Higher Ed Marketing

WIth David Corscadden, Campus Liaison and Digital Content Executive

Higher Education is a huge global sector, especially in Ireland or “The Island of Saints and Scholars”. Higher Ed in Ireland encompasses both global and domestic markets and great marketing is key to attracting new students.

Sharing his insights into Higher Ed marketing with us today is my wonderful former colleague, David Corscadden, Campus Liaison and Digital Content Executive at UCD Student Recruitment.

David is a true creative spirit with great people skills and like me, he followed a non-traditional career path into marketing.

I’m delighted to introduce you to David and for you to learn more about marketing in Higher Ed and how it’s adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic.

David, how did you first get interested in marketing?

Well I actually studied horticulture. When I think back to sixth year, my end goal was to own a landscaping company or garden center and just be surrounded by nature and plants. Then when I got into college, I did one business module and there was a tiny, tiny bit of marketing in it which sparked my interest. I started blogging and at the time I got really into social media. It just naturally grew and then when I went on professional work experience, I went to the Irish Garden Magazine and my internship was focused on the media side. That was what really got me interested in content creation and digital marketing.

After graduation I did a master’s in Journalism and Media Communication at Griffith College and eventually went on to work in marketing and student recruitment for UCD.

What do you find is important to future students when it comes to student recruitment and Higher Ed marketing?

It’s really a combination of online and in person touch points. That’s the approach many universities take, that it’s not just one touch point with a student. It can be anywhere up to 14 touch points to take them from where they have never heard about your university to they like it, they’re enrolling and they’ve accepted the offer.

Along that journey it’s important to have a really strong social media presence showing them what the university is like. It’s blog posts and videos and then you’re getting into them picking up your university prospectus, coming to a subject specific open evening, coming to the University Open Day, going on an individual campus tour and signing up to receive emails with more information on courses. It’s a multi-pronged approach and that’s down to the students themselves as well. You will find students will do their own research. They’ll start looking at YouTube videos, they’ll search blogs, they’ll search on platforms like UniBuddy which is a fantastic way to link current students with prospective students. They are doing their background research and are coming to you with specific questions and looking for details.

I find, with both domestic and international students that there’s a big emphasis on the influencers in their lives. Parents, Siblings, Aunts, Uncles and Guidance Counselors play a massive part in a students decision making process. That is key in Higher Ed marketing and student recruitment, building those relationships with Guidance Counselors, because they can make or break a student’s impression of a university.

How would you go about forming that relationship with a key stakeholder such as a Guidance Counselor?

By reaching out to the schools and building those connections. It’s something that as an entire organization, you have to do. It’s not just the recruitment team or the marketing managers in individual areas. It’s a whole university approach and opening that door with the Guidance Counselor by inviting them to events, letting them know if there’s changes in courses, going into the schools to give presentations and actually building a relationship. Just as you would with a client in an agency or in an organization you’re running a campaign for.

A big thing, particularly for large universities, is trying to break down any perceived barriers so that you’re not just this big beast of an organization, but there are people that they know they can go to with queries. Both students and their influencers want to learn about the genuine experience a student will have in your college or university.

How do you think Higher Ed marketing has pivoted to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic?

With Covid-19 we’ve had to throw everything out the window and start from scratch. You make up your content plans, you know exactly what you’re going to be doing each week then the minute March arrived it all changed and everything went out the window.

There is a lot of work going on in Higher Ed right now on how you can deliver the college experience virtually. A project I’m looking at translating into a new virtual experience is campus tours which up to March involved prospective students coming on campus and getting a feel for the university environment.

It’s exciting, in a way, because it opens up our activities to a lot more people. Running an event virtually means people can stay at home in comfort, knowing they’re safe and a student who is based in Donegal, for example, does not have to travel the whole way to Dublin.

I imagine, even when Covid-19 restrictions have been eased, there will continue to be a lot more blended approaches to events and student recruitment. You might have your physical events, but there will still be a big digital presence as well. The key part of virtual events, particularly for Higher Ed, will be providing that opportunity to interact with the lecturers or with the current students and have your questions answered.

Where do you find inspiration in Higher Ed marketing?

I always look at the Irish universities, but then I keep an eye on US universities and see what they’re doing and this week I’ve been attending a lot of virtual Open Days in the UK. So looking at the likes of King’s College London and UCL, seeing what they’re doing, how they’re approaching virtual events and how they’re engaging with their prospective students. The best way to find new trends is to go have that prospective student experience. Put yourself in their situation. Position yourself on the outside of Higher Ed, looking in. You can translate that across your digital marketing and really see what the user experience is actually like.

What’s a unique challenge you face in Higher Ed marketing?

One of the tricky things in Higher Ed is that students are very in tune with marketing. They’re very often critical, they don’t go for the fluffy slogans and the idealised picture of college. They want the real, unfiltered experience. So a big part of my role is empowering current students to share their experience. Share the good parts but also the bad and what they struggled with because it will help a prospective student if they’re worried about coming to university or living away from home. It’s about giving our current students the platforms to share their experiences and share what they’ve learned. That’s something that makes a big difference, seeing this authentic voice that isn’t just about selling you on coming to university.

Another big challenge is keeping up with them and keeping up with the platforms that they’re using. Understanding how they’re actually consuming their information. They’re not interested in a slick, five minute, super expensive promotional video. They want short snappy content that they can choose to watch or scroll past if they want.

It’s something that I’m always trying to tap into, seeing what students are looking for, what they’re using and how can I get our content out on those platforms in an authentic way.

Any chance of a MYUCD TikTok appearing in the future?

It’s definitely on the cards. That’s a new challenge, going onto something like TikTok which is very new and creating relatable content. I know they’ve introduced ads in the last couple of weeks but it’s very much about authentic content and figuring out the best way that we can get that sort of content. It’s probably going to be one of the more successful platforms for our current students to share their experiences and it will be even more focused on the student experience on campus. So you won’t see me in the TiKTok’s.

UL is an Irish university that has done really well by giving students a voice on their social media platforms. I know they were one of the first to go on TikTok in its infancy. I think they have done a great job sharing student experience and you can see a lot of US universities using it very successfully.

What would you say the future of Higher Ed marketing looks like?

Across the board in Higher Ed you’re going to see a much bigger emphasis on digital and a bigger investment in digital platforms to host webinars, live events and an increase in content on social media sharing the student experience.

The ultimate silver lining to all this is that it’s getting a much bigger reach for events and campaigns and opening us up to a wider audience, which is great. Ultimately Covid-19 has forced us to think outside the box a bit more when it comes to Higher Ed marketing and student recruitment.