If you thought marketing to students was already intensely multifaceted, you’ve got more to consider: some observers are pointing to “experiential marketing” as an area of innovation in international recruitment.
Canadian Kognitive Marketing explains experiential marketing as “‘the act of connecting consumers with a brand through a live interaction.’
This experience provides consumers with the ability to understand a product or service by using their senses and engaging with it. Whether tasting new low-fat ice cream, watching HD animation on a new flat-screen, or pressing the accelerator of a hybrid car during a test drive; providing an experience is one of the greatest ways for a brand to create new customers as well as retain existing customers.”
Creative agency 360i further expands on this:
“Two-way conversations between brands and consumers lie at the heart of these experiences. Successful experiential campaigns are able to cut through the clutter of everyday life by resonating with the behaviours and passions of the audience at hand.”
360i also notes that the power and effectiveness of experiential marketing events “amplify naturally via word of mouth.”
Meanwhile, CMO.com quotes Steven Cook, CMO of FanKix, a platform that enables marketers to amplify experiential marketing online, as saying:
“It’s an explosion of content with consumers being able to be a part of it. It’s going from push content to participative content.”
Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of marketing agency Translation, told CMO.com: “In order for something to be an experience, it needs to have texture.” He added:
“Effective experience marketing needs to involve the consumers before, during, and after an event.”
For a university, a “live interaction” might be something like inviting prospective students to a special online lecture geared specifically to them, hosting a live chat with a star university professor, or providing a virtual tour of the campus guided by a current student.
It could also occur offline: see for example Brock University’s “Both Sides of the Brain” campaign, which gave prospective students at college fairs a hands-on experience that made them think more deeply than they otherwise might about their decision on where to study, and why.
“Brock University’s “Both Sides of the Brain” campaign included photo booths at education fairs where students could create customised photos of themselves.”
For more inspiration, the UK Marketing Network provides further illustrative examples of successful experiential marketing campaigns in other sectors.
Revisiting a time-tested concept
The concept of experiential marketing has been around for ages, in the form of such things as in-store promotions or PR stunts – live and tangible events – but it has taken on new urgency and applications as the influence of social media has exploded. This is because of the corresponding importance of ‘sharing’ and ‘liking,’ not to mention the broader range of online interactions and experiences.
Word-of-mouth has never been more important in marketing to students. Like consumers in every other sector, students can, because of social media networks, immediately ask (and receive an answer from) friends about what they think of a brand or experience.
Moreover, many of them are at an age where they care deeply about peer interactions and are suspicious of overt “push” tactics from brands. They want to decide for themselves how a brand “feels” to them and are more likely to trust the opinions of current and alumni students than staid or impersonal brochures or other gestures from institutions.
They may be customers, but students don’t like to be thought of – or think of themselves as – customers. They are buying education, and this investment is:
- sharable (on social networks especially).
So the stakes are high, and this is why experiential marketing is such an interesting proposition for educational marketers.
The incorporation of experience strategies into the recruitment effort is an opportunity to think about the emotional core of an institution and to reflect on real ways to engage students – yes, with the aim of students sharing their positive experiences and becoming more interested in or connected with an institution – but hopefully in a meaningful, authentic way.
Let’s face it, meaningful, authentic marketing is the only way to really connect with students today; they’re too savvy for anything else, and that’s a good thing.
As 360i puts it: “Creating for your consumers, instead of directly for your brand, creates trust and an understanding that we (the brands/marketers) get them.”
“The use of Web 2.0 technologies to promote experiential recruitment is playing an ever increasing role in the creation of communities of prospective students that can now start forming and sharing ideas well before their first lecture. This is a major advancement on the traditional ‘open day’ model, where students read an outdated prospectus before suffering from information overload followed by a quick walk around campus.
Rather than ‘selling’ the institution on its past successes, parents and students now want their confidence developed around the institution’s current and future plans, to the point that they feel they can trust the university in being able to create job-ready graduates for positions in industries that may not even exist yet.”