Consumers need to engage with a brand’s marketing message at least seven times before they commit to purchasing a product, as the age-old marketing maxim goes. A university education isn’t a commodity, but similar ‘buying behaviours’ can be seen in students who are looking for the best place in which to invest in their future.
Like shoppers who need to be ‘sold’, prospective students visit universities’ websites for a variety of reasons; to find out more about courses, funding opportunities and accommodation. Although students may not be actively seeking a university in the manner that, say, a shopper might actively seek out a dress or a pair of shoes, they are still constantly bombarded by messages in every direction at every moment of their daily lives. In such a competitive environment, you have to work harder at getting your information across and maximising its impact when it is.
Timing and targeting are everything
Online advertising is about understanding audiences and making the product buyable: the more well informed you are about the target audience, the more you can provide tailor-made messages and the more likely you are to hit the bull’s-eye.
Because students, unlike shoppers, are as a rule not particularly interested in ‘shopping’ for universities, you have to take a much more subtle approach in order to make sure your message gets in front of prospective students where they will see it, where it will be relevant and where it will be beneficial.
This is easier said than done, and it takes knowledge of the science of marketing and big data analytics to do it. Here are some tips for creating advertising and marketing messages that are attractive, relevant and persuasive.
Humanise your university
You are likely already aware that campaigns that humanise brands can be more effective. Colleges and universities already have a human face, so this should come naturally to you. Inform your prospective students about your students – what they do, places they go, the venues and cafes they attend and what they have to say about the institution.
Of particular interest, of course, will be the student body of students rather than staff, and ensuring that their tweets and blogs and Instagrams and Facebook updates are easy to find and easy to read is vital.
Keep it simple
Every word counts when you’re trying to get your message across. Make sure your copy is concise, interesting and tailored to your audience. This is easier written than done.
Marketing is about making a tailored product as appealing as possible to the target market. If you want to attract students, be sure to think about what sort of students would benefit from your courses and who would be interested in them.
For one thing, make sure you are aware of what course applicants are looking for at your institution and target your marketing at this audience; this will be broader than just recruiting students, of course, as it will encompass all the different student types that you are looking to attract, but as a general rule, students who are interested in a subject tend to find it easier to obtain a place.
If you are able to offer careers guidance and advice in the marketing materials that you commission, so much the better. Another persuasive idea is to focus on the larger ‘social benefit’ to the university, rather than the student, of the course. Students tend to make their decision based more on the social concerns and friendliness of the site than on their specific career prospects, so you are far more likely to get them to commit to coming to your university if their concerns, for the moment, are more evanescent.
Show them what they will receive for their investment
A university education is an expensive investment, and students tend to fear they will come out into the world as burdened with debt as though they had shopped for appliances, not to mention the considerable work that is required even after graduation to pay that money off. As a result, students tend to weigh the sacrifice of money or time against the rewards.
One way to encourage students to take action in your favour is to show them what they stand to gain from coming to your university. It is important to include the academic aspects of this clearly, but promote the social aspect also, especially if you have a strong alumni network. Show students the parties they will attend, the friends and the contacts they will make and, ultimately, the employment prospects of the students who have gone before them. Make sure you emphasise how these benefits will far outweigh the costs (the burden of student debt and the trouble of finding a job).
Try it and test it
Occasionally, marketing and advertising messages can get a little too clever for their own good. Words and concepts that are effective at the outset can lose their meaning and appeal over time and, although some good copywriters will work with you to incorporate some longevity into your branding, you should also be aware that you might need to reconsider your approach every once in a while.
A simple change in imagery can help keep your materials fresh. Students, after all, will see hundreds of advertisements every day, so you will need to stand out from the crowd.
Make the website a student-friendly place
If you want students to come to your university, you have to make the experience of visiting your website easy and enjoyable.
One option is to make sure that you do not bombard them in the way that many sites do, bombarding users with flashy, distracting and regularly updating imagery. Many students these days will simply not have the time or inclination to take an interest in a site that promises so much and delivers so little; you need to make your content immediately relevant to them.
Make interaction easy
If you conduct any sort of social media campaign or allow comments to be posted on your website, it’s vital to check signs of dissatisfaction or misleading information right away. The last thing you want is for prospective students to turn away from your site because they are concerned or confused by viewpoints which are irrelevant to them.
Obviously, you can’t monitor the internet all day, but you can ensure that your volunteer moderators are fully qualified and properly vetted before you post them in forums or on social media, or allow them to contact prospective students directly.
Always be available
If you want students to consider coming to your university, you have to make yourself available for them. There is no need to have an office available for students to come and consult you face-to-face. Make your faculty’s personnel available for consultation on the internet. Offer a chat room for students to come and consult you, and make sure the forums are active.
Creating a general presence for your college or university’s faculty on social media and leaving comments and updates that are clearly made by real individuals is a useful tool in communicating with students.
Opportunities in student recruitment
This is probably the largest single opportunity for any organisation that has anything to offer to students, and it is a well-scoped area. It requires a variety of different activities, which can include the traditional advertising strategies for students as well as the new, cutting-edge and state-of-the-art techniques.
The new concept that allows firms to market their products and services directly to students, rather than just advertise, is inbound marketing.
The approach follows the idea that students should come to a university’s website, rather than be bombarded with messages until they visit. It is incredibly cost-effective. Below are some comments about the effectiveness of inbound marketing from the US.
In a cluttered marketplace, companies no longer have the option to use traditional advertising and marketing tactics to get noticed. Today’s competitive landscape demands that they have to do more.
To win in today’s competitive landscape, companies have to be wise in their selection of marketing channels. Today, more than ever, companies need to not only use traditional advertising and marketing methods for their businesses, but also specialised strategies such as inbound marketing.
Another reason why universities are able to bypass the traditional marketing models and reach prospective students directly is that they are companies in their own right. Students will often treat them as though they were a tech company, service or business.
With the explosion of technology in the 21st century, it has become easier for universities to communicate directly with students. This is a very cost-effective and time-effective method of marketing. It is also very easy to track and monitor, and you can be sure that students will get your message.
With the speed at which new developments in digital marketing are available, today’s universities need to understand the processes and options available, and which will be best for their current and future needs.
Marketing to students will continue to grow and develop as they establish their own preferences and networks. University marketing will need to adapt as the environment, and the students themselves, change.
The pace of change and new technologies in the 21st century will ensure that the effectiveness of college recruitment methods will increase and that costs will decrease as more data becomes available. It will make colleges and universities better able to tailor their marketing directly to the needs of individual students.
Start small, think big
You will either have a good strategy or you won’t. There is no real middle ground. One of the advantages of having a good strategy is that it is capable of both establishing you as a powerhouse in the student recruitment arena, as well as maintaining your position within that market.
Having a strong brand will attract a greater number of students, as well as having the potential to have a positive impact on your brand within the wider academic community, particularly if you are thinking about future multidirectional growth.
If you choose to build a brand, it would be counterproductive to plan a small-scale strategy. It would be far more sensible to look at developing a strategy to build a brand that is built to last and has a great deal of flexibility.
For example, if you’re in the business of selling ad space for brochures and pamphlets, then you’re in the wrong business and you won’t be able to compete with the large conglomerates without making a major investment.
However, if you choose to develop a sophisticated and wide-ranging system of search engine marketing around your website which effectively tracks and monitors a large number of variables and offers a sophisticated reporting facility, you will be in a far stronger position.
Make the right choice
Your choice of campus recruitment strategy is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, so you need to get it right. The dynamics of marketing to students has changed, and there is a wealth of wisdom and advice available to you.
To compete effectively in the 21st century, you need to use the best strategies and tools available to meet the varied needs of your audience.
Make sure that you have a clear range of short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, and that you benchmark success rates against them.
You need to decide what sort of price point you are offering to students. This has a definite relationship with the amount of time and money that you will have to invest in a recruitment strategy.
Remember, there are a lot of costs involved with campus recruitment. In addition to brochures, direct mail and other advertising costs, you have to take into account the cost of staff and sometimes the cost of travel and accommodation for them if they are going to make personal visits to campuses.
It is also important to determine the overall effectiveness of a campus recruitment strategy, and also be sure you are using the right process for yourselves.
Consider the following points:
1. How effective do you believe the company brand is at the moment?
2. How easy is it for you to communicate your brand?
3. How easy is it for the people in the company to communicate your brand? Do they know about it?
4. How easily can students find your campus recruitment materials?
5. What are your unique selling points?
6. Are you going about the recruitment of students in the right way?
7. Are you attracting the right students for your company?
8. How will you track and monitor the effectiveness of your campus recruitment strategy?
9. What channel is best for your business?
10. Are you using inbound marketing?
11. Are you using the best tools or internet tools?
12. How can you improve your understanding of campus recruitment?
13. Are you happy with the overall functionality of your campus recruitment strategy?