The Prospectus in the Digital Age

Hartpury prospectus circa 1990The Prospectus is a Major FHE Marketing Expense.

Major costs are incurred in aggregating the course and other information required.  More costs are incurred in designing the hard copy publication. Printing is a huge cost.  And distribution, especially via the post, can add another huge bill to the total cost.

Discovering Futures

I recently spoke at the Discovering Futures conference, in London, on the future of the prospectus.  I was  joined by  experts form the world of publishing and the digital world.

There was a dichotomy of opinion about the future of the prospectus.  Much of this depended on the industry the speaker was employed in.

Naturally the printers believed there is a future in print.  They produced much evidence to this effect. Included was the amount of eWaste being generated each year.  I must say I wasn’t convinced that printing a prospectus will reduce the number of computers being sent to waste but they seemed to think this a valid argument.

They also argued that print is sustainable whilst digital is not.  I’m again unconvinced by their argument.  Likewise they argued that the prospectus engaged more of the reader’s basic senses.   They argued you could smell a prospectus and that young people commented on this.  The tactile argument was also well rehearsed and I have to admit the feel of a good prospectus has some merit.

The designers were going down the road of reducing the cost of design by reusing the previous years design.  This makes perfect sensed to me. Each years new student cohort is by definition new.  So they will not have seen last years version.  And if they have there is a continuity argument.  Influencers, such as careers staff, will also recognise the publication and this has a positive attached to it.

The social media fans were strongly in favour of digital marketing as might be expected. They demonstrated how social media could drive traffic to providers but didn’t really show how increased social traffic such as followers actually put bums on seats.

One HE digital manager admitted top the fact their university website had yet to become mobile.  It seems the move is full of problem beyond the technical and, from my experience in the HE sector where silos are the norm, I can well believe this.

Providing Unbiased Marketing & Prospectus Advice

I have no bias towards the hard copy or digital argument except for this; we should go for whichever works best for our institution.

Budgets are limited and promise to get tighter. So the ROI of each and any solution needs to be examined with care.

In my session I showed Google Analytic data from a provider that employed full time social media manager.  The stats indicated that social media was driving just 0.56% of their webtraffic and even fewer applications.  Of course this is not the whole story.  In this case social could have been driving people direct to open days where they made an application.  But other indicators make me think this is extremely unlikely, not least because so few posts were made about such events.

Another augment for social is that it supports the whole buying process and I cannot argue against that notion.  However as a third of the marketing team were tied up in social media I would expect more convincing data.

Based on the evidence of what I see working in the real world I argued for a mini prospectus.  A small publication of 8-16 pages that provide the tactile and smell! But point people to the website and events.

I firmly believe that major investment is needed in websites.  These are, or need to be, multi-media sites capable of video, sound, and other forms of instant communication and stimulation. I believe good video, with stimulating images and vivid sound beats the smell of the prospectus every time!

Coupled with very low costs to update information and add “more pages”  at any time to your online prospectus or information I think this is unbeatable in 99% of cases.

The mini prospectus can point here for up to date course information .. you can remove the “subject to validation” and similar inhibitors a the click of a mouse.

Can a Prospectus Be Targeted as Tight as a Facebook Ad?

As I pointed out online targeting is precise. I demonstrated Facebook ad situation where we target men in Uzbekistan, age 21-29  with an interest in the Spanish language, that also spoke Russian.  Facebook fond 3000 such people it could target with low cost ads.  I cannot see how we could get the same level of precision and send a hard copy prospectus to this group without spending huge sums of money.

So, in conclusion, my view is that a blend of online and mini prospectus is the answer right now.  But I suspect it will change in favour of digital in the near future.




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