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Posted on Feb 23, 2017

So we’re well and truly into 2017. But what’s exciting us at the Future Index? What do we think the very best Higher Education marketing teams should be looking at? Here’s 5 things to get you thinking.


No surprise to see this here. The recent shift of VR into the mainstream (PS4’s Xmas sell out being a prime example) indicates that there’s plenty more to come. As more and more students dodge asteroids, climb down canyons, and chase through rainforests, all from the comfort of their own homes, then marketers have to realise that a simple campus corridor tour isn’t going to really excite them. If you’re using VR then be creative and be immersive. Take potential students into study abroad trips, deep inside research experiments, or into the subjects they’ll learn. The inspiration is out there. Both the New York Times and UNICEF have created headset videos of the reality of life in war zones and refugee camps. Samsung have taken people to the top of buildings to learn how to overcome a fear of heights. Google have taken the 7 Wonders of the World into classrooms. And you don’t have to have headsets to experience learning about cyclone devastation (Deakin University were doing this in a motion-sensored mobile app a few years ago). Our favourite education inspiration though comes from outside of the sector – do check out how Lockheed Martin used a virtual reality bus to run a ‘field trip to Mars’. Where will VR take you?





Spotify, Apple Music, Soundclouds, Podcasts, Radio 1. All part of the cultural fabric of new students. And headphones are everywhere. So whilst many people are browsing their social feeds with the volume down, the vast majority are also willing to plug in and listen when the content is right. Expect to see more video with ‘use headphones for the ultimate experience’ as social media fluctuates between silence and the most immersive experiences. Generally, marketers are missing a trick by becoming too consumed with the visual ideas, and ignoring the power of sound and its ability to paint the most imaginative and personalised bigger picture. We’ve been talking recently to our friends at Kalua about the opportunity for university storytelling using 360 audio and we got pretty excited about it all. Kalua helped bring trailers for BBC’s ‘Planet Earth 2’ to life recently – so they know what they’re doing. There are some samples out there on the web but some can be pretty hard-hitting so we’ll let you google what to try. We found trench warfare, dinosaurs, interrogations and haircuts (yes they can be dangerous!) but we’re still waiting for the immersive storytelling of a student experience or a research initiative. In this instance we’re anticipating the trend rather than hearing it. Whether you call it ambisonics, holophonics, 3D audio, binaural or simply 360 audio, let us know if you want to talk about this stuff…


We all want staff and students to tell their own stories. It’s called authenticity right? But it can be frustrating – first to get the content to start with, and then because it simply might not be very good. So watch out for the hybrid model coming your way. The model where the university video editor partners up with the students and staff to produce the joint version. The trailblazers at Deakin University have been at it since 2014. Their ‘Me in a Minute’ initiative is well worth a look. Final year students are given tips and encouragement to make their own video describing their university experience and learning outcomes and to upload it via Dropbox along with any supporting evidence – pictures, video clips. certificates etc. Deakin’s video editor downloads the pieces and puts it all together in a compelling 60 second format. This is then shared by the university in its gallery and on YouTube (a perfect shopwindow for new students) whilst the stars of the video get the perfect visual CV to share with prospective employers. One to watch…


To most marketers ‘dark social’ means the abyss created by email and mobile / messenger app referrals. The referrals that you simply can’t track. It’s the unknown. The dark side. And it’s a big thing to watch out for. But we think it’s part of a much bigger ‘dark’ trend that will impact on Higher Education marketing – one that will drag social media well and truly ‘below the line’. We’re talking about IM recommendations, closed groups, anonymous avatars and profiles. We spoke to a cohort of international students recently who were almost running their own peer-to-peer advice service via Facebook Messenger. Their university was oblivious to what was being said. The ability to measure, track and understand the social sentiment could get much harder. Of course, some of the big names out there are embracing the social hiding places. Ed Sheeran launched his January single with a 30 second trail of his voice buried within a Snapchat lens. He (well his team) knew that this under-the-radar approach would only amplify the excitement and intrigue. Yes it’s the dark side; but it can be bright too. Definitely not a trend to hide from.


Digital platforms have opened up the wonderful opportunity for self-service help. This is particularly useful when your 16-18 year old audience would prefer to find out pretty much everything online, in their own time, on their own terms. We’ve seen a number of universities investing in their own engaging content, Q&A hubs and tutorial videos. Coventry University and Loughborough University have been particularly active in the UK recently but it’s in Australia that we’re finding the biggest push. The University of Southern Queensland are one of the best we’ve seen for hitting the right notes in their student engagement, particularly in how they offer help, tips, advice and all sorts of video help. They even have their own student-run animation company creating content. They’re not scared to tackle stress head on. And everything they do is creative and often shareable – all hosted in one hub and pushed out as individual pieces of content. They clearly recognise the multiple benefits here, not least in supporting their current students, and applicants, through social media whilst providing a great shop-window for anyone else thinking of applying there.

If you’ve got an outstanding Higher Education Marketing initiative to share with us then please do email if you’re happy for the world to hear about it via blogs, presentations, conferences and our bespoke reports.

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