The Stages of Student Journey: Meet Them Where They Are – Mobile First

This is the second article is written by Vytautas Rimkus for the DreamApply Expert Insight Series. Read the first article here.

In today’s world, digital marketing is not just about what you say, but how you say it. Each platform is designed to create a different digital experience for its users, and this changes the way that your marketing messages are received. In other words, if you want to leave a lasting impression on your students, you’ve got to match the medium to the message. 

While your prospective students are likely to use a variety of platforms to research your university, you can’t guarantee that they’ll use the ones you choose. So, you’ve got to make sure that your marketing materials function well on all devices. Let’s step into their shoes.

First, imagine you are a student from India interested in studying Computer Science at your institution. Open the homepage of your website on a mobile device and try to find information about entry requirements and fees. Time it and see how long and how many clicks it takes to navigate to the relevant information.
How do your findings compare with the time users spend on your website on average?

Second, imagine you are the same student and you have received a PDF brochure via email. Open it on a mobile device and, again, try to find information on how to apply. Try to actually start an application or at least leave an enquiry. How do you do that on a PDF? If you cannot find some information, whom can you contact?

Better still, repeat the exercises with somebody who has never seen your marketing material. A prospective student perhaps?

My guess is that if you did manage to find the information, it took you a while. Yet the world is increasingly mobile, especially if we consider the largest international student source countries:

Country Number of students abroad Desktop Mobile
China 928,090 34% 63%
India 332,033 23% 77%
Germany 122,195 56% 40%
South Korea 105,399 46% 53%
Vietnam 94,662 41% 58%

Data on top countries (source), Data on device stats (source)

Germany is the only country with desktop more popular than mobile, but even if only 40% of their audience is mobile-first, that’s a lot! However, the key word here is overall, because the data is not adjusted for the age group that higher-education recruitment is mostly concerned with. 80% of Generation Z use mobile as their primary device (source). The majority of Gen Z smartphone users (64%) say they are constantly connected online with 57% admitting that they feel insecure without their mobile phone (source). In fact, Gen Z on average spends 4 hours 10 minutes per day on their phones (source). If we factor in an average of 7.5h of sleep per day for Gen Z (source), a whopping 25% of Gen Z’s waking hours are spent on mobile devices.

“You must meet your audience where they are,” says Marketing 101. And it’s not just students that are mobile. I often hear that print brochures are a necessary evil, because universities do not want to alienate those who prefer physical copies, namely parents. While this certainly may be true in isolated cases, I also believe that there is a lot of industry legacy attached to this argument. This outdated way of looking at things is largely driven by several related reasons:
1. We’ve always done it that way – a standard print/PDF brochure strategy in higher education marketing has been around for decades.

2. We get students, so it must be working – lack of ability to measure ROI of print/PDF publications is something we just accept as an overhead cost.

3. The chicken and egg type nature of the problem – do we print because the audience wants print or does the audience take print, because it’s offered at a booth?

Cause and effect are both very important and very easily confused when we have to unlearn some old habits. 

Let’s say someone is handed a print brochure at a fair. They will most likely just take it, but that doesn’t prove that print marketing works or is at all necessary. It may just be easier to take it than reject it and potentially have to answer some follow up questions. So it’s no wonder that most print marketing materials end up in a landfill sooner rather than later. In fact, alternatives, such as, for instance, a digital publication via a QR code, is a preferred option by user when given a choice. The University of Gloucestershire stopped printing altogether after consulting with their students (source). Although at this point it is still a PDF that is hard to read on mobile, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Digital marketing materials should be the preferred option by any institution looking to understand user behaviour after the hand out, improve prospect communication, drive conversion rates up and increase efficiency overall. 

In addition, from someone who has spent a number of years living in East Asia, you would be hard-pressed to find anybody who is not on mobile. We are also often thinking of parents as less tech-savvy. But many parents of Gen Z children are far from tech-illiterate. Gen X (born in the 60s-70s) and, especially, Gen Y (born 80s & 90s) in many ways have similar digital consumption attitudes. 

Lastly, let’s assume that we agree that not printing marketing materials alienates certain key decision-makers in the study choice journey. But what about alienating 61% of the Gen Z audience whose purchasing decisions are deeply influenced by how sustainable brands are (source)? Would you rather alienate a couple of hardcore print fans or the majority of your direct audience? Why not explicitly explain to your audience why you are not printing instead and use it to your advantage? Why not emphasise your sustainability efforts and digital approach, and strengthen your brand as a forward-looking institution of higher learning?

As of PDFs and websites, I hope that the exercises at the beginning of the article have shown that it is not enough to simply have content that displays on mobile. Mobile-friendly does not equal mobile-optimised. But mobile-specific optimisation and smooth, enjoyable and fun user experience are essential. It is important to not only enable visitors to access content on mobile but to also make them want to browse around, discover more and come back repeatedly.

‘Badly written’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘poorly designed’ content are mentioned by consumers (49%, 44% and 35% respectively) as the main hurdles when browsing on mobile. More importantly, while the same audience members may still struggle through poor content, 71% say that they would not buy from such a brand (source).

On the other hand, almost half of the surveyed people said that their purchasing decisions are influenced by how good their browsing experience was, and every fourth person also would share it with their friends. Students will stay with you for years, so we owe them the best browsing experience, clear information and top-notch content.

More on the importance of content in the next article – “Meet them on their own terms – Customise your content”.


Photo Credit: Tofros

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