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10 Digital & Social Trends for Higher Education Marketing in 2015

Posted on Nov 20, 2014
10 Digital & Social Trends for Higher Education Marketing in 2015

We’ve been immersed in all of the latest marketing communication trends recently as we pull together content for our brand new Future Index Academy sessions. With so much knowledge at our fingertips, we thought it would be useful to share with you ten of the biggest trends from the wider world that we think could be crucial to Higher Education marketers in 2015.



We’ve been playing with augmented reality for sometime now but finally it’s about to really take off. Whilst Oculus Rift are rumoured to be just months away from releasing their consumer headset, Google Cardboard and Durvois Dive are just some of the new smart-phone driven affordable solutions to be hitting the online stores right now. Despite the ongoing debate about how far Hollywood will immerse itself in the technology, there continues to be a whole new wave of AR content out there. Developer kits will continue the trend. And the demand from marketers continues to grow. The Game of Thrones promotion added the 4D concept and Marriott have taken this up a gear with their VR ‘Travel Teleporter’ booths.

It’s easy to imagine the potential for Higher Education marketers and recruiters. We know of a number of universities in the world that are currently developing their own VR walkthrough tours and so watch out in 2015 for more and more headsets at Open Days and International Fairs as Higher Education embraces the opportunity.



We started 2014 with everyone talking about Big Data. But once we were over the hype we recognised that it wasn’t so much about the size of the data out there but what we did with it. Speed Data became just as important with organisations innovating to engage with consumers faster than ever. And, thankfully, creativity became a fulcrum around some of the very best data-led activity. Tesco’s Clubcard has often been held-up as an example of how data can provide both the insight and process for consumer marketing, and the supermarket continues to innovate – this time digging into our social footprint with their Twitter focused ‘Secret Scan-ta’ app. Meanwhile, Amazon are enabling customers to buy (well at least add to their carts) with a simple tweet as retailers in particular pull social and data into one consumer experience.

In 2015 we expect to see more universities widening their focus from their CRM plug-ins to integrate social media, and especially the powerful data within. It’s over two years since Turkish university Ozu introduced their award winning ‘Game of Your Life’ app that created a mock-up Facebook timeline with generic content. Maybe it’s now going to get real and much more personal.



Content is King. So they say. But, there’s no coronation unless the content grabs the attention of the right audience and makes something happen. Science can be applied to segmentation and geo-targeting to ensure that content gets to the right people, but Art has to take the lead in making it really stand out. Some inspirational design took the driving seat of the latest Honda R-Type campaign. It’s a video experience that allows the viewer to steer the action, using their keyboard ‘R’ button to switch between two very different journeys. Levis have innovated too. Their video led campaign puts the shopping experience on the right of our screens. We can watch, click and buy. And look out for the new video dramas out there – as episodic storytelling turns advertisers into programme-makers, skipping the pre-rolls to put their own video in the heart of the action.

There are lots of other examples around of how great creative ideas are powering new video content. It’s fantastic to see some universities leading the charge too. We’ve seen examples of build-your-own video content before but many were just a little too clunky to handle. The University of Huddersfield appear to have got it right though, with a very polished Facebook ‘See Yourself in Huddersfield’ app that puts high quality video at the heart of a personalised story you can create. We think that the Higher Education marketing world is going to get even more creative in 2015. Exciting!



Some of the most viral digital marketing began life as a brilliant real-life event or activity. Remember Pepsi Max’s augmented reality bus shelter in London? Or, how the TNT Channel staged a dramatic ‘Push the Button’ event in a small Belgian town? We’ve seen a multitude of similarly excellent examples. The trick is to create a fantastic customer experience and to film it. Then let You Tube work its magic.

But maybe universities have been a little slower on the uptake. We think this could change though. After all, universities are awash with interesting and engaging ideas, research, experiments and people that could really make a mark. Campuses themselves are no strangers to great experiential marketing. Red Bull’s ‘Aidrop’ campaign was one of the best student marketing stunts we have seen in recent years. We also loved how Mars put their own Twitter-enabled vending machines onto campuses to help with their graduate recruitment. Or how Lloyds of London mocked up meteor-crashes to attract their own intake of students. But it is a Peruvian university that best captured our attention and should be the inspiration for others to follow – you really need to read the story of how they used one innovative billboard to bring their whole brand experience to life.



Not so much one to watch but a trend to certainly listen out for, sound just keeps bouncing back. Having slipped off the radar for a while, Podcasting is leading the way again. The current ‘Serial’ crime saga craze is proving just how popular audio can be. Marketers have listened whilst we’ve also seen Shazam tagged broadcast, a Mercedes sound-powered website and an insatiable appetite to embrace everything from Soundcloud to Spotify.

Sound is particularly accessible to student audiences, because it can be tapped into on-the-go much easier (and with less bandwith and data issues) than video. Soundcloud, and similar apps, have a significant reach into younger audiences, mainly because they are the perfect place to host the mixes and unsigned bands that they can’t access through more formal routes. These apps are also incredibly social and smartphone friendly. In the big picture, video is still the dream-ticket, but audio-only is definitely a useful accomplice. So it’s been no surprise to see universities, especially in the US, take to Soundcloud in a big way. Right now, the soundwaves are full of samples from lectures, thought leadership and academic insight but we think we will see other types of audio content, especially around the student experience, emerge in 2015.

SIX: 24/7 HELP


When Dutch airline KLM can offer a 24/7 service in 11 languages to 1.5 million people on Twitter, and tell you how many minutes you will have to wait for a tweeted reply, then we know that social media led personal service has really taken off. B&Q offer their customers video tips on hanging wallpaper, and Natwest have posted Vines to show us how to use Internet banking. And CRM has moved swiftly into the anytime personal-shopping space with fashion advisers helping us fill our wardrobe with ideas from and actual samples from rival Trunk Club.

As the world expects a 24/7 service so we see universities follow suit. Stanford’s D.School in the US has been at it for a while. So much is geared towards personalised, easy access, from booking your own campus tour to downloadable ‘Playbooks’ to experience Stanford style teaching for yourself. Those that have heard us speak know that we love Full Sail’s ‘Pathfinder’, a course finder tool generating excellent, personalised web pages in seconds. Watch out for more virtual tours, 24/7 helplines, FAQs, video guides and university students taking part to create a university twist on the personal-shopping experience.



Free-Play could be over. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get your free content into the limited space on a student smartphone newsfeed as Facebook, Twitter and others look to increasingly monetise their assets. As algorithms change, advertisers have to recognise that it’s now pay-time. Money talks and proper investment is needed but, at the same time, there are more opportunities to target more cost effectively. We are seeing the world go ‘native’, with promoted posts, Buzzfeeds and stand-alone content. On You Tube we are seeing the creative use of pre-rolls, geotargeting and self-skipping adverts. And everything is designed to blend much better with the media channel and content. The recent Tinder hosted campaign to raise awareness of sex trafficking is one of the finest examples out there of how native advertising is blurring the boundaries. The interesting challenge is where this all leaves the consumer? As people question the point of becoming ‘fans’ of Facebook pages if they never see the updates, and feel swamped by promoted posts, maybe more people will look at the old-school, ad-free, alternatives appearing such as Ello. Could 2015 trigger a step back?

In 2015 we should see universities allocating more budget to finely targeted social media campaigns but hopefully with a good grasp of their segmentation and analytics supporting activity. We’ll see more dashboards, live reporting and 24/7 focus. This will be particularly important in international markets as a more active US recruitment market increases competition even further. But we’ll also see more native activity – the newsjacking blogs and buzzfeeds, the promoted video stories and, perhaps most interesting of all, we may see universities integrate their twitter activity with personalised, promoted posts.


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If you’re talking to the teens out there then you need to be thinking advocacy. The younger generation has grown up following vloggers and the likes of Alfie Deyes, Zoella and Tanya Burr have become the hottest shop-window for commercial advertisers desperate to reach this aspirational demographic. We’re sure that Disney were over the moon with the millions of views Michelle Phan’s ‘Maleficent Make-Up Tutorial’ generated – great publicity for the new film! But it’s not just celebrity vloggers that are sought after by commercial advertisers, it’s all of us. We have all become digital advocates – happily reviewing hotels and promoting restaurants. But it’s with Teens where peer-to-peer influence has become most accute – just think Minecraft, make-up and Loom Bands.

Universities have been encouraging student-to-student communications for a long time now. We have lots of excellent examples in our lab, ranging from fully managed websites and Facebook pages to instagram campaigns. In the US we have seen examples of the celebrity vlogger, viner and instagrammer taking a role in creating a much wider sphere of influence. We expect to see more or this, particularly with institutions looking at the best ways to support their own students to spread the word with greater impact than ever.



With so many universities still failing to design their digital communications for the array of screens used by their target audience (Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop, Desktop, TV) then we have to include this as a big trend for 2015. Today’s teens aren’t being called the ‘Five Screen Generation’ for nothing. And it’s not just the teens that are screen-hopping. We’re all at it. Expect more and more responsive designs. More big images. More full screen video. More parallaxes. And for those already there? Expect them to get better.



Analysts debate a potential ‘Splinternet’ in which firewalls carve up the existing Internet . Just as China sits behind its own ‘Great Firewall’ we are possibly going to see other countries influenced by politics, commerce, technology and self-interest creating their own protected spaces. In the marketing communications world though, the ‘Splinternet’ is mainly about the huge diversity of channels now available. A few years ago all the talk was about Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Then we started talking about Instagram, Pinterest and so on. Now, the list is endless. And so we have the Spiderman franchise doing everything from You Tube movie trailers to encouraging character sketches through the Draw Something app as they seek to pick off potential film audiences, including their 7-14 year old core.

University marketers will get better at segmentation in 2015. They’ll then get better at sourcing the optimal channels for various objectives and different audiences. We’ll see student offers on Snapchat, news alerts on Whatsapp, alumni reminiscing on Facebook, employability stats on LinkedIn, maps on Google…we could go on and on.

That’s just a sample of what we think some of the big growth areas will be in 2015. It’s also a taste of the myriad of trends, case studies and inspiration that make up our Future Index Academy sessions. We’ve just finalised our latest content to share with HE marketers as they look for their own springboard into 2015 and beyond. If you or your team want to know more about everything from interactive cinema advertising to responsive GIF posters then let us know. Perhaps you want to know just how a university can learn from Netflix’s tie-in with Instagramers, or the lessons behind the intriguing BLAH Airlines campaign. Or how wearable tech is driving skin cream sales and how ibeacons are being used to book London restaurants. We’ll show you all of this, plus the Higher Education activity that’s keeping pace with the trends. And we’re now including ‘How-To’ guides throughout to help you apply the inspiration. Simply visit us at for details or email and we’ll get straight back to you.


  1. Woon Chin Yeong
    30th December 2014

    Reblogged this on Woon Chin's PhD blog and commented:
    The future of Higher Education Marketing. Okay, straight to the point. The trends for Higher Education Marketing in a day’s time. Love the 24/7 HELP concept. Digital rules!

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