What's a student worth?


Hugh Massam, Senior PR Associate at KISS, writes: The longest relationship in your life is with your siblings – luckily my brother and I are quite close. There aren’t many other relationships that last decades, especially with a brand: but one that does is with your university.

In marketing we often think about the ‘lifetime value’ of a customer and it now seems a former student from 30 years ago can be worth a £100 million donation! And yet in the view of our student panel, a lot of the tertiary sector is missing basic marketing opportunities, especially at the vital first hurdle.

Map the journey

As we work often with universities, we got our student advisory panel together again and applied some KISS methods to the attraction and recruitment process.

Current and past students are obviously potential brand advocates for next year’s intake - they share about their experience in dozens of ways whether we like it or not. While universities are of course aware of this it seems, from talking to our student panel, that they are not always putting themselves in their audience’s shoes in order to optimise the effectiveness of their recruitment spending.

So, we worked with our panel to look at the opportunities from their perspective:

In the usual KISS way, we created three student personas.

For each one we mapped their journeys using real insight and experience to bring these to life. Our panel felt there were quite a few opportunities to do more.

Firstly, more real ‘day in the life’ content: whether that’s interviewing students regularly, students doing weekly vlogs, ‘Meet Matt’ case studies, student-led tours of a city or offering a wide range of current students that people can connect with. Some should be quite general and some talking specifically about a course. For example, once someone accepts a Sheffield University offer, they are assigned a current student who gives their mobile number and calls them within around a week to answer any questions. As one said of another site: ‘It would be great to be able to just ask them questions when we need to, and not through a hello@ to the marketing department’.    

Second were the more general and surprising UX opportunities: websites with very clear journeys, simple to navigate and find relevant information. Some of the sites we reviewed made it almost impossible to find even the simple things like course contacts or ‘life on campus’.

Social media remains a huge opportunity: the majority of universities don’t appear to use it in a way which engages their target audience – ‘perhaps more relevant and recent live streams, and less images of the new flower beds…’

Social media managers have a big opportunity here to create engaging and authentic content, but it needs to be highly relevant to the audience and activated through the most appropriate channels. Consider that your prospective students might not feel part of ‘#teamUofG’ yet... our panel felt they saw some cringeworthy campaigns and executions as marketers tried a little too hard to be ‘down with the kids’. If in doubt it might be better to hand it over to a team of your own students to make it come alive.

Branding is another huge opportunity – why wouldn’t a university brand be as powerful as any other brand? Lately we’ve been admiring the work of National Geographic. Many of the UK’s universities are far older yet less well known, so we suggest there’s an opportunity to have an ambitious five- and ten-year brand strategy: build genuine equity and aim high!

Personalisation, especially of e-comms, could be better: pretty early on you know what course a potential student is interested in so aim to provide relevant content as soon as it’s feasible! Several of the universities we looked at even missed the chance to send a congratulations email when offers were sent out.

Transparency seemed like it could often be better: about fees, timetables, modules, and overall curriculum – what do current students on that course like most and least, and what are great ways to combine courses. Our panel felt that some institutions were often not being up front or made it hard to find these.

And finally, managing face-to-face connections really matters – before, during and after events and open days – be clear on what to expect, make your communications personalised and relevant, make sure your guests aren’t faced with an overbooked lecture or a substitute speaker – perhaps live-stream it too as they are often expensive to get to, may involve parents taking a day off and mean missing college.

Our panel also felt many sites were especially inadequate for parents who are less familiar with the process because they’re overseas or never went to university themselves, and yet these parents are high priorities for university marketers, for very different reasons. There could be more support and information about everything from the UCAS system and finances to life on and around campus, and it was often hidden or non-existent.

If you’d like to know more about our student panel and how we work with them, then get in touch …    

To read more information, click here.

KISS is the creative agency that clarifies the complex.