Marketing and the digital generation – Part one of three

Competition for the attention of the digital generation is generating even greater collaboration between university and college marketing and IT teams.

In the first of a series of three blog posts focusing on the benefits of partnership, UCISA Executive member Adrian Ellison, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chief Information Officer at the University of West London, outlines some of the trends and future opportunities along with insights from UWL Marketing colleague Susan Vittery.

 

DIGITAL NEEDS TO WORK FROM THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

“IT at UWL has always had a strong, close-knit relationship with marketing,” says Adrian. “In fact, we’re almost co-located as there is only a glass partition between the two teams.”
“In terms of both student recruitment and the support for the overall student experience, I think it’s imperative that marketing is engaged with technology development projects such as CRM and our student record system, right from the outset.
“When it comes to student recruitment, there is a genuine market out there and it is a buyers’ market. It is real competition — which is why clever intelligent marketing is so important.
“Students are definitely shopping around. They are looking for quick, compelling information. We recently invested in a whole raft of course-based videos because students don’t want to read the equivalent of a prospectus each time. Real engaging content, delivered by course tutors and students already on the course, has had a huge impact. This includes an 11% increase in page views of our clearing and home page once they were mobile-optimised. Marketing and IT are currently co-leading a project to continue the latest phase of developing our website.
“For me, the key is getting students involved. If you are building a website to recruit 18-24 year-olds you want to make sure you’ve got that age group offering input. We have students in our working groups to help us refine things, not only in terms of design and functionality but also in terms of the tone of content and how it is framed.”
“You have to move with the times. Technology is pervasive now, it’s the basis of how everything works and we are talking to young people that don’t know another way of doing things. Digital content needs to be integrated, easy-to-use, mobile and written from the student perspective. We’re trying to embed that into everything we do.
“One big influence, both in recruitment and supporting the student experience, is in use of data and analytics. Universities have amassed lots of data about students but we’re never really used it properly. We were more concerned with complying with HESA statutory reports than we were in looking at the value of that data to us. Now it is about joining these systems up and harnessing the power of this huge amount of data and seeing where we can put some machine intelligence behind it.
“For example, we have an online chat system supporting the student recruitment process on our website. There is no reason why 90% of questions can’t be answered by a robot with only the more complex needing to go to a person. There would be a better experience for applicants as they could get more questions answered more effectively and 24/7.
“More importantly, we could use big data and machine learning to learn more about our students to then help us deliver better support going forward. A learning analytics system has been in place at UWL for over a year now and is really beginning to show that we’re having an impact — it’s looking at our attainment data, attendance, looking at our VLE data and then harnessing it to be able to start predicting things about potential student outcomes. That means we can start making interventions much, much earlier.
“Digital content needs to be integrated, easy-to-use, mobile and written from the student perspective. We’re trying to embed that into everything we do.”
Susan Vittery, Head of Digital and Web at UWL, finds close proximity and cross-departmental working vital: “What marketing brings to the table is an understanding of our users and what will engage them while IT has the expertise in establishing infrastructures and systems that are sustainable. As marketing becomes more and more based around technology and digital, we are working together on projects more, regardless of line management structures.
“However, having moved from times when we had little technology to a time when we have a lot, I think the challenge is not so much about the platform as getting the content right and understanding the audiences. Whether you’re doing that in print or via webinars or social media, the key is speaking in the right way and making sure you are engaging with issues the audience is interested in.
“I also think you shouldn’t try to be everything to everybody. There are so many platforms now and that’s something that’s both a challenge and an opportunity for all education institutions. Spreading yourself across all of them might be less effective than making informed choices about where your user groups are looking and where you can best engage with them.”

Key take-outs:

  • Involve students in outreach content and platform discussions.

  • Consider how data can be used proactively to improve the student experience.

  • Make informed choices and limit platform use to what works for your target audiences.

  • Use the power of data and machine learning to improve the support offered to students and ultimately their outcomes

 

UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via manjit.ghattaura@it.ox.ac.uk

 

The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA.

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