We work with marketers of all shapes and sizes, and we love them all like sisters and brothers. But if we had to choose, the highest difficulty level of marketing, the double black diamond, the elite mode, belongs to the proud marketeers who are trying to attract young students to university.Let’s compare them to a standard product, say a tin of Wordnerds own-brand alphabetti spaghetti, to see just what a challenge Higher Education Marketing is.
We work with marketers of all shapes and sizes, and we love them all like sisters and brothers. But if we had to choose, the highest difficulty level of marketing, the double black diamond, the elite mode, belongs to the proud marketeers who are trying to attract young students to university.
Let’s compare them to a standard product, say a tin of Wordnerds own-brand alphabetti spaghetti, to see just what a challenge Higher Education Marketing is.
1. The landscape has totally changed
Let’s say your tin of spaghetti goes from 30p to 35p. Big news, right? How will your customers react to this enormous price hike?
Now imagine if your product’s pricing structure went from “we literally pay you to do this” to “you’ll be taking out a massive loan for the rest of your life before you even start” inside a generation. Tuition fees have completely changed the dynamic of universities, and have made the cost of each applicant you fail to convert astronomical. The stakes have never been higher.
Still, with a fresh marketing approach, you’ll find new ways to recruit. Only problem is…
2. You’re dealing with 500 years of history, while trying to appeal to 17 year olds
Let’s say that you have to sell 90% of your spaghetti tins to 16-18 year olds. What do you do? Get funky, get social, plaster the tin with Kardashians?
Good luck with that if you’re selling university courses. Some of the time, you’re dealing with institutions that are literally medieval. Even if you’re not, you have to sell in a market where everyone’s image is of dusty libraries and red bricks.
And every university has its old guard, who are absolutely outraged by the very idea that students might be coming to uni for any other reason that poring over leather-bound tomes. Changing their minds is going to be a challenge.
Not that change would be that easy anyway, because…
3. You’re trying to turn an oil tanker
So people aren’t responding to the hint of oregano in your spaghetti. Let’s change up the flavour balance. Gather the chefs, explain your strategy, let’s get this done.
Making changes to marketing in Higher Education is a whole different kettle of fish. Courses are planned out years in advance, and any major change requires the say so of dozens of people, most of whom do not have a background in marketing or even student recruitment. And nobody ever got fired for not doing something. So the natural state is to leave things as they are.
But big changes need to happen, because...
4. The competition is fierce (and getting fiercer)
Ah, the regular customer. The brand-loyal folk who pick up their can of spaghetti every week without fail, and have done for thirty years. Where would you be without them?
You’d be in Higher Education, that’s where. Every year, you have to attract a completely new set of people to your courses. They have a range of options so broad, it takes them months to even understand them. And even the most brand-loyal will only be with you for a couple of years.
Not only that, the market is shrinking. In 2020, we are about to hit a decade-low number of 18 year olds. And no market is going to feel that hit harder than higher education.
Graph from ONS.
Oh, and we saved the worst for last...
5. It all comes down to one day
This is the big one. ANY other product you might market, whether it’s spaghetti, or diamonds, or financial services, or space travel, you get to alter decisions based on sales. If your spaghetti isn’t selling, you can try something new.
But here’s how student recruitment works: you do all your marketing, investing hundreds of thousands of pounds and decades worth of working hours. Then you wait. Then on one day – the day the applications come in – you find out whether your marketing has worked. And if it hasn’t, it’s too late to change anything.
So is there any good news for the marketers in Higher Education? Actually, tonnes. In our next article, we look at how AI can make a difference in all of these problems. We also reveal the one,
shining, incredible advantage that HE marketers have over every other sector – if only they’d use it.