Looking for inspiration for your next higher education marketing campaign? It’s all around you. Show your students that you’re in touch with the issues they care about.

It’s March 2020. The UK has officially left the EU and begun negotiations over an uncertain future. Covid-19 has made its way out of China and spreads its way to Europe. Over in the US, Democrats are gearing up to take on Donald Trump in one of the most-watched elections of the Millenium. From the background, the lurking threat of climate change casts a shadow over everything.

All of these issues will affect the future of every student hoping to apply to university this year. In our hyper-connected, digital world, they know it all too well. For aspiring graduates, choosing an institution is about their vision for the future and their place within it.

The most successful higher education marketing campaigns of the past few years engage with these hot-button issues in interesting ways. This week, we thought we’d explore a few of these excellent campaigns. They could be the inspiration you need to launch your next big winner.  

Taking a stand with the University of East Anglia

One way or another, students and institutions across the country will be affected by the changes that Brexit brings. There continues to be a very real risk of borders limiting academic opportunities for everyone. The University of East Anglia’s Thinking Without Borders campaign tackles these issues and tells a story about the power of international collaboration. At the same time, it showcases some of the ground-breaking work the University is doing to address key global challenges. 

This approach works on multiple levels. Firstly, it’s a content-driven campaign that lets students see the work that’s happening on the ground. UEA isn’t just telling students about their contributions – they’re showing, and that’s powerful stuff. Secondly, by rallying a campaign around a political issue like Brexit they’re capturing the issues their students care about, turning them into brand ambassadors. Bringing students on-side mobilises them as your own mini social media crew, ready to shout about the great work your institution is doing.

Although we don’t have access to their results data, the Thinking Without Borders campaign managed to win UEA the Heist Gold Award for campaigns supporting research excellence.

Delivering on brand promises with the London School of Economics

LSE’s 2030 mission statement – Shape the World – looks to position the school as a global thought leader in the social sciences. Their marketing team perfectly captured this angle with a content-led campaign that won them the Guardian 2018 University Award. LSEIQ took questions from concerned students and turned them into 30-minute podcast topics with leading thinkers across London. Titles such as ‘Should we fear the rise of the far-right?’ and ‘How do we stop knife crime?’ address key concerns amongst their target audience whilst positioning staff as subject-matter experts.  

What’s great about LSEIQ is that it shed the marketing hyperbole common to most campaigns, focussing instead on demonstrating genuine thought leadership through content. This is a breath of fresh air and a brilliant example of brand-in-action marketing. Take notes!

Blending history with legacy at The University of London

Every University plays its own part in history. Look back through your school’s heritage and you’re sure to find some interesting stories to tell. When you can link those stories to the contemporary zeitgeist, however, you have the foundations of an exceptionally powerful marketing campaign. 

The University of London managed to do just that with their 2018 ‘Leading Women’ campaign. It marked the 150th anniversary since nine students at UoL became the first women to pass higher education exams in the UK. The campaign title – both descriptive and performative – perfectly captures the dual nature of the team’s strategy. Not only does it tell a story of the school’s past, but demonstrates positive values that connect with students’ concerns for the future. 

Equality, equity and women’s rights continue to dominate headlines in both the public and commercial sectors. The Leading Women campaign places the UoL brand values squarely on one side of this issue without it having to pass comment on any one particular story. Plus, by basing the campaign in historical context, the University demonstrates that its values are rooted in real-world action and consequences.

We hope you can take some inspiration from these three excellent campaigns. We also hope that you’ve spotted the running theme. When it comes to branding, us marketers have to go beyond talking about values and mission statements to find ways to enact them. That’s how you capture the spirit of your school and stimulate students’ imaginations to take on the challenges of tomorrow.