Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Standing out from the crowd - Welcome to the University of You

In an earlier blog post, Neil mentioned something called the ‘University of You’ campaign. Conscious that much of our work isn’t seen by the wider University community, I think that it’s important to explain some of the concept and campaign planning that goes into recruiting new students. In doing this, you’ll get a better feel for what we do, why we do it, and how we plan and integrate our activities.

So, what on earth is the ‘University of You’ campaign? 

Well, every year we face increasing competition to generate applications for our undergraduate courses and every year it becomes more important to work smartly while really trying to stand out from the crowd. Factor in the changing HE landscape for 2012 entry and we figured it was more important than ever to speak to our prospective students through the channels that they use while addressing their concerns.

So, the ‘University of You’ campaign is our 2012 undergraduate recruitment campaign. It’s the plan we put together to generate the 20,000 applications that we are now working with to secure our 2012 intake. The campaign is based on the simple premise that by working directly with our prospective students to build meaningful relationships, we stand a far better chance of generating a high number of applications from a well informed and engaged group of individuals.


Planning campaigns is always fun. Over a number of sessions we get the team together to thrash out ideas and concepts. We work and rework ideas, change artwork and strategy and end up… sticking lots of brightly coloured post-it notes to our walls:

My office wall – where the magic happens
But while we try to be as creative as possible at this stage, we always make sure we focus on developing and keeping to a set of core messages. These key principles then inform the entire campaign that follows.

For 2012 entry, our core messages were created to speak directly to our prospective students and to address the issues pertinent to them while at the same time attempting to differentiate the University of Chester from other universities.

There were numerous messages that we needed to get across in this campaign:

  • The benefits of a university experience
  • Value for money 
  • Employability and careers
  • Uniqueness – augment your studies with a range of experiences to make yourself unique
  • Specific combinations
  • Risk reduction – why choosing Chester is not a risky option
  • Stories – the real-life of the University

However, there had to be a key overarching theme to hook our prospects. And this is what we went for: Personalisation. 

By placing the student at the heart of everything we do and offering an amazing mix of additional opportunities, our graduates can really stand out in the fierce graduate job market of the future. And that, in a nutshell, is the core message of the campaign: Choosing the University of Chester gives you so much freedom and support to develop as an individual that it really is the University of You.


So, satisfied with our concept and our core messages, we set out to create an engaging and fresh multimedia campaign that would generate interest in the University and encourage prospective students to interact with us.

As I’ve said, we love a bit of direct marketing here in MRA and what better way to get the ball rolling than with a piece of targeted direct mail? Armed with a database of hot leads (segmented by the course individuals were interested in applying for) we hit the doormats of around 55,000 prospects in the first weeks of September 2011 at exactly the time they would be thinking about getting their UCAS forms for 2012 entry completed. Why direct mail? Well, firstly it’s harder to ignore than an email, a text message or a printed advert and, secondly, because of who else would see it. We wanted parents to engage with the campaign too and learn about the benefits of their offspring applying to Chester.

As Neil has mentioned before on the blog, we don’t communicate with prospects without a call to action. And the call to action here was clear. We had created a beautiful stand-alone website filled with the core messages of the campaign and we wanted to drive traffic to it.

Phase one. Getting the message out there
The University of You phase one campaign website was a genuinely engaging and user friendly experience. Quirkily designed to help differentiate us from the competition, the site navigated left to right across the user’s screen rather than up and down like a traditional website. It was filled with snappy content and bespoke video and generated excellent feedback from users. Most importantly, it really started to hammer home our key messages and its own call to action – to order a prospectus or to book for an Open Day.

The site was ably supported online by bespoke University of You Facebook and twitter content and its success was shown by massive October Open Days and an unprecedented level of interaction with prospective students. 

But where are we up to now? Well, the campaign isn’t over and now we have moved into a second, ‘conversion’ phase. We all know that generating a high number of applications is important but converting these expressions of interest into students is the key and phase two, the applicant zone, launched in February of this year to coincide with the end of the on-time application cycle and keep our applicants engaged with the 'University of You' message.


Has it worked? Yes, the evidence would suggest that the campaign has been successful. Of course, we won’t know the final outcome of 2012 recruitment until later on in the year but what we do know is that the level of engagement we have had with our applicants this year has been better than ever (more on this to follow from Adam) and that the messages we worked so hard to create and communicate are really getting across.

What’s perhaps most important is where the campaign has taken our thinking as a department. The look and feel of the campaign now informs much of what we do and this adds great strength to how we are perceived and understood in the marketplace.

The message goes on…
The campaign has really refreshed our thinking and brought renewed clarity to the way we communicate with prospective students. And what’s most important is that the messages are rooted in truth. We really do have a unique offering here at the University. There really is enough to offer our students to augment their course so that they can stand out as unique graduates in a crowded marketplace. It’s something we should all be very proud of.

Until next time…



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