Bek Agius — 29 August 2019
The university marketer must appeal to a wide audience filled with tiny groups with specific needs, including local prospective students, interstate or international prospective students, the general community, senior school children and their influencers and alumnus, just to name a few.
The drivers of communication to these groups vary just as much. Primarily the aim is to attract new students, convince post-grad students to continue their study and instil the value of the research being conducted within the institution to the local and global population.
It's a tall order, but it's what the modern consumer of education demands as they become more time poor, more conditioned to a barrage of messaging, and more informed about what their experience should be like during study. Marketers must work harder to show consumers the value of an education that only their institution can offer and take them on a journey all while blowing them away.
Using events and experiences as a part of an integrated university marketing strategy allows the audience to be taken on a journey. Combine this recipe with authentic story-telling, beautiful creative and a strong, consistent brand message backed by clear values and the potential to really touch people, emotionally, mentally and physically is immense.
This transition to integrated marketing communications with more tangible events and experiences linked by a strong message and theme is what we call experiential or engagement marketing and the point is to encourage participation rather than expecting the consumer to absorb a message and retain it. A fantastic is example is the 'Made Possible by Melbourne' campaign for the University of Melbourne by McCann:
While the execution of this campaign was amazing - the goal was simple, to increase awareness. The difference was that in getting the community involved with impactful and engaging content, the potential for leads through social media vitality was much higher and has produced an outcome with serious longevity.
Part of the perception shift that a university must influence is one of an unapproachable institution to something a little more relatable and human so that students can feel comfortable enough to see themselves within that education environment.
Perhaps the best way to create buzz is through events and experiences. Whether the interaction is something small like a competition or something huge like an installation that interrupts a mundane morning commute, being personally touched by a brand creates a much stronger impression than just viewing an ad or driving past a billboard.
The crème de la crème of these experiences are ones that create micro environments that can be somehow shared. This can help create an emotional attachment to a brand, increasing brand loyalty.
It's no surprise that well-executed events and experiences give people something to talk about (and post about), especially when it is thoughtful and unexpected. Whether blog posts and press releases or testimonials and user-generated content, interactive marketing can open up some serious avenues for content strategy.
The best part? This type of content feels more authentic. If people are genuinely touched enough by an experience to tell others about it, this is something that is much easier to connect with than a sales-driven editorial and can really make an institution stand out among its competitors.
There are a million different ways to implement events and experiences into a marketing strategy, the key in planning and implementing them is going back to the goals of the campaign itself and aligning the activity with those goals as seamlessly as possible. These goals could be awareness or an increase in enrolments in a particular area of study.
Once the goal is clearly established as part of the strategy and everyone is working toward it, it's important to ensure that the messaging is conveying the values and tone of the brand. Key questions to ask are:
An easy and logical way to get consumers up close and personal with a university brand is to host a networking event. The act of opening up the professional network and bringing together stakeholders and prospective students is a great way to give back, while showcasing the power of the academic community when united around a reputable university institution.
Whether honouring a group of graduates, celebrating research or something completely left field and creative like a uni games day with an element of competition, these activities are designed to connect people in an environment that is seamlessly connected to the university's brand personality.
An even simpler and cost effective way to encourage engagement is online competition, especially when the outcome is user generated content that continues to fuel ongoing marketing communications.
There are limitless ways to execute an online competition, from a photo competition encouraging students to post their favourite way to celebrate post-exam with an accompanying hashtag, to encouraging students to submit a creative piece to win a piece of technology, or a call for innovative ideas for global change.
In a day and age where every consumer has grown to expect that the data brands collect them from goes toward marketing messaging being more tailored, it is unsurprising that the prospective student (and presumably the innovator) desires to be moved.
It is now the job of the university to convince the student why they belong and should be passionate about learning as part of the best institution for people just like them.