approach as well as a physical one can also have a major impact on a successful campaign. Your website acts as a first point of call for many students so its content, appearance and usability all require careful thought. Squiz, who have extensive experience building university websites, helped City University London elevate their tired legacy platform to a site that is easy to use for both end users and content providers and administrators. University websites are often very complicated. Squiz were able to use their own Matrix CMS to connect to the many different systems and portals that City University London needed by developing a custom framework that worked for them.

Filling your website with useful information is a great first step. You could also run a series of virtual open days that show your visitors what it’s really like at your university behind the scenes. This approach also works well in tandem with a mobile companion app. Guidebook, who boast an impressive retinue of prestigious higher education clients such as The University of Edinburgh and the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, can help you make an immediate impact on prospective students by creating a fully branded app for smartphones that students can use as their guide to your campus. Wayne Morris, General Manager for EMEA at Guidebook, says: “The most advanced universities are leveraging mobile to communicate with students all year round, even outside of term time.” Events, orientation, news, training and networking can all be leveraged by harnessing the power of mobile.

The most advanced universities are leveraging mobile to communicate with students all year round, even outside of term time.” Events, orientation, news, training and networking can all be leveraged by harnessing the power of mobile.

UCAS also use the influence of digital marketing in addition to direct mail. Lauren Duncan, Head of Education marketing Services at UCAS Media, says that both approaches have their merits. “Whether digital or DM, the ones that stand out utilise personalisation in a clever way, making the recipient feel unique and engaged with.” Some universities have started engaging with prospective students by using social media.

Social networking

Ms Duncan believes that social media is very important to modern higher education marketing campaigns when used correctly. “It [social media] can be a minefield as it can be accessed anywhere at any time with the potential to spiral out of control.” This is the challenge that the University of Keele faced when it launched its #NutsAboutKeele campaign. Social media is, however, integral to this generation of digital natives and can be a power tool for spreading the word. Ms Duncan states “A social media manager and team is becoming an increasingly important asset to HE marketing across the UK. When done well it can have a fantastic and lasting impact.”

De Montfort University’s (DMU) Razor’s Edge campaign was masterminded by the integrated creative agency Cubo. By avoiding the usual rational product claims such as facilities, and employability and instead focusing on creating an emotional connection with the audience by challenging them and speaking to them at their level, DMU and Cubo were able to build an eye-catching and memorable campaign with long-term brand equity. The heart of the campaign was the statement “DMU believes that everyone who has succeeded in life has challenged convention in some way.” Having a succinct mission statement will help you deliver a clear message to your demographic. Abbie Wood at Cubo offers this advice: “In order to stand out and impact on potential students, you need to be inspiring, challenging and provoke their interest – make an emotional connection, make them feel something. Don’t be shy to stand out and attract attention rather than blending into the landscape.” The Razor’s Edge campaign has been DMU’s most successful recruitment campaign of all time beating every target from applications, open day bookings and conversion rates to web traffic and social media interaction. Prospectus orders and brand awareness are also at an all time high.

 

ABOVE: DMU was able to build an eye-catching and memorable campaign with long-term brand equity

The factors that influence how to allocate your marketing budget is, of course, unique to your institution but many of the core elements can be applied to any successful marketing campaign. Your website should be informative, clear, comprehensive and easy to navigate and your brand message should be intuitive and inspiring. Maybe an eye-catching billboard campaign or a television spot is right for your demographic or maybe running a thought-provoking and intriguing series of advertisements in the national broadsheets will hit the mark. Often, the most successful marketing campaigns will approach the subject from many angles and working with the right media advisors really can help you make the splash your university deserves.

Top five industry tips for building a successful marketing campaign…

1. Have a clear message Joanna Young at Fat Media says: “Universities need to be smart about conveying the key facts that make their institution unique. It is imperative that marketing departments know who their market is, and develop strategies so that they know who they want to attract, how, and why?”

2. “Get the timing right” says Lauren Duncan at UCAS Media. The vast majority of applicants will be at the mercy of the school year. Work with partner colleges and sixth forms to make sure you’re reaching maximum exposure at a time when prospective students are beginning to think about these important life decisions.

3. Consider mobile first Wayne Morris at Guidebook is looking to the future: “Smartphone ubiquity is fast arriving, therefore any digital marketing campaign has to consider connecting with audiences on their mobile devices. Find experts in this space to enable you to do this at low cost and resource.”

4. Consider mobile first Squiz is very proud of the work they did helping City University of London rebuild their website from the ground up. “The University had a highly qualified web development team who were keen to learn how to implement a site in Matrix (Squiz’s own CMS) for themselves… This gave them flexibility and control that they’d never previously experienced.”

5. Look outside the sector Abbie Wood at Cubo Group thinks that universities should take a look at how other successful brands market themselves for inspiration. “Look at tech, fashion, travel and FMGC brands. How are they engaging with their consumers?”