In the wake of raised tuition fees, removed enrolment caps, and pulled funding, the UK HE landscape is more competitive than ever. Marketing has become something of an arms race in this context. Lower and mid-ranking universities are investing millions to attract students.

University branding and marketing have always been investment-reliant activities. Even the most creative and heavy-hitting campaign will flounder without financial backing.

Clearly universities are alive to this and have been investing in marketing activity accordingly. But is this sustainable? What is the cost to other areas reliant on investment– student experience, facilities, grants, etc?  How can an institution stand out among this noise?

The answer is, of course, intelligent investment. It’s not just about more money, but making money do more. Here are some ways in which you can determine where and how to spend marketing budget.

Measure ROI

We talk about this a lot, but it is always worth repeating in an often cossetted and slow-to-change sector. You have recourse to a wealth of data regarding marketing activities. Look at it. Set clear indicators of success and measure each channel against it to see which really deliver ROI.

Get granular: look at what works in different regions, for different target audiences, at different stages of the cycle. And if, say, recruitment fairs or Twitter marketing are doing nothing for you…make the call, pull the plug. Focus on what doeswork.

If you don’t understand data, get someone who does.

Competitor analysis

Don’t just look inwards – look outwards as well. Every university competes in its own bracket, for local, domestic, and international applicants. In order to win the best of these, you need to outflank your competitors.

Look in each of these brackets at who these might realistically be. Analyse where they are doing well – through which media and with what demographics. But also look at any gaps they might have left that could be exploited. This will help you to make investment decisions.

It’s worth thinking about whether it’s prudent to invest in head-to-head competition. Differentiation may prove a more fruitful path.

Brand alignment

Decisions on where marketing spend goes should be taken with university brand values in mind. When drawing up marketing budgets, ask yourself – how does each investment tee up with brand values?

Marketing materials may well be the first point of contact for prospects. They even may be the definitive one. So, it’s essential they encapsulate brand values – in form, content, and spirit. This can be key in deciding where to invest, and where to close the purse strings.

And you know what? Sometimes true brand alignment is sacrificing some of that marketing budget, and investing in making the university a better place instead. Marketing is invaluable, but it’s important that you have a brand that’s worth promoting in the first place.

Get that in place, and you may well find half the battle is already won.

We can advise you on investment decisions. Get in touch to arrange a free 30-minute consultation.