All this has changed. Universities have been given freedom and encouragement to compete for students, who will take on significant personal debt if they choose to go to university. There have also been new entrants to the sector - both non-profit (e.g. New College of the Humanities) and for-profit (e.g. BPP University) and increased international competition. Some have merged to form larger instutitions while others have created wider associations with their own 'brands' such as the Russell Group. All universities have responded by investing heavily in marketing to attract both domestic and international students.
This should sound very familiar to schools marketers who read Marketing Advice for Schools. We too see enhanced competition and new entrants.We know that many schools are increasing their marketing efforts in response. So what can we learn from the university experience of competition suddenly arriving in a mature market?
Here are five things that successful universities have done...
1. Focused on core strengths and worked hard to get potentially sceptical academics (for which read teachers!) to take marketing seriously - as discussed in this round table.
2. Tempered aspirations with knowledge of how the university is currently perceived - this case study shows how Southbank was aware of the need for perceptions research to inform wider communication.
3. Made changes to change existing perceptions then communicated them creatively - as seen in this case study from Middlesex University.
4. Let students share their stories in a clear focus on content marketing. Warwick University leads with quotes and stories from students rather than a focus on buildings or staff.
5. Explored and monitored a wide range of marketing tools, well beyond advertising - Oxford University doesn't have an advertising budget. Instead they've spent time explaining what they do through video and a comprehensive website, backed up with extensive use of social media.
Of course many schools do all these and more - but watching how universities have changed their marketing approach should help schools move forward faster. And with over 100 universities across the UK we all have local ones to watch, learn from and maybe network with (after all they will also be keen to recruit our students!).
Please share any examples of best practice you've seen from either schools or universities.