A potential student can ‘Google’ university open day dates, book their travel, read the prospectus and review peers’ comments - all from the comfort of their own bed. Therefore, it’s safe to say technology helps students choose their university. But the question is, does it help keep them there?
A new dawn
We’re entering a new dawn where Generation Z (and soon Alpha) live differently, have different values and a much wider choice than any generation before. It’s a dawn that universities and the wider public sector have to wake up to…and soon. There is no longer online or offline – simply a single way of life for young people who use technology to live easier, faster and to achieve more. By ignoring the new dawn, you are asking your consumers to suspend the way they have grown up and live, for three years.
Only remarkable brands will retain loyalty
Working extensively across industry, the public sector and education, my experience is that many senior teams in FE/HE do not understand how their future consumers use technology to live a more connected and enabled lifestyle. This is not the case for brands like Nike, Instagram, Sky and Fitbit who understand and respond to their consumers’ changing lifestyle. They retain a loyalty not seen by many and they are lighting the path for other sectors to follow, including education. If you think universities are not brands, ask Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Google.
At a time when brand loyalty is dying, organisations following that path have the best chances of survival in the new dawn. When you can buy anything online and it’s delivered seamlessly across the world in 48 hours, why would students accept a fractured journey through university? Do students need to queue for stage two registration? Are they starting day one of a three-year journey with a poor experience? Is there a single app that delivers value across the entire academic year? There should be. Why are students still carrying cash on campus? Do you stay loyal to brands that make your life harder? Why should students?
Smart tech – time for something different
Smart technology must play a major part in improving the student’s life, be it a card, an app or a completely new approach. The sharpest, brightest universities are already grabbing this chance to improve their students’ lives and are using technology as a tool to show they understand their consumers’ lifestyles and priorities. It’s part of their offer and appeal.
So if we know technology is a key tool to encourage, entice and enable the new generation of students, why aren’t more universities utilising it and putting smart technology at the frontline of marketing and brand development.
So now is the time to adopt smart technology and put I.T. teams on the marketing frontline. The trouble is where do you start? Here’s a few suggestions to help kick-start your thinking:
Understand your consumer’s culture and what’s important.
Understand your consumers’ journeys and where the service can be improved.
Put I.T. teams front and centre to understand how technology can make a difference.
Make the most of your data and use technology smarter!
Finally, understand yourselves and what you stand for.
This article is built from over 25 years experience of working with young people, brands and campaigns. The afh. team and our partners care passionately about what we do, and importantly, who we do it with and are proud to have worked with clients across education, technology, health, sport and wellbeing. Focusing on work that delivers in the community has given us our unique insight that our clients value - whether it’s delivering a renewed strategic approach, a targeted campaign or creative project.
A sixteen year old sits Googling university computer science degrees on the iPhone. Which one to choose…The Apple or Facebook University, or one they have no relationship with?
The populist-style branded university may not exist yet, but is it really that far away? Remarkable brands are a growing part of our culture and if universities want to produce the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow and thrive, they need to understand the culture of today.
Those in Generations Z (not to mention Alpha) have a different way of life. Yet, having worked broadly across education, the public sector and industry, it’s clear many universities do not understand this culture in a way that Google, Nike, Supreme and Facebook do. We are entering the era of the remarkable brand, so what universities will survive the great cull of the mundane?
Working for many years with young people in communications and brand development, I have advised organisations of all sizes on their direction, communications and branding. This is my insight into the steps universities should be taking now to prepare for the future.
Understand the journey
Understand the culture and what’s important
Having said all of this, there is some outstanding development work being delivered by universities. Exeter, Coventry, Kingston, Hertfordshire and Loughborough are just a few who stand tall, but it is not enough for the sector to increase growth. The Apprenticeship Levy is the new game in town and it’s here to stay for a while. Young people have a huge amount of options before them and it’s growing; the game has changed and higher education must change with it.
If this is something your university is starting to think about (or already doing), get in touch – we would love to hear your views and experiences.
And finally, if you work at a university and don’t know who James Jebbia is, get Googling! There’s always someone we can learn from.