The 2022 digital prospectus for the University of Gloucestershire

What is a digital prospectus in 2021? We created sustainable and measurable success, with radical changes to the traditional format.

I thought I might have your attention from using the phrase “digital prospectus“. The truth is, I hate sticking the word “digital” in front of things to try and make it sound relevant. But as the shift to digital isn’t normalised yet, there’s a good chance you searched “digital prospectus” and found yourself here as a result.

In this article, Nathan Monk (Co-founder at SMILE) asks “What is a digital prospectus in 2021?” And looks at how SMILE created sustainable and measurable success for the University of Gloucestershire, with radical changes to the traditional format.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made putting physical prospectuses into the hands of prospects a real headache. How many has your institution pulped? Or are you just using yours as makeshift laptop stands for now? Re-using them for the next cycle by any chance?

If your institution is still prioritising a printed prospectus over an online counterpart – you’re doing it wrong.

The transition to the digital prospectus is something that will be something that a lot of Higher Ed marketing staff will be thinking about in the near future.

I can feel your blood pressure rising already.

“Students still want the tactile experience!”, “Think of the parents!” And the usual claims about how print isn’t dead. I’m not here to poo-poo the art of good print marketing. Once upon a time, I was an art-school student fawning over lush paper stocks and getting giddy over a metallic hot foil finish. But a change of sector mindset is long overdue.

We spoke at a webinar on August 19th (2021) about our thoughts on the future of prospectuses. View the roundup.

In the last month, less than 10% of students have requested a physical copy of a university prospectus*. And of the students surveyed in June 2021, online alternatives were considered dramatically more important in their decision making process*. The pandemic accelerated change, period.

That said, I don’t believe that print is dead. Times have changed, and so have prospects. Print is not their priority. So why is it yours?

A young person with a sign supporting a message of environmental protection
Youth audiences are more eco-conscious than previous generations

Gen-Z and Millenials are concerned about the economic footprint of the brands that they align themselves with. In fact, YPulse found that 70% have made changes to their purchases because of climate change. Universities and colleges have an opportunity to do better by our planet, and align themselves with views of young people in the process. Prospects are only interested in a small sub-section of your course catalog, but most prospectuses are so bulky because they include the entire catalog. It’s not the most eco-friendly approach going.

The University of Gloucestershire takes sustainability very seriously. I was going to link to a single press release, but there are a ton of incredible posts about the successes in this arena. Last year they dropped their printed prospectus completely – favouring a prospectus via Instagram. It helped them to become the UK’s most sustainable university. But with trust levels falling from prospects on social media*, it was time to upgrade.

What SMILE has created for the University of Gloucestershire is their 2022 Prospectus. Not a “digital” prospectus. Just the new prospectus. And that distinction in language is important. Because this is the new normal.

Early mockups of a prospectus idea involving cards and a QR code
An early proposed idea of the new prospectus

The recruitment funnel has changed. University websites are the primary information source for prospects with a high trust rating, so creating a digital extension of their website was a no brainer. Digital gives you the ability to communicate to a mass-market, and filter the audience to those who are your hot leads. But your website isn’t engaging or personalised enough and prospects want an element of ownership. You need something more.

The University of Gloucestershire were on the same page. And with SMILE working on the flagship website, we were approached to provide concepts of what we’d do in addition.

Initial concepts accepted, we got to work on the real deal. Our aim for the 2022 prospectus was to create an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) built on a solid foundation that could be extended in the future. That foundation allows prospects to create their own personalised prospectus which they can save and share with family and friends.

Mobile views of the University of Gloucestershire Digital Prospectus
The 2022 University of Gloucestershire Prospectus, by SMILE

We designed an intuitive interface that allows you to select the subject areas and then subsequently the specific courses you are interested in. The system then provides data relating to those choices to assist in creating your personalised prospectus. You can choose content from accommodation and facilities all the way to pieces about the community and the planet. Whatever is important to you, the user, you are able to handpick and create a completely unique experience that can be saved and referenced/edited at a later date.

The desktop view of the University of Gloucestershire Digital Prospectus

Technologically it’s also at the forefront; making use of modern front-end technologies and utilising the API of the new flagship website that we also created. The use of the API means that data is re-used from the flagship website reducing the editorial overhead to release content into the prospectus. This is unheard of in current print workflows, and is freeing up hundreds of hours in multiple teams across the university. That time can now be reinvested into creating impactful print comms with more finishes and more expensive paper stocks, to up-the-ante in converting prospects with luxurious, tactile print.

The university is tracking readership (thanks to Google Analytics), measuring sharing metrics (we built some really neat save and share functionality into this one) and nurturing tangible relationships (users that have signed-up are creating a first-party data-source for the university) with the new prospectus.

And we’re not stopping there either: We’re already working on the next release of updates. Sign up to our newsletter to get notified of more updates like this.

* Data and statistics were gathered using Akero Data Labs. It’s an incredible data insight tool for the HE sector. Akero Data Labs is a free-of-charge feature of the Akero martech stack. Sign up for free today.

Nathan Monk
Nathan Monk

I'm proud to work for some of the world’s most influential brands that shape cities and define lives: Universities and colleges.

I provide advice to forward-thinking senior leaders on how to exceed their organisational targets by creating user-focused, digital-first strategies.