By Terri Bloore
Last week George Osborne announced the first Conservative Party budget in almost two decades. Among a number of new policies – including changes to welfare, the BBC, road tax, and quite a bit more – Osborne revealed that universities will be able to increase tuition fees in-line with inflation from 2017-18, if they can demonstrate excellent teaching. Many universities will be faced with the challenge of how to attract new students, many of whom will be tempted by the world of work, apprenticeship schemes and colleges.
In order to do this, and persuade potential attendees that it’s worth the money, they’re going to have to look at their communication strategies.
Demystify the process
With so much buzz around the different routes that students should take after A-levels, it’s hard for young people to decide which route is right for them. There is no point encouraging the majority to go to university when a percentage might realise halfway through the first year that it’s not for them. No one wins. Universities, as well as other academic institutions and the government, have a responsibility to make clear the options open to young people considering their future, and how they go about taking up those options. Better information upfront can minimise drop-outs and raise the degree pass rate.
Differentiate yourself from competitors
With more and more competition in the higher education industry, it’s hard for students to differentiate. Universities tend to tell the same story and stick to cold hard facts: quality teaching staff, reputable courses; lovely student housing – all things which are undoubtedly important but don’t provide differentiation. Young people want a personable approach, just like everyone else; bombarding them with a generic sales pitch won’t cut the mustard.
Universities need to build a clear story to message their unique offerings, focusing on their value proposition and promoting the strengths of their courses and campuses. These benefits need to be understandable, tangible and, most importantly, distinctive.
Be personable, be creative
Universities are not renowned for big creative campaigns; understandable as they want to be taken seriously by parents and young adults alike, but creative needn’t be ‘out there.’ Rather, it’s about thinking through how to get the message across in the most memorable way. Creative university campaigns may be few and far between, but they needn’t be. It’s simply a case of identifying the USPs and then being creative in positioning them.
Millennials spend more time interacting with digital media than traditional media. They are digital natives. This is where they feel comfortable. This is the millennial’s space so why not communicate with them on their terms? Universities and other authorities often feel that they are under selling their offering by limiting their message to 140 characters. But a tweet can link to a post with more information, or a forum where discussions can occur. Social by nature means you can ask questions, have conversations, and join discussions. It could be used as another method to reach students, to share content and provide information.