Four exciting new ways to attract students


30 Jan 2018

Four exciting new ways to attract students

Many of the higher education clients Penna works with have been quick to embrace digital transformation and evolve their attraction strategy beyond the traditional brochure bombardment that was once the primary source of student information.

As more students take to the internet to research and discover new courses, getting attention-grabbing content in front of users has never been more important. Here are four examples where novel types of marketing have been used and the reasons why they work.

TV Partnerships

Recent research published by UK broadcaster Channel 4 found TV sponsorship is one of the most highly trusted forms of advertising. Results showed that a huge 89% of respondents believed brands that sponsor TV are more trustworthy when compared to other forms of advertising, while 76% of viewers see it as a more expensive, and therefore premium, channel.

The Open University is obviously on the same page as they recently announced a six-month advertising partnership with the broadcaster. They have produced a collection of 60-second ads for Channel 4 (which will also be remodelled into 30-second versions for online formats), with each focusing on the experiences of a different study at the university.

This campaign forms part of the university’s ‘Student First’ initiative which aims to increase reach and attract a greater number of students across all ages enrolling in courses. The purpose of the content is simple, clear and direct - it highlights the stories of students and what they have achieved as a result of attending the Open University whilst cleverly employing social proof to inspire and engage viewers.

But why choose TV, and why Channel 4?

It comes down to the university’s goal to connect with a specific type of viewer - one who might be more likely to be interested in the organisation and whose values are aligned with it. Interestingly, they haven’t selected programmes that are strictly educational in theme, such as Countdown, but shows like the Last Leg and the Crystal Maze that typically attract a younger, more engaged audience - the type matching the 'Student First’ initiative.


The example above highlights how sponsorship can be more effective than regular TV advertising as it allows for a far greater level of precision and targeting. It also aligns the brand with a specific broadcaster, resulting in greater authenticity and kudos.

Events and expert advice

Student open days are a regular feature in any university’s calendar, but for distance learning and some other providers, things aren’t so simple. This is down to the lack of one centralised location or the fact that students live too far away to attend.

Having said this, universities shouldn’t miss out on power of event marketing. 'Get Into Teaching’ - a government-backed initiative that provides advice and guidance on entering the education sector - largely uses this strategy to increase exposure and connect prospective students with education-providers.

It achieves this by holding events in schools and universities across the country, offering face –to-face help for attendees. The biggest benefit of this kind of marketing it that it creates a much deeper connection with visitors, allowing them to ask questions and raise concerns - something that online content or advertising can’t match.


With real teachers there to answer these questions, the events also create positive endorsement and advocacy, transferring the kind of social proof often seen in TV and online advertising into real life. As well as engaging with students, these events can also be incredibly beneficial to providers who are able to promote their own courses at the same time.

Video Content

Research presented by Hobsons revealed that 83% of prospective international students use social channels to research universities - an increase of 19% from last year. This, of course, only reaffirms the perceived dominance of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter within this sector and how video content can be used as an effective tool for driving engagement.

One university already successfully using video content is Birkbeck - a University of London college that offers evening classes, along with options for part-time and higher education courses.

The institutions’ YouTube channel generally divides content into different subject areas like Law, Business, Science etc. But while this in-depth style of content is angled primarily towards existing students, its Facebook channel is much more focused on attracting new ones, using the platform to post videos showing the benefits of studying there.

One effective tactic is how Birkbeck uses video during key times of interest, such as clearing or when students are typically registering or applying. This combined with the short and direct nature of the videos allows the university to reach people on the social platforms they already use - rather than wait for users to seek out information elsewhere.

Mobile apps and memes

Moving for a moment over to the US, students hoping to further their education face a slightly different decision-making process. Often, choosing the right major can be just as tricky as choosing the right institution with a reported 50% of high school students not declaring their choice before entering college.

In an attempt to tackle this problem, the University of Kentucky has developed a mobile app in partnership with Up & Up that’s designed to help students feel more confident about their choice of major.

Instead of stick to the technicalities of each course, the app focuses more on multiple choice questions, asking for example “I’d like to… work with my hands/help others/be creative” - in order to help users find a course that’s more suited to them.

Although this solution is ultimately aimed at helping the student choose the right course, it also introduced an element of gamification to make the whole process more fun and enjoyable. This, in turn, helps the process stick in the prospective student’s mind which helps when it comes to selecting a final university.


Up & Up - a marketing agency specialising in higher education - has also used similarly creative solutions on its work for the University of Louisiana in the form of a blog. They recognised that most university blogs feel impersonal and rather stale so aimed to refresh the feel of the university’s blog to appeal to a younger, more digitally and socially-savvy audience.


By weaving memes, infographics and GIFs into its blog articles, it managed to make its content much more clickable, resulting in a 94% increase on the application soft conversion rate, and 117% more visitors to the application site.

Alex Hall