Conversion events and physical visits have ground to a halt at all our UK universities with prospective students, their parents and university teams literally housebound for the foreseeable future.
University marketers and colleagues in admissions and student recruitment will need to work differently and smarter to secure the 2020 cohort. And changes now could pave the way in many institutions to new ways of converting prospects and offer holders.
This literally captive market will spend a lot of their time online – it will certainly be a brave parent who tries to limit screen time for teenagers – so now is the time to step up your digital game. But this needs to be planned and delivered well and integrated with university people and systems if you are going to deliver real impact.
Here are a few ideas about how to maintain and improve your conversion in these challenging times.
Top tips for student conversion
Proactively communicate – anxiety and fear often lead to customer paralysis, so you need to build strong two-way communication with your prospects. In an emergency there is no such thing as too much communication, if it is relevant and timely. Plan regular updates for prospects and offer holders to reassure them, and to keep them focussed on your institution. On sites like the Student Room, where prospects and offer holders are looking for advice, join the conversation with helpful guidance. Keeping prospects calm will help them to avoid rash decisions and confirm them in their choice of your university. But this doesn’t mean you need to be boring! Make sure messages are clear and content is creative. Focus time and money on proactive and creative, digital conversion campaigns, tailored to the different needs of your prospects and offer holders. And don’t forget to involve your international teams and student recruitment agents to spread the word in key international markets.
Build your brand – think about how you can raise the university brand visibility with the more limited channels available. Obviously digital campaigns can help here, especially with the Gen Z audience glued to their screens, but you may also want to dust off and re-edit TV commercials and get these out on daytime TV to reach parents, or on channels like YouTube or Instagram. It is of course a great time to tell stories about how universities are helping people and their role in solving the national crisis. Whether it is the NHS professionals you train, student volunteers helping isolated pensioners or research to provide health-care solutions, your civic mission has never been more important or more relevant.
Make content relevant – now is a good time to develop or re-purpose content, to provide new ways of engaging with the university offer. From virtual accommodation tours to Facebook Live sessions with leading academics or recent alumni, there are many ways you can bring your experience alive. If you have got a great location to sell, why not re-purpose local tourism content or get someone from your city to do a blog? Demonstrating how you are looking after current students can really bring out the caring side of your institution and will reassure parents. And of course, any helpful advice you have about Covid-19 and dealing with isolation will be very welcome. The technical quality of the content is less relevant here, authenticity is the key. Think video blog on a phone and live streaming, not Marvel Cinematic Universe movie quality! Remember, the acid test for content is how does it make your offer more distinctive, more attractive and more likely to convert prospective students.
Deliver brilliant customer service – you need to make sure phone, email and social media questions are handled quickly and well. Any automated systems like chatbots need to be updated and refreshed regularly and you can also consider how you might use message apps like WhatsApp and Messenger to quickly answer simple enquiries. Applicants will be worried about their place at university, so colleagues still need to quickly turn applications into offers. All of this will require great co-ordination of colleagues working across functions, so now may be a good time to form an on-line task team to manage and co-ordinate all student acquisition and conversion. You may also want to deliver on-line tutorials to upskill key people and give them access to your communication channels so they can easily answer enquiries.
What you do now could not only secure the students for 2020 entry, it could also help to re-shape and revolutionise the way you deal with prospects in the future. But you must be careful not to be seen to panic or be taking advantage of a national crisis. The rush to turn conditional offers to unconditional is a good example of a knee-jerk reaction condemned by government, Universities UK and the media. So be strategic, be innovative, and be helpful.
Martyn Spence MA (Marketing) FCIM Chartered Marketer