Brochures and pamphlets were once the main source of information for potential new students.

Now with many higher education providers taking steps towards digital transformation, and students naturally looking online to research educational courses - other forms of marketing are taking precedence.

So, how are higher education providers grabbing the attention of prospective students? Here are four examples and the reasons why they work.

TV partnerships

A recent study by Channel 4 found TV sponsorship to be one of the most trusted forms of advertising. In a survey, 89% of people said brands that sponsor TV shows are more trustworthy when compared to other forms of advertising, while 76% of viewers see it as a more expensive (and therefore premium) form of advertising.

Perhaps this is one of the main motivations for the Open University, who recently announced a six-month marketing partnership with the broadcaster. It has created a number of 60-second ads for Channel 4 (which will also be broken down into 30-second spots for both TV and online channels), with each one detailing the experience of an Open University student.

The campaign is part of its ‘Student First’ marketing initiative, which aims to widen reach and increase the number of students of all ages enrolling in courses. The aim of the content is fairly self-explanatory - by highlighting the stories of students and what they have achieved on the back of an Open University course, the ads effectively use social proof to inspire and engage viewers.

But why television, and why specifically Channel 4? 

It mostly looks to be part of the Open University’s initiative to connect with a certain type of viewer – one who might be more likely to be interested in the organisation, and whose values align with it. It does this by broadcasting the ads before and in the middle of select programmes, such as the Last Leg and Crystal Maze. While these shows are not necessarily educational (compared to Countdown for example), they typically attract a younger and fairly switched-on audience – which is exactly the market Open University is hoping to target.

In this sense, sponsorship could be more effective than regular TV advertising, allowing for a more laser-targeted approach – and the brand-broadcaster partnership resulting in increased authenticity and kudos.

Events and expert advice

Universities regularly hold open days to attract new students, however for distance learning and other higher education providers – these events are not so easy to facilitate. This is often because of the absence of campuses or one central location, or because students live too far away to attend.

That being said, it’s still possible to harness the power of event marketing. Get Into Teaching, which is a government-run initiative that provides help and advice on entering the sector, largely uses this strategy to increase exposure and connect prospective students with education-providers.

It does this by holding events in schools and universities nationwide, offering in-person help and advice to attendees in various key locations across the country. The biggest benefit of this kind of marketing is that it creates a much deeper connection with consumers, allowing them to ask questions and raise concerns – something that online content or advertising does not facilitate. 

With practising teachers there to answer these questions, the events also create positive endorsement and advocacy, transferring the kind of social proof often seen in TV and online advertising into real life. As well as engaging with students, these events can also be beneficial for providers, with schools and universities able to promote their courses at the same time.

Lastly, a slight side note on how Get Into Teaching uses Twitter to great effect, promoting its events and reassuring and encouraging users to get involved.

Video content

According to research by Hobsons, 83% of prospective international students typically use social channels to research universities, which is an increase of 19% since 2016. This shows how much of an impact social media can have within the sector, and with platforms like Instagram and Facebook dominating usage - how video content can be particularly effective at driving engagement.

One university that effectively uses video content is Birkbeck – a University of London college that offers evening classes, as well as options for part time and higher education courses. 

Its YouTube channel largely separates content into different academic disciplines like Humanities, Law, Science etc. But while this in-depth style of content seems geared more towards existing students, its Facebook channel is much more focused on attracting new ones, using the platform to post videos showing the benefits of studying at the university.

One effective tactic is how Birkbeck uses video during key times of interest, such as clearing or when new students are typically registering or applying. This, combined with the short and concise nature of its videos, allows the university to reach people on the social platforms they already use – rather than wait for users to seek out information elsewhere.

Mobile apps and memes

For US students hoping to further their education, choosing a university or college isn’t the end of the decision-making process. Often, choosing a major (i.e. the main focus of study within a degree) can be even trickier, leading to a reported 50% of high school students entering college without declaring it.

In order to combat this problem, the University of Kentucky developed a mobile app in partnership with Up & Up – designed to help young people feel confident about their choices.

Instead of making the process an entirely active one, whereby students would need to trawl through information about each course, the app asks multiple choice questions such as “I’d like to… work with my hands/help others/be creative” – in order to find a major that’s most-suited to the user.

As well as being of great value to prospective students, this example also uses gamification elements to make the process more fun and unique, which in turn is likely to stick in the minds of students considering more than one university.

Up & Up, which is a marketing agency specifically for higher education, has also used similar creativity in its work for University of Louisiana at Lafayette – this time in the form of blog content. Recognising that most university blogs feel quite stale and academic, it aimed to refresh UL Lafayette’s content hub to appeal to young, digital and socially-savvy users. 

By integrating GIF’s, infographics, and memes into blog articles, it managed to make its content much more clickable, resulting in a 94% increase in application soft conversion rate, and 117% more visitors to the application site.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 13 November, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor, Head of Digital at City, University of London

Good examples of novel marketing techniques in HE but search and social advertising are by far the biggest drivers of awareness and website visits - in part because they put the brand where the prospective audience is quickly, effectively and efficiently.

7 days ago

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