Skip to content

Why engaging with students needs engaging content


More potential students than ever are widening their choices when it comes to choosing a university, increasing competition between educational institutes in the UK.

As concerns around covid interrupting face-to-face study decline, 81% of 2022's applicants have applied to the maximum 5 universities. Last year, a record 19,640 students recieved  a university place through clearing without having applied earlier in the year. Students are now shopping around, visiting multiple campuses to find the perfect university for them. Others are simply leaving it later to apply, with many waiting until August in the knowledge that even higher ranked institutions will offer places through clearing and confirmation. Most institutions now offer a clearing open day during the summer to engage with students before they apply.

The other big shift this year is the number of students opting to study part time, with a record 21% choosing to do other things while attending higher education. This can also be seen in deferral rates, which are at their second highest in the last 10 years, only behind last year (2021). 

Making a first impression

The university is a unique institution, in that its marketing team must work to a particular cycle, communicating with a largely new audience each year. This presents a great opportunity to fine-tune your brand over time.

As a result, it’s crucial to make a high quality and lasting first impression with each student, each year. It makes such a difference if potential students understand who you are and what you’re all about before they are signposted towards course lists, prospectuses, and open days.

The power of your brand

With tightening budgets to work to, most unis are opting for high-intensity campaigns at key periods – January deadline, open days and clearing. This offers maximum impact and ensures that students are given every opportunity to register or apply. A downside of this strategy is that ads that feel transactional are less likely to influence students in making an important decision, and Gen Z, who are now the target audience, can see right through this.

This problem is compounded by the intensity of competition for share of voice, making it hard to be heard above the crowd. Students are likely to see multiple university ads in a day, so how can any one ad stand out above the rest? Will students click on the first one they see? The most colourful? The most relevant? The most impressive stat?

Or will it be a brand that they have engaged with before and feel they recognise and want to explore further?

Education agency, SMRS, drew attention to the importance of brand in their HE marketing survey. 97% of respondents pointed to the increased importance of brand, above other recent impacts such as Brexit and the Teaching Excellence Framework.


Being inspirational

When we talk about online brand engagement, we refer to the execution of meaningful, prolonged interactions with university content. Campaigns are often judged on the price of their clicks and the traffic they drive to a site, but this isn’t always the best way to build lasting and impactful brand awareness. Sometimes we should look beyond the click to really understand the results of a piece of activity.

We should consider the potential student’s experience and ask ourselves what students want from their interaction. If the aim is to win hearts and minds, we can’t be pushy, sending students to fill out a form without having something to offer. Universities are great at producing content but not so good at sharing it!

Departments, lecturers and student groups produce fascinating research every day and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that grabs attention and excites young people about getting stuck in and starting their student journey.

Be the one to spark that idea, that conversation, that inspiration, whilst quietly reinforcing your brand identity as an authority on the subject.

Engaging with a digital generation

The last few years have seen the rise of programmatic display ads which have led to campaigns that mine for direct response, opting for quantity over quality. At the same time, a digitally savvy generation has started holding advertisers to a higher standard. To have a chance of generating quality engagement with potential students, interactions have to become less transactional and more inspirational. To get engagement you must be engaging!

Branded content helps you meet your audience where they are – via relevant online publications – with messaging that represents your university, and draws qualified potential students to your site.

Contact us today to see how we can create and distribute targeted content for all stages of the student journey.