It's all about the experience…
Although we’re just finishing welcoming new students, and welcoming back our existing ones, the recruitment cycle for next year is already in progress. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming open day, although my role there is a small one – I give part of the welcome address to prospective students and their parents. These are important events; the numbers attending open days are going up, and we know that the open day experience makes a real difference to student choices.
Although students (and their families) are concerned about the outcomes of university education (and there are lots of ways in which we can measure these), they also know that the experience matters and indeed the quality of the experience will make a difference to the quality of the outcomes. And because experience matters, open days matter because they give insight into what it’s like to be a student at Warwick.
Of course, if we want to demonstrate the Warwick experience to prospective students, we have first, to persuade them to come to our open days. And that’s where marketing and recruitment activities come in. For this current recruitment round there has been a major redevelopment of our prospectus and other associated marketing materials with a focus on how best to talk about both student experiences and outcomes. We know that some of the hard metrics such as league tables, and graduate salaries will be part of student decision making and this information is widely available. So in our communications, we’ve focused much more on the experience side, using a story-telling approach.
Given that my own academic background is in marketing, I’m always interested to see how our marketing and communications activity develops. And for some time in marketing (particularly in the service sector) the focus of marketing has shifted from promoting the attributes of a product or service to concentrating instead on experiences. So it makes perfect sense that we should be working in a similar way.
If you look at the prospectus or at the website, you’ll see marketing communications that tell stories – stories about what it’s like to be a student and what our students will take away from their Warwick experience. These stories may be partly founded on our reputation, but they’re also about our people, our thinking and the place in which we’re based. We try to emphasise the positive outcomes that students are looking for - that their study at Warwick will enhance their wellbeing and their future, that it will offer better career opportunities, and that it will open up a wealth of possibilities.
It is an approach that looks to be making a difference; we’ve seen record attendances at our most recent open days, and despite the declining number of 18 year-olds, our UG applications have remained strong. Of course, this encouraging picture is the result of a number of factors. For example, the Student Recruitment, Outreach and Admissions Service (SROAS) has been hugely effective in advancing its student recruitment approach and in managing the open day experience.
Also notable is the increased collaboration between SROAS and our marketing teams. This has meant promotional materials used by our recruitment leads are both practical and persuasive…and storytelling is vital to making our marketing collateral compelling.
No one can know, in advance, what their experience will be like. But the combination of storytelling and open day activities gives prospective students a real insight in to what their University experience at Warwick might mean. That’s why open days are so important and that’s why we’re grateful to everyone who has helped to make them such a success.
Christine Ennew, Provost