By Dom Mellin – Senior Media Planner at Hunterlodge
Black Friday might seem like it’s a big win for retailers in the consumer calendar – a time when a huge surge in sales can make or break a Christmas trading period.
Studies over the years have shown the negative impact that this US import has on Christmas expenditure. Consumers, who would traditionally be happy spending full price on products, slash margins for retailers by buying in discounted bulk in November rather than through December until the end of the year.
Retailers simply shift their sales to an earlier point in the year, and decimate their profits in the process, rather than taking advantage in the increased generosity of shoppers around the holidays.
For a retailer, it would be madness to pin sales targets on Black Friday as a holiday, but it’s becoming more and more a part of the consumer landscape.
At Hunterlodge, we are more interested in education journeys than FMCG journeys – but they have their similarities.
The student prospect journey has several key dates throughout their final year before study, beginning with the UCAS deadline on January 15th and moving through Late Applications, Extra and, finally, Clearing.
Clearing represents the mad dash for ‘deals’ on universities before the September start dates. Universities have begun to neglect a presence throughout the full prospect cycle in favour of going ‘loud’ in and around the Clearing period, hoping to attract as many students as possible whilst they are in their most engaged and emotional state.
As a retailer, you wouldn’t pin all your hopes on Black Friday – so why would you do the same as a university?
With uncapped places on courses beginning to wake up the sleeping giants of the higher education sector, Clearing has become a wall of noise for institutions to reach prospects, who may see upwards of fifty university placements on Results Day alone. With Russell Group universities moving into the space in search of higher registration volumes, only the heaviest purses make an impact.
This Black Friday mentality is confusing the simplicity of long- and short-term planning against audience cycles. Universities who balance long-term brand building, supported by tactical bursts of engaging calls to action centred around open days, taster events and application deadlines are far more likely to make the emotional connections with prospects that will boost their reputation, as well as their application figures, more consistently over an extended time period.
Shouting about Clearing might appear to be what ‘everyone is doing’, but we’re still a long way from seeing the long-term success of such a strategy. With a disengaged, irrational cohort of prospects, declining in size year-on-year, universities must work to be smarter with how they land their proposition and invite consideration.
At Hunterlodge, we believe a media strategy is a journey – not a week in August.