Marketing content for universities is a fiercely competitive world. Aside from rival institutions, universities have to compete with government-backed schemes that encourage learning on the job. Being able to address students properly is a crucial factor of education writing, and there are other attributing factors as to why education copywriters are struggling within the industry . Trying to sound modern and progressive, as well as credible, can be difficult for universities steeped in tradition and heritage. Copywriting in this context is therefore about striking the balance. After all, you’re not going to win any hearts and minds with “blue-sky thinking”, or ancient Latin.
Listening to the market
At the age of 18, people gain a real sense of independence. Do young people therefore need to be told what to do and what to think by a university? Tone of voice is crucial. Students need to feel that university life is an exciting path to choose, and not the only option. Today, they know university doesn’t hold all the answers and that earning a degree doesn’t equal employment. An inclusive voice works best. Consider what they can do for you, as much as what you can do for them. Telling them something they don’t know might resonate, but avoid preaching.
Focusing on the overarching experience of university, how it enriches life, has been the failsafe option for years. Honing in on lifestyle and tapping into people’s interests really matters and can do wonders for brand perception, whether it’s arts, fashion or sport. Your university’s outstanding reputation might precede itself, but in what way?
For post-millenials, inspiration comes from life outside of the university walls. For example, University of Reading no longer wanted their red-brick status to hinder their modernity. They teamed up with NME to place student ambassadors at Reading Festival, gaining exposure as a university that is culturally aware and that provides real, exciting opportunities for its students. Content drove attention to this collaboration and gave the educational institute a new edge; alongside its academic prestige, the University of Reading achieved cool status. In August 2016, the university saw a 30% increase in applications from students going through clearing.
Student debt is a big turn off, but education writing should not shy away from this. Marketing needs to include details of costs in a clear, coherent sense. Tuition fees now surpass the £9000-a-year mark and the average cost of basic student living (rent, food, travel) is nearly £700 a month, according to Natwest’s Student Living Index 2016.
Advantaged students are still more likely to go to university than disadvantaged students. With this in mind, universities need to really scream and shout about their opportunities; financial aid, bursaries and scholarships are a major influence. Many students also stay at home and attend universities on their doorsteps to save money – institutes need to consider this in their marketing, honing in on the benefits of being a local student.
Students also need clear information on courses and potential economic gains – forget the fluff, what are the facts? Courses need to meet the interests of career prospects. Outline salary estimations and provide real evidence and examples of routes to work for each degree. Young people are aware that university is a costly venture, but with a clear idea of money at the onset, they can consider this as part of the whole picture, not solely focus on it.
The social network
Facebook was invented within an institution, and universities now advertise their courses and establishments on all platforms of social media. Prospectuses are no longer enough. In the USA, a survey found that over 87% of 18 to 20-year-old respondents used Facebook as part of their college search. The USA also leads the way in marketing for university; vast amounts of marketing budgets are being spent on student recruitment and in 2016 it was estimated that budgets will increase from $10 billion to $100 billion a year.* Map apps have also been in the running for years, allowing prospective students to experience a virtual tour of the institution without leaving the comfort of their bedrooms.
Like in other sectors, social media marketing in education needs to be strategic. Storytelling is the best way to achieve this, with stories of people and their achievements and their interests, or how people have found their university journeys so far. Student generated content that tells stories creates empathy and engagement; it is the most effective form of marketing as it directly speaks from one equal to another. It’s real evidence. Using alumni can also be effective, but ensure that these people aren’t out of touch – a lot has changed in the past five years for graduates, let alone ten years.
Further education is still an option for a large proportion of British students – 31% of 18-year-olds in England were accepted onto a university place in 2015. This was the highest level ever recorded. But how will this change over the next few years? Brexit will affect the choices of Britons, as well as internationals, whose ability to attend UK institutions will be strained. However, there is work afoot through organisations such as the #WeAreInternational campaign, which champions students from abroad attending UK universities.
Heritage and history might have to take a back seat for a while, as universities focus on looking ahead. Some traditions should be cherished – ceremonies, long-standing societies etc – but these won’t help prospective students make their final choice. All universities have these traditions. What makes yours different? Does your university offer a future with career prospects and tangible success?
The right tone of voice and copywriting can show young people that it’s going to be worth the money, and the effort.