Roundtable: How to run a successful student recruitment campaign

With the student firmly placed as the buyer and universities fiercely competing to attract new students, in the fourth in our series Cathy Parnham talks to Matt Criddle

Matt Criddle is Head of education sales at UCAS Media

Q. How has student recruitment marketing changed over the last five or so years?

Market conditions have changed to become a lot more competitive. With the number of 18-year-olds in the UK’s population decreasing by around 2% on average in recent years, the traditional recruitment pool has shrunk considerably over the past decade. There’s also been the removal of student number controls. To succeed in this market, universities have had to innovate and leverage technology, particularly with digital marketing. And successful campaigns have contributed to a rise in the proportion of young people going to university, which currently stands at a record 33.8%. Looking ahead, there’s an upswing in young population coming through, which needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s thinking about how to adapt again to changing market conditions, including making the most of available data.

Q. What are the key ingredients a successful student recruitment marketing campaign should have?

The best campaigns are often from universities who are crystal clear with their brand. There’s understanding across the whole institution of who they are, what makes them different and their position in the market. Then, there’s slick execution to communicate their key messages, amplifying their value proposition across different media. As with all marketing campaigns, timing is crucial; providers need to engage early and ensure they have consistent visibility throughout the student decision-making process.

Q. What has been the most effective channel for targeting this September’s intake for UK-based students – and which for international?

It’s vital to use a range of channels. It’s not as simple to think there’s one that’s going to answer all your questions. Use a variety to execute your strategy: display ads for initial brand awareness, for example, then moving onto direct response channels such as email, social media and direct mails, refining and optimising your channel mix as you get more data. Don’t forget the importance of face-to-face interactions – experiential marketing such as UCAS exhibitions and campus open days are as important now as they have ever been.

For the international market, understanding of the local market is essential – for example, don’t even think about using Facebook in China. Peer-to-peer marketing can be particularly powerful. Put yourself in the student’s shoes: how are they feeling and what do they need to know about a possible move from Shanghai to Sheffield? Authentic, cultural insight of the UK can have a big impact.

Q. When do you typically start your student recruitment marketing campaign and how?

An ‘always-on’ strategy to student recruitment marketing works best. Marketeers can’t really afford to switch off, as once one cohort of students has passed through, the next comes right along, often overlapping. Of course, there are key points in the year where tactical deployments are needed, though, taking advantage of important dates in the academic calendar and ensure your key messages are amplified.

Q. Are there any key learnings you can share from your 2019 cohort recruitment drive? And how will these shape your current recruitment drive?

The importance of brand awareness is vital.

Our survey data shows that many students who were placed through clearing often went back to one of their original choices – they aren’t starting their research afresh in July or August when they get their exam results. Just because you may not have converted at the firm or insurance choice stage, all is not lost as they may come back to you later in the year.

Q. Tell us about any new recruitment marketing tools you have for the 2020 intake?

Our new Consultancy and Insights service crystallises the challenges for individual universities and identifies where data can add clarity. Our bespoke consulting package then combines our sector knowledge and data-driven analysis to produce specific, informed, actionable recommendations. We’ve also been running a pilot with Unibuddy since June, giving universities another channel for the all-important peer-to-peer marketing. We’re now looking ahead to a full service and hope to make further announcements soon.

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