Benchmark survey reveals the landscape of higher education marketing

A new report highlights the gap between what marketing teams think prospective students want and their actual needs

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Net Natives
9 Oct 2023
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Higher education marketing survey responses
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The Higher Education Marketing Survey, produced by Times Higher Education in partnership with Net Natives, details marketing departments’ priorities, challenges, budgets and skills. The survey collates more than 850 responses from higher education marketers around the world to create a comprehensive picture of the marketing landscape in 2023.

This year, the survey reveals that application numbers are the key dataset used by UK marketers, that teams are facing rising budget pressure, and that there’s a mismatch between what students want and what marketers believe they want. Other key findings include an increase in spending on international marketing and a greater focus on championing diversity.

Employment rates rank highest in terms of what marketers think matters most to prospective students, with 78 per cent of marketers citing this as the top concern for students. But the survey reveals that students most value clear course information, with almost 80 per cent stating this is their priority, compared with 55 per cent who value employability the most.

The Higher Education Marketing Survey is an annual report, so provides up-to-date information to the sector. Net Natives, the agency behind this survey, aim to enable and empower university marketers with sector-specific benchmarks, data and insights to help them develop in their roles.

Unlike many other sectors, universities don’t tend to share information about their marketing approach and outcomes, often using historical data to look at trends and make predictions instead.  James Brown, head of client services at Net Natives, explains that this is one of the reasons the report is so valuable: “This survey serves as a vital benchmarking tool, enabling marketers to gauge their performance and pressures against the rest of the sector. This report can be used to improve understanding of competitors in the sector, inform marketing strategies and support the business cases that universities need to support new initiatives and continue innovating.”  

The report shows that, in the UK, 75 per cent of marketing budgets have stayed the same or increased since 2022, with very few departments shrinking. “Around 15 per cent say their department had decreased in size, while the vast majority had increased or stayed the same,” Brown says. “Although more can be done, it’s encouraging to see that, despite the uncertain economic climate, universities are recognising the value of their marketing departments and largely protecting them from budget cuts.”  

The survey found that retaining staff is the top priority for marketing departments. Brown suggests that managers encourage their staff to upskill in order to increase the capabilities of in-house teams and avoid the cost and difficulty of finding specialist staff. “This survey is the perfect piece of research to help you show leadership to build business cases for in-housing skills and developing teams,” Brown adds.

The insight and recommendations provided by the survey perfectly suit universities taking a more agile approach to decision-making, ultimately helping teams access data that will support vital decisions to pivot or adapt their strategy.

Read the latest research and resources from Net Natives.

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