With the anger, confusion and frustration felt by both students and student-marketers over the last few months, it’s been a lot to process. We thought it was time to pull together all the insight and data we’ve collected to help build your strategic and tactical plans for the coming year, to keep moving forward, looking for the positives and the opportunities to support as many students as possible.

Understanding audience and opportunity

What’s in store for 2021? We will start to see a rise in the number of 18 year olds after a lengthy lull; a fantastic opportunity to take market share from this expanding audience segment. On the flip side, if you currently recruit a high number of European students, you will need to carefully consider where you are going to make up this potential shortfall as Brexit unfolds in the new year.

In order to make these key decisions, you need to invest in understanding your audience, understanding their wants and needs, understanding where to find those students. And that comes from data and research. No longer can you rest on the age-old phrase “we’re doing it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Take a look at the findings from the Student Hut Insight Tracker; students want universities to care about and fight for their university experience, so while leading with messaging of social connection and real-time networking may have seemed a bit out of touch six months ago, it’s actually what students are looking for now.

Long term strategy and investment in brand

Understandably, we’ve all had to react quickly to significant change and upheaval throughout the pandemic. This has meant rapidly changing marketing strategies, withholding of marketing budgets and significant increases in certain areas to try to correct performance and hit those KPIs. 

And moving forward, the universities that will do best are those that reject reactionary marketing behaviours and focus on building a long term strategy. Looking at your overall global media strategy, your internal marketing structures, your capability to make tactical changes efficiently and your overall marketing performance. Yes, there will always be the need for flexibility, especially in the current climate, but institutions which have clear goals for the coming year, and years to come, will be best placed to weather the storm.

Look seriously at your brand and what it means to your students. Realign your offer to their rapidly changing requirements: promoting flexibility, online and blended learning, student support and safety, which have all become more important than ever. And make sure you align your messages with your students’ lifestyles, causes and aspirations. 

That’s how you’ll stand out from your competitors; not courses, not location, not staff members, but brand. Investment in brand and reputation is going to be key. Using insight and data from market and competitor analysis to make those informed decisions regarding your content and marketing strategy. 

Student wellbeing is key

This year, not only are your students bringing with them all their usual concerns, worries and anxieties, but also the added weight and pressure of studying and learning in a pandemic.

As an institution, you need to show support and empathy with these very real stressors. And show how you can help keep students calm, safe and happy. Don’t assume that students know you’re there for them - tell them. Make sure they know that they’re valued and important, not just another number on the enrolment sheet - and avoid the melt of new students. 

This understanding of students was weaved into our clients’ campaigns over the Clearing months, notably the University of Plymouth’s dynamic programmatic ‘wellbeing tips’. Acknowledging the stress and anxiety of the climate, Plymouth pushed out morning, afternoon and evening tips as part of their Clearing effort, knowing that mental health has been a real concern for their target audience, and creating a reassuring, empathic voice in a sea of chaos. Showing that “Save your seat at our next open day” and “get in touch” aren’t always the way to get students engaging with your activity and connected with your brand.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but we hope these points offer some direction and inspiration for what to do next, as we all continue trying to navigate this situation as it unfolds. We’ll continue supporting the sector with insights, consultancy and general advice - but as ever, if there’s any way else we can help or you’d just like to discuss some of the points raised here, get in touch and we’ll go from there.

Article by

Nick Wilmer

Head of Client Strategy