Australian universities are enthusiastically embracing technology platforms for student services as they utilize data to deliver a better quality experience throughout the student journey.

There is a real recognition in the power of data and the need for an always-on, 24/7 service model.
When it comes to their branding and recruiting advertising though, many universities still seem to be living in the past. Nielsen data consistently shows as much as 40% of annual university advertising expenditure occurring in the three months of October and December, directed primarily towards the new year undergraduate intake.
This is a massive investment in last-minute retail advertising, pitching university courses at school leavers.
For these school leavers, choosing what and where to study has been a huge deal, generally the culmination of a 6-18 month high stakes, high involvement decision-making process.
Sure, a small percentage of people will switch and change at the last minute. But what calibre of candidates can a university expect to pick up focusing a majority of their resources on last-minute retail advertising?

And why aren’t they investing these resources earlier in the process?

It is a giant misallocation of priorities and resources.

We can’t know what exact time, thought, or incident will trigger an individual to commence their active research and consideration of courses and institutions. But we do know the initial choice happens way earlier than three months out.
If there is one truth in branding, it is that being first in mind matters. And the earlier in the consideration cycle a brand can connect with a consumer, the more memorable and persuasive their message is likely to be.
So, how does a university go about this ‘upstream advertising’?
First, in this modern, cluttered and complex communications environment, it is essential to map out the consumer journey of your prospects. Then look at each stage (trigger, consider, search, choose, purchase, experience) and focus on what they are likely to be thinking, feeling and doing. From there, it is a matter of tailoring your content and channel selections to find your audience, meet their needs, overcome their hurdles, and help them move closer to their goal.
And if you are a university marketer, the good news is your competitors are likely focussing their efforts at the end of the purchase cycle, leaving clear air for you to initiate first connection with your prospects.
Very early in the student journey, the goal for your brand communication is to help inspire prospective students to a vision of their future life and career, and further, help them set the criteria by which they assess faculties and universities. Once formed, these visions and beliefs can help create an enduring bond to your brand.
The key to success is great story telling, whatever channel you use. Native advertising and video platforms are great. And despite what the prophets of doom keep saying, TV remains incredibly powerful when used well. Just ask University of Western Sydney.
So if you’re looking for improved results from your advertising, try planning to communicate earlier, and resist the urge to join the last minute shouting match. It could be the most powerful single change you make for the year ahead.