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An engaged audience is earned, not gifted

Students’ Union marketing teams find themselves in a unique position; their customer lifecycle looks a little different to that of a traditional marketing team. But what does this look like in practice – and how can you leverage it? 

Jim Sterne and Matt Cutler have identified five stages to a traditional B2C customer lifecycle: reach, acquisition, conversion, retention and loyalty. For SU marketing teams, the first two stages may look a little different. Their first step is to acquire customer (student) data, thanks to data-sharing agreements with their institutions.

“Great” you might think! “The marketing team doesn’t have to work so hard to improve their reach and grow awareness of their brand, products or services as they already hold their total addressable market in their CRM, right?” Wrong. 

Just because the SU marketing team has a database of opted-in students, there’s still plenty of work to do to build engagement with their student audience as they move through their university journey. 


The importance of the reach stage

The reach stage is when your relationship with your customer begins. In the context of SUs, this is when students develop an awareness and understanding of their SU. As we know, SUs have a broad remit, from supporting student welfare, to centralising clubs and societies, representing their members’ views and running a calendar of events. If this stage is not given enough attention, students will have a fragmented – or even worse, non-existent – understanding of their SU. 

In fact, our Campus Culture Report found that 19.8% of students don’t understand why their SU exists, and 25.8% believe their sole purpose is to run social events. This then makes it extremely difficult to build engagement and get students to take action further down the customer lifecycle – as these stages are dependent on an existing association between the SU and students’ needs.

With the average person seeing 10,000 ads per day, getting cut-through can be a challenge. But SU Marketing teams have some powerful tactics in their arsenal; consider how to utilise word-of-mouth via officer networks and in-person activations. 


Omitting acquisition from the lifecycle

The acquisition stage is where companies will often utilise a value exchange to grow their customer database. For SU marketers, this is less important as they’re gifted their database from their institution -albeit cold at the time of sharing. However, it’s still important to continue the education piece, allowing students to discover and delve deeper into other areas of their SU. 

Freshers and Re-freshers fairs are a great opportunity to showcase all the SU has on offer first-hand. You can also tap into the digital world by  funnelling ad spend into the social networks where students spend a lot of their time, like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.


Crunch-time conversions

This is when customers decide whether or not to follow through with a purchase. As mentioned, SUs’ sole purpose isn’t to sell events to students. So consider this stage in a broader context; getting students to take action; whether that’s signing up to a society, applying for an officer position or liaising with the welfare service.

Removing friction from the path to purchase or ‘conversion’ can work wonders. Consider live chat and content marketing here to ensure students have all the information they need – be it in video, social or infographic form. 


Retain and grow

Once you’ve had that first conversion, it’s time to grow with that individual student. Their priorities change over their time at university. Speak to their most prominent needs with a little help from segmentation and use the data you have on students to personalise communications and make them more relevant to the individual.


Advocacy over loyalty

Students can’t cheat on their SU; a membership is a given for as long as they’re enrolled at university.  But they can unsubscribe, and it’s much harder (and more expensive) to win them back around. Continuing to provide high-quality support and nurture your relationship with students at this stage will pay dividends; not only will advocates continue to engage with their SU, they’ll also spread the news about your organisation, which will create a network effect and drive engagement.

By carefully considering each stage of the student customer lifecycle, and the tactics and channels most appropriate to each stage, marketing teams at Students’ Unions can effectively build engagement with their audience – and improve the student experience in the process. It’s a win-win! For more insights and guidance, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, native newsbites.