Six things to remember when designing your university brochure
By Mike Hoffman
In the era of constant digital connectivity, it’s reasonable for a university marketing department to ask what the point is of a printed brochure. Do students even use them and, if so, how? What value to they add to our brand? Would it make any difference if we only had a website?
We know from our conversion tracking that downloading or requesting brochures from universities are still popular things to do – but do we really understand if students find them helpful, once they have gotten hold of them? Last autumn we decided to find out. We took a stack of brochures to an Open Day held at a university in the south of England to ask those very questions. And the answers were sometimes surprising but always interesting.
First, a caveat. Asking prospective students what they want from a brochure at a single Open Day will certainly tell you about their specific audience, but can’t be said to necessarily have universal application. Students whose needs and ambitions are well met by a particular university are unlikely to look favourably upon a university outside the competitor set. A university’s brand is meant to convey its uniqueness and, ipso facto, it is not meant to appeal to everyone. But there were a number of learnings that I think had broad application.
The brochure, it seems, is still an important part of the decision-making process and, therefore, an important marketing tool for universities, despite the fact that the internet does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of student searches. Its purpose has, of course, changed and it is now used primarily to reinforce branding messages conveyed elsewhere – to give a feeling for an institution and sense of place. For this generation, raised on screens, the content provided by printed pages has had to respond to this shift but, based on these groups’ observations, there is still more to do.
Although most students would start their searches using the internet, brochure could still influence choice through design considerations: is it worth picking up? Is it worth looking beyond the first few pages? Does it make me want to find out more online?
Both students and parents liked having the brochures of those universities they were actively considering close to hand, throughout the 18-month application cycle. There was no fixed point at which they started, or ceased, being useful. At the start of the process they could create an emotional response to an unaware audience, and later on they were an easy reference for information on accommodation, lifestyle etc.
Overall, for this audience, brochures played an important part in creating a sense of ‘belonging’. The look and feel helped students project and imagine themselves in the settings and ask themselves the fundamental question: could I see myself here?
So if you’re weighing up content considerations for upcoming brochures, here are six secrets we have learned.
- Maps are great, showing the local area, the campus, the accommodation, because they help put students in a context and imagine themselves there. So, they are not simple navigation tools, but another way of conveying a brand. In particular, the campus in the context of being a part of the fabric of a place, and how it connected to facilities and entertainments.
- Timelines. Don’t assume that information UCAS provides means students don’t expect to see it in a brochure. Any tool that feels like it is helping people navigate the complex and tricky world of the application cycle was deeply appreciated.
- Accommodation – plans and details but also easy-to-understand breakdown of options, with visuals of students actually living in them. Many students have limited opportunities to see the accommodation in real life, so they needed something more in the brochure.
- Links to employment – detail about industry links and content that enables them to see how a university was going to take them further and give them a leg up in the world of work.
- The local made personal – across all brochures, any individual content of actual students’ work, ideas, tips and experiences were the most interesting and engaging for the audience – from the use of actual student art in Art Courses pages to students’ Instagram photos.
- Materials matter – think about the quality of the product. Weight of paper, finish, stitching. Students are potentially investing thousands of pounds in you. They react poorly to materials that looks like it is cheapening their experience. Make them feel worth it.