When it comes to stepping into college life, researching and finding the right university and the right place to live is like trying to find a life partner. It needs to be the right fit, as it is central to shaping a young adult’s future. And just like with finding a life partner, we increasingly let technology show us what is out there, and help us make the match.
As internet has become a global means of communication in our everyday lives, we explore the growth of online platforms for students and the importance of digital marketing efforts to reach Millennials and Generation Z.
In 2013, over 90% of students in the UK have looked at individual university websites as their first source of information, indicating the rise of online platforms where students find and book their study programmes.
One of the major platforms is Studyportals, which has helped over 36 million students around the world to explore study programmes and make an informed choice in 2018. The site matches prospective students to universities and courses, with separate portals for finding bachelor’s, master’s and PHD programmes, offering a search engine and a centralised application point for all these individual courses.
In 2017 alone, 7 portals of Studyportals have helped 28 million students from 203 countries and territories browse, search and compare their study options globally.
The growth of this online platform can be explained by looking at the target group of the Millennials and Generation Z who have grown up in a technologically filled, increasingly online and socially connected world. These two generations spend a large portion of their daily lives online and expect to be able to gather the information they need effortlessly and quickly.
Understanding this target group is the key to reaching them. Today’s students do research and buy products and services across devices. Often research is done via mobile and picked up later via desktop. Social media and peer reviews are an important component in making decisions. Companies that focus on younger generations need to understand the importance of their online presence and its impact on the decisions of the target group.
Next to platforms offering overviews of study programmes, booking engines focusing on student housing have increasingly been gaining in popularity. These are closely following the hotel industry and platforms such as Booking.com or TravelBird, by providing different housing brands, prices and offers on one site.
The offer of student housing is increasingly being consolidated on these booking platforms, making it easier for students to access the information they need, and creating a platform for landlords to market their product to the international student population.
Student housing was one of the best performing sectors during the global economic downturn and with the increase of international student numbers and the need for purpose-built student accommodation, is prospected to keep growing.
One platform, providing students worldwide online access to accommodation is Uniplaces, which has raised a total of $29M in funding over 5 rounds. A similar marketplace, Student.com has raised a total of $70M in funding over 3 rounds. Now listing accommodation for over 1,000 universities in more than 400 cities worldwide, Student.com provides over 1.25 million student beds – having added 250,000 student beds to its marketplace in 2018 alone.
With this growth and the increasing competition, it is vital for student housing brands to differentiate themselves and to be easily found online. The importance of a user-friendly online presence, high rankings on search engines as well as an engaging social media presence has been understood by many brands.
Marketing efforts such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) and affiliate are tactics that can effectively drive conversion, decreasing the customer acquisition costs compared to traditional advertising.
The same goes for social media where a professional and especially engaging appearance is necessary to generate reach and conversion. User-generated content and a focus on influencers, mixed with short and clear messages is key for social media managers. It is equally important to analyze the social media activities to learn and improve marketing efforts continuously.
Data is at the heart of all we do in our business – Student.com
Marketing efforts at Student.com include partnering with universities’ student bodies, which is key in countries such as China. There, the company works together with 600 agents who are mostly working at universities and are brand ambassadors. While word of mouth is the essence of offline marketing, “Data is at the heart of all we do in our business to source and convert students,” states Student.com.
Miguel Santo Amaro, co-founder and COO of Uniplaces says that even though it is “vital to have an offline presence, such as participating in student fairs, the reach of digital is much higher”.
Looking at the increasing numbers, the importance of being online is even more crucial when talking to international students. “You cannot be a student brand and not have a good online presence”, says Amaro.
The need for analytical and data-driven marketing is now also becoming key for universities who need to spend their recruiting budgets effectively, states Carmen Neghina, Senior Marketing Analytics Consultant at Studyportals. Studyportals has therefore been starting to offer insights and digital marketing workshops to the marketing staff of universities.
The era of the thick paper-based university catalogues is over and we can only guess how far the online revolution in the student sector will go. Uniplaces has seen a growth of website traffic of 28% in the past month, giving clear indications that there will not be an end to the growth anytime soon.
Yet to fully address and serve the student journey, the industry as a whole still needs to develop. Brands and universities alike who want to be part of this growing industry need to understand how to reach the target audience with their interests, needs and behaviour in order to create effective marketing efforts that stand out in the increasingly competitive arena of online marketing.
This is an updated version of the article that we have written for ‘The Class of 2020 Annual Trend Report 2017′ published in 2016.