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Outside Inspiration for Higher Education Digital Marketing

Posted on Jun 7, 2016
Outside Inspiration for Higher Education Digital Marketing

Attracting and recruiting students is a competitive business. And the best HE marketers know that to get ahead they need to be looking all around the world for inspiration, not just within the confines of their immediate peer groups. They  know they need to also look beyond education altogether and learn from the big brands, the consumer goods and the whole digital marketing landscape. And there’s lots to embrace. Here’s a taste: 6 examples of inspiring digital marketing that we can all learn from.

One: Red Bull – Can you make it?

When it comes to engaging with a student audience, Red Bull is a brand that sets the pace in terms of content, style and innovation. So, it’s interesting to see how they connect with students with bold colours, full-page video and social media updates. 165 student teams from over 50 countries recently took up their challenge of travelling across Europe in 7 days using 24 cans of Red Bull each as currency. The teams needed to meet at checkpoints, take part in adventures and post images and videos of their journey. There was a big prize on offer and you could keep track of the wining teams on the leaderboard. Every team had its own page and hashtag so you could check their points, see where they were on their journey and follow their progress in real time. There was even a daily TV show, so you could catch up with the latest action. And it was all billed as ‘the adventure of a lifetime’. Professional and amateur images sat seamlessly side by side. And it enabled Red Bull to capture great content and tell the stories of adventurous young people.

There’s plenty for Higher Education marketers to take on board. We’ve seen some examples of universities and business schools already doing so – maximising social media and user-generated content to turn learning challenges into both their own very own adventure and a much more interesting shop-window to prospective students.

Two: Samsung – Virtual learning

Virtual reality is finally beginning to realise its potential and be taken seriously, rather than being seen as a fad. While many are still getting to grips with the possibilities, we like the way Samsung is already using the technology to help people through their #BeFearless campaign. Recently they put 27 people through their virtual paces, providing them with VR training sessions to overcome some of their biggest challenges. Drawn from thousands of people worldwide, these ‘students’ were given Gear VR headsets to take away for 4 weeks to learn how to overcome common fears, such as of heights and public speaking. There’s been some interesting results. There are claims that after 2 weeks, 87.5% of people had recorded average anxiety reduction levels of 23.6%. But what we find most interesting is the idea that modern technology can immerse us so deeply in any kind of learning scenario.

Maybe we’ll remember the #BeFearless ad campaign as a big step in the future of education. Or, maybe it will be just another ad campaign. Regardless, HE marketers should grasp the potential for sample learning and explore ways to immerse prospective students in just what they could go on to learn.

Three: BBC – Casualty first day

But you don’t need a VR headset to test drive the future. Increasingly, new students will want to sample their courses, and perhaps even their future careers. The opportunity is to tie both together. The inspiration could be the BBC’s Casualty – First Day’ teaser, an interactive POV video that immerses you in the action of working in a busy casualty department. Many of the main actors from the TV series are involved, and they ask you questions throughout your experience. When it gets to choosing which patient gets the ICU bed, and the clock starts ticking, then you know the pressure is on. A brilliant way of sampling life in a hospital.

Four: Motorola – Responsive video

Motorola’s brand new campaign to promote their shatter-proof phone screens, summarises just how powerful the fusion of social media and real-time content generation can be. Having collected stories of smashed screens (most of us have down it somehow) via the #Shatteredstories hashtag, Motorola then embarked on a real-time mission of creating personalised, animated responses via videos shared on Twitter. Using emojis (that had escaped from the broken screens) to deliver the responses helped the content really stand out.

We can see universities adopting their own news-room (almost war-room) approaches to create off-the-cuff personal responses at crucial times such as results day. The key will be to re-engineer structures and processes to enable this type of real-time, creative content.

Five: NHS – Augmented Reality billboard

Universities are always talking about he power of the open day. However, many are still searching for inspiration of how to engage such large crowds when they gather on campus. One answer may be to take inspiration from what’s going on in city centres, train stations and airports across the world, and to try out a little augmented reality. Recently the NHS got our attention by creating an interactive billboard in both London and Birmingham – all part of their big push to encourage younger blood donors. The picture says it all. NHS volunteers used smartphones to ‘virtually’ take blood from passers by (just on the screen); and as they did so, the blood bag on the billboard filled up and the patient became visibly better. Some inspiration for universities maybe?

Six: Top Shop – Be more Karlie

The big brands have known for some time that the most influential platforms are often driven by peer-to-peer communications, by user generation, by communities and sometimes by You Tubers themselves. Many have tried to  create their own versions but very few have achieved the reach they aspire to. The fact is that You Tubers can still sprinkle the gold dust. They often have the key to success. And that’s why we’ve seen Karlie Kloss – model, entrepreneur, student, philanthropist, coder, fitness guru and foodie – spearhead the Top Shop brand recently. Her CV fits with the aspirational values Top Shop wants to project, and she’s a You Tube superstar too with almost 350,000 subscribers to bring to the party!

Many of the big brands are still learning just how to harness the influence of their most vocal customers. Higher Education marketers should be studying this too, especially as their younger, target audiences are growing up so comfortably in the world of You Tube superstars.

At the Future Index we collect hundreds of examples like this mixing a chosen selection with inspiration from the very best global HE marketing case studies. Simply put, we look both in and out. We then turn everything into presentations and narratives to inspire HE marketers to apply their own great ideas. And, great news – we’ve an event coming up in Manchester on July 7, so if you’re interested please check out the details at

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