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Digital, the driving force 

Gavin Newman, Ivent Director, explains how digital is a driving force for student recruitment marketing

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 04, 2017 | Higher education

Fierce competition to win new students is resulting in forward-thinking universities learning from and emulating well-known and respected brands when it comes to developing their marketing strategy. We're now seeing lots of targeted, multi-channel marketing activity with a heavy focus on digital communications, in addition to the print and broadcast media advertising campaigns that have long supported a weighty prospectus and informative university website. 

Prospective students expect innovative communications from universities via all the channels they regularly use and they want and need this communication regularly – i.e. not just when recruitment is on the university's events calendar. What's more, potential students want to be able to join in the conversation, pose their own questions and share their own musings, rather than be preached at with bland and uninspiring 'sales' rhetoric. So yes, it's kind of mandatory for a university to include a social media strand of marketing activity but using it effectively will continue to determine successful university marketing teams. 

Digital marketing means more than utilising social media

Such teams are often now bolstered with a ‘Digital Engagement Officer' the job title itself acknowledging the need for universities to create relevant, engaging and authentic social media campaigns. But of course, digital marketing means more than utilising social media. Virtual and online events are enjoying widespread growth and inclusion in marketing plans. And these too have undergone something of a transformation to move with the times and meet prospective student expectations.

In the not too distant past (and sadly still in the present for some institutions) a university’s digital offering might include a simple virtual tour of their campus or a one-off web chat. However, an increasing number are now embracing technology like Ivent’s to really allow prospective students to immerse themselves into every element of university life from the comfort of their own home, wherever in the world that may be.

Not every student has the luxury of being able to physically attend an open day, particularly the lucrative overseas student, and even those who can, may find it difficult to remember every detail once they come away. So creating a virtual space where students can access meaningful information repeatedly and at a time to suit them provides the opportunity to remove any nagging doubts.

In a virtual environment, they can attend a sample lecture. They can meet face-to-face members of the faculty and course administrators. They can chat live with existing students to get the lowdown on the good and the bad. They can access content to answer every question imaginable and they can download materials and information to make the whole application process even easier. And, the beauty is that they can keep coming back and even bring along family members who might also be involved in their decision-making process.

Prospective students can, not only completely visualise themselves on campus, but they can make an informed decision about choosing to apply and accepting an offer

The result is that prospective students can, not only completely visualise themselves on campus, but they can make an informed decision about choosing to apply and accepting an offer.

Fundamentally, universities need to remember that ‘going digital’ with their marketing isn’t just about being cost and time efficient – though obviously these are major benefits, but their online presence should work in unison with wider marketing plans. And finally, as with any brand, get the tone of voice right, choose the right channels to reach your target audience and make content timely, relevant and engaging. Easy!

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