Print vs Digital: the future of the prospectus

“It’s not just about digital-first, it’s time for digital only.”

“If you’re prioritising a printed prospectus over a digital counterpart then you’re doing it wrong.”

“Are you ready to ditch the paper prospectus?”

If you’re working in the student marketing space then you’ll no doubt have been in countless discussions about how the print prospectus is a thing of the past, and how it’s time to move towards a digital-first, or even digital-only prospectus. Young people are spending a lot of time online (8+ hours a day according to Global Web Index) so it’s clear that a strong digital presence is needed to win the attention and trust of your prospective students.

The current generation of candidates, Gen Z, are the first group to have grown up using tablets as toddlers and social media from a young age. Their online and offline worlds are completely blended. In communications we talk a lot about meeting your audience where they’re at, and while young people do spend a lot of time online, it’s short-sighted to think that’s the only form of communication they’re looking for. At Something Big we believe that it’s not about print vs digital, that’s an old and out of date argument, but rather there is space, and a need, for both. So, if you’re looking to weigh up the options, then read on.

The digital-first prospectus

Pros

A digital prospectus is sustainable, measurable and shareable. It could be as simple as an interactive PDF, a dedicated subdomain, a personalised create your own download, or even a dedicated prospectus app.

A digital prospectus can be easily searchable and filterable, enabling your prospects to quickly find the information they’re looking for. Allowing your future students to tailor their prospectus to suit their requirements will provide you with data that can be leveraged to create a personalised experience, while helping you to understand what is important to them.

Cons

A digital prospectus has to compete in a world full of distractions, Instagram notifications and TikToks. Digital communications can famously be seen as throwaway, forgettable and lacking in impact. By putting all your eggs in a digital-only basket, you could be restricting your ability to win over your audience.

The Instagram prospectus

In a bid to meet prospective students where they’re already interacting, we’ve seen universities make the decision to have their prospectus available via social media. As an example, Arts University Bournemouth launched a ‘disruptive’ prospectus, designed and hosted entirely on Instagram.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Arts University Bournemouth (@aub_prospectus)

Pros

The dedicated prospectus profile is dynamic and thoughtfully laid out, showcasing the creativity of the university:

  • Each post offers further information in the captions, with some posts utilising the carousel feature to include other images while keeping the overall look of the Instagram page cohesive
  • Faculty Instagram profiles have been tagged on images, connecting prospective students to their areas of interest while staying within the Instagram platform
  • The Story Archive and Guides features allows for key information, such as how to apply and accommodation, to be easily found
  • A trackable Linktr.ee link in the bio directs prospects back to the website for further information
  • The prospectus offers an impressive user experience and pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with a digital prospectus.
Cons

While social media prospectuses can have a great creative impact and disrupt expectations, we see some red flags with aligning your brand so closely to a social media network. Trust is declining, with 24% of younger people trusting social media less than they did before the pandemic. We’re beginning to see the backlash against social media from a generation who likely don’t remember life before it, with 37% of Gen Z feeling that they spend too much time on social channels.

While we’re certainly not advising you to have zero social presence for your student recruitment campaign, we are questioning whether pinning such a vital part of your comms to an increasingly untrusted channel will hold enough value for your brand.

The video-first prospectus

Pros

Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it on video, compared to just 10% when reading.

In such a competitive industry, where the differentiators between university brands can be small, centring your prospectus on videos of your campus, facilities, local environment, and student stories can bring to life the culture of your establishment in a unique way. Authenticity should be a key consideration in any education marketing strategy and putting the voice of your university into the hands of existing students can be a great way to build trust. Videos can be included as part of a digitally hosted prospectus, with the footage then easily re-usable as edited snackable content on social media.

Cons

With so much information that changes from year-to-year it’s likely that a video-only prospectus would not be a suitable or affordable option, however letting video lead your recruitment campaign can complement your prospectus in ways that other media can’t achieve.

Don’t discount the printed prospectus

Pros                                                                                                                                       

We’re big advocates for a balance of print and digital comms. We know that print still has its purpose, and that’s never been truer than for a printed prospectus. 92% of young people find it easier to read printed content rather than digital. Gen Z prefer reading printed books, and favour printed learning materials to help them focus. They value print media, and they trust print publications more than digital publications. Gen Z appears to be interested in nostalgia, yearning for a pre-digital time that they never experienced.

Print communications can cut through the digital noise with a tactile, physical experience. Print can offer a premium experience, perhaps by utilising a high-end print prospectus with a ‘coffee table’ aesthetic, including inspirational photography showcasing your universities USPs. This high-end print piece could be accompanied by suite of digital course catalogue materials, reducing the print production costs and giving you the best of both worlds.

With cost of living rising, it’s increasingly likely that students will need financial support from family members, and a high-quality prospectus can be shared to inspire older generations too.

“Nothing beats the brand in your hand. It’s the closest we can ever get to our customers.” Nicky Bullard, Chairwoman and Chief Creative Office at MRM and Mccann

Utilising a balance of print, digital and video prospectus options allows your audience to receive communications however is most suited to them. In fact, we found that with one famously digitally led university it was very challenging to order a braille prospectus, or to even to find an audio version. Accessibility is not optional feature.

Cons

It’s important not to overlook the environmental cost of print communications. When forests are destroyed carbon is released, accelerating climate change, so sustainable print should be a priority. Gen Z are a famously environmentally aware generation, meaning once you have made careful considerations on how to ensure your print is carbon neutral (or even negative) and any packaging is as sustainable as possible, be sure to include communicate that information. Let’s not forget that digital prospectuses will have their own carbon footprint too, an average website produces 1.76g of CO2 for every page view.

If you’re looking for help with your omni-channel education marketing communications, or your next creatively ground-breaking prospectus, then get in touch to see how we could help.

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