Ever seen a load of graduate marketing budget splurged on a seasonal initiative which seemed to be assured dramatic, immediate success, turned out to be a bit of a damp squib in terms of short-term impact, but is followed a year or so later by an otherwise inexplicable improvement in performance? If so, it’s because it’s not that uncommon a phenomenon.
Neither is the reverse situation. There is the famous story of the highly popular professional services employer who decided in one year of stringency to cut all their marketing activity to pretty much zero on the basis their senior partners felt that candidates would apply anyway. Guess what? In the first year they made all the cuts, it seemed they were right – there was no material negative impact; but the next year, after they did the same thing again, their application numbers fell off a cliff.
The point here is that your on-campus employer brand (a) is important to your graduate recruitment performance – both in terms of application numbers and in terms of candidates accepting your offer and rejecting your competitor’s, and (b) can require more than one milkround season to register the impact of the brand work you do (or don’t do…).
Another point is that no one employer is operating in a vacuum – there are competitive considerations. In other words, doing the same this year as last year does not necessarily mean you should get the same results as last year if all your competitors have doubled their efforts.
It means that awareness of your brand amongst your target students is something that needs constant attention. Every good gardener knows that rose bushes require a lot of constant care to make them grow and your on-campus brand awareness is pretty-much the same. The irony is, though, that most employers only really focus their marketing on the very period in the academic year when it is most difficult to get what in marketing terms is called ‘cut-through’ – i.e. the attention of their target audience.
The solution? Step up, spring and summer!
The autumn in Europe is the time when all graduate employers are marketing to students in a way which, one way or another, amounts to asking students to apply now – in other words, a ‘smash’n’grab’ approach, because the rest of the year those same students hear little or nothing from those same employers. While this can still get results, if the typical graduate employer were your friend, they’d be the kind of friend who you’d only hear from when they need something from you. So for two reasons, this is not the ideal approach to nurturing your on-campus brand: first, it often feels too transactional, at too crowded a time of year, to have a profound impact; second, it is confined to a particular time of year – it is not the kind of regular dialogue which really builds a relationship.
You will find that the employers with the best brand awareness and esteem on campus are those who, one way or another, are able to have some form of year-round brand engagement. Term-(/semester)-time during the spring and summer, being so much less crowded in graduate marketing terms so that you message can penetrate more deeply, widely and clearly, are essential periods in which a graduate employer should do good brand-work.