News, insight and opinions

The State of Digital Marketing and Communications in UK Higher Education, 2015

I recently spoke at a UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) workshop: Market Changes. My talk was on using digital communications for marketing purposes. The questions that followed my talk prompted this post on digital marketing. There’s no question that HE marketing is playing catch-up with other sectors – particularly important given that youth audiences don’t just deal with universities.

For more opinion pieces just like this, sign up to our FREE mailing list at the bottom of this page.


These are my thoughts on where the higher education sector stands:

For universities digital marketing isn’t a “nice to have”

It’s your oxygen. Every task in your role has a digital strand. Yet the amount invested in digital projects per academic year is minimal comparison other operations.

The ironic thing is that digital isn’t particularly expensive, yet the return on investment is phenomenal. You only have to take a look at the proven track record of global brands like Google, Apple, Wikipedia, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, who in a decade have come from nowhere to dominate the landscape.

It’s not just universities that are your marketing competition

Applicants are savvy: They will dedicate large quantities of time and effort into researching institutions and courses. But for a prospective student, it isn’t just about the institute’s rankings and reputation – it’s a lifestyle choice. Universities are now competing with other consumer brands for their time and attention whilst spent online.

The communication game has changed

Think about the journey of a student – the process from choosing a university through to graduation. Could a student complete this process without online interaction? No, and they probably wouldn’t want to. This change in attitude will catch you out if you don’t embrace new methods of communication. So how do you come out on top in that competition? Offer the best customer experience from option through to application. Speak on their level.

Those climbing the rankings have adapted to the modern needs of the youth market and are making an effort to communicate in a way that feels more personal. Success comes through showing personality, communicating meaningfully and building relationships. An unresponsive but prestigious brand may not be perceived as favourably via social media than a less prestigious university that makes an effort to communicate with their target audience in a personal and genuine way.

A good example of this is Lincoln University. Their clearing video shows an understanding of its position in the university landscape, and more importantly, its audience.

One of this years biggest university rankings stories was Coventry University overtaking many of its Russell Group peers – there were many contributing factors, but the key for me is its positioning as a ‘modern’ university. As a side note: A nice feature I spotted on their website was the “Social Media Directory”. Social Media Directory

Combating a lack of digital leadership

An increase in digital marketing requirements is often met by a lack of digital leadership. Innovation is stifled by the red tape that is presented before every decision. The impact is profound: Once an idea or strategy has been approved, in most cases it is no longer relevant, or considered to be old technology by the time it is actioned. Worse still, your competitors have already done it.

Digital marketing and communications are a very personal approach, but digital expertise should sit on your committee and have a voice.

Thanks for reading,

Nathan Monk



P.S. Did you know that members of our mailing list get priority access to articles just like this and exclusive sneak peeks at white papers? In fact, I’ve written a white paper on digital marketing in higher education called “How Digital Communication can Improve Student Recruitment in Highly Competitive Markets” I’ve had some fantastic feedback already. Intrigued? Just sign up to the mailing list below.

Get articles, gifts and our beautiful tri-annual newspaper roundup.