The University of Southampton is a founding member of the Russell Group, a leading UK research-intensive university and one of the top business incubator universities in the world. The University has a great reputation and can cite many statistics that reflect this status. But the university marketing team realised that statistics and figures alone are not enough to move applicants’ hearts. Prospective students make their university decisions based on many factors and often, uppermost in peoples’ consideration when choosing a university, are the emotional factors. What really resonates for applicants? How does one leading university truly differentiate itself from another?
The objective of this project was to identify the emotional factors that make prospective undergraduates choose one university over another once the rational ‘boxes’ - like reputation, course and employability - are ticked. The University of Southampton needed to know in order to inform a new, more engaging, undergraduate marketing student recruitment campaign due to launch in 2017.
The University of Southampton’s marketing team viewed this project as being part research-driven, part creative-driven. So, they chose to tackle the challenge by working with two specialist agencies: YouthSight for the market insight and a creative brand agency for the campaign strategy and execution.
For the research, we recommended a multi-stage approach, starting with an online community of target (high-achieving) prospective undergraduates from the UK, EU and other international markets. Over the course of the project, participants completed a variety of tasks, ranging from personification exercises to video uploads. These revealed key emotional drivers in the decision-making of the University’s target audience. Many of these came as a surprise to our client and challenged the University’s preconceptions of the needs of high-achieving undergraduates.
The University then took the research findings to the branding agency to use as foundation stones for their new marketing campaign.
The next stage of the research tested different approaches for the new campaign. We conducted creative workshops with prospective undergraduates to evaluate each concept and determine the benefits, drawbacks and the overall potential of each territory.
We then undertook a final stage of research that segmented the undergraduate market in order to ensure that prospective undergraduates would be targeted with the most relevant messages and types of communications at the right time.
Our research directly led to the development of a new undergraduate marketing campaign launched in 2017.
There were two very positive outcomes:
1) The University developed a campaign that had real emotional resonance, reflected in an increase in the numbers of quality applications.
2) There has been an increase in internal stakeholders’ appreciation of the value and benefit of strategic marketing to meet business needs. The project helped increase buy-in to the work done by the University’s innovative and dynamic marketing team.