10 mins

It’s that time of year again! Don’t panic, we’re not talking about Christmas yet… it’s Clearing 2019!

This year’s been no different from others; in the run-up to A-level results day, UK universities with undergraduate places still available have been busy spreading the word to potential Clearing students. And with Clearing opening early through UCAS for the first time, there was also the new 5th July date for higher education marketers to consider.

We’ve collected some of the creatives featured in this year’s Clearing-related organic posts and paid adverts and picked out 10 marketing trends used by multiple institutions. This is your chance to have a nosy at what other marketers have been up to, discover the wide range of messaging and imagery displayed, and maybe even get some early inspiration for next year!

1. Featuring Testimonials from Clearing Students

There’s no denying that recommendations from others can be highly influential. Think about it, how often do you check reviews before going ahead with something? Be it on TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Amazon… for many, reading the tried and tested opinions of others has become a core part of the decision-making process.

There’s research to prove it; 66% of consumers trust online recommendations, while only 46% trust ads on social networks (Nielsen).

With this in mind, it’s a great idea to create a case study of a student who joined you through Clearing as a tool to help you attract more Clearing students. It’s even better if potential students can contact your case study student to ask them questions, seek inspiration and receive reassurance. You could consider asking your case study student to run a “takeover” on one of your social media accounts with a Q&A feature.

If you’re running paid adverts on social channels, you can also use your case study to help you address the lack of trust in ads. Rather than using a direct call to action like “apply now”, you could feature a snippet from the case study with a call to action to read more.

In fact, that’s exactly what the following institutions did this year…

Featuring: Anglia Ruskin University, Northumbria University, Falmouth University, University of Salford, Kingston University, University of Portsmouth.

2. Using Bright Colours

One way to stop social media scrollers from zooming past your post is with a pop of bright colour. It’s eye-catching, so it’s effective at grabbing attention.

A high number of institutions have featured colour in their communications this year. The effect? Colour brings an element of energy to the Clearing process, while a stand-out call to action leaves no ambiguity about what you want your audience to do next.

While there are pros for using colour, it’s also important not to wander too far from your brand. Make sure to check the palette in your brand guidelines before going ahead with a luminous background!

Featuring: University of Brighton, University for the Creative Arts, University of Plymouth, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Huddersfield, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, Queen Mary University of London, Ravensbourne University London, University of Hertfordshire, Solent University.

3. Avoiding Bright Colours

For every institution that’s used bright colours this year, there’s one that hasn’t. Of course, in keeping with being on brand, it wouldn’t look right to use every colour of the rainbow on your social media channels if your website is entirely monochrome. If you do this, your audience is only going to be confused when they click through to your site.

Consistency plays a big part in whether your brand will be recognised and trusted. It’s important to stay true to who you are and to your values through your visual identity and the colours you use.

Featuring: Queen Mary University of London, Northumbria University, Oxford Brookes University, University of Salford Manchester.

4. Appealing to Emotions

This isn’t a new trend; aspirational messaging features in Clearing comms every year. It’s earned its place as there’s science in support of appealing to emotions through your marketing.

Research shows we rely on our emotions, rather than on information, to make decisions regarding brands. Our emotional feeling towards an ad is what determines how we respond, not the ad content itself.

So, it makes a lot of sense to use emotional appeal to inspire an action (in this case, to join a university). That’s exactly what’s happening with these aspirational and empowering messages aimed at potential Clearing students:

  • “Be unstoppable” (University of Gloucestershire)
  • “Find your way, yourself, your home” (University of Sussex)
  • “Change your future” (Anglia Ruskin University)
  • “This is your time to shine” (University of Southampton)
  • “Be bold and brave” (University of Essex)
  • “Here’s for the ones who can’t stand still” (Aston University)
  • “Rise above” (Coventry University)

Featuring: University of Sussex, University of Gloucestershire, Anglia Ruskin University, University of Essex, Aston University, Coventry University, University of Southampton.

5. Addressing Negativity

Clearing isn’t only for students who didn’t receive their predicted results. There are other reasons students go through Clearing, including those who are:

  • Direct applicants – didn’t apply earlier in the year and are submitting their application for the first time through Clearing
  • Adjustment students – achieved better grades than expected and want to explore other institutions now available to them
  • Mind changers – have changed their mind about the institutions they originally applied to

Regardless of a student’s reason for using Clearing, it can be an overwhelming process with so many institutions to choose from and the UCAS procedure to get to grips with.

Addressing negativity can be a powerful strategy, but only when doing so to alleviate the concerns of potential students and provide reassurance. The last thing you want to do is panic your audience or make them feel even worse!

It’s this less positive, more realistic side of Clearing that the University of Salford and the University of Leeds have focused on in their messaging this year.

6. Using Content Marketing

Content marketing delivers results. In fact, it reportedly generates 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing.

So, why shouldn’t content marketing have a place in Clearing?

Positioning yourself as a genuine and trustworthy source that provides helpful and relevant information about Clearing builds relationships with potential students. It also shows that you’re putting the student first (as you should do!). Delivering direct communications all about your institution and your USPs doesn’t promote this same message.

Finally, we know the marketplace for potential Clearing students is highly competitive, with multiple institutions battling to fill their places. Not all higher education marketers are taking a content-led approach, particularly when it comes to paid ads. So, using content marketing in Clearing can be refreshing as well as interesting.

Featuring: University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield, Anglia Ruskin University, Birmingham City University, St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

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7. Targeting Parents, Guardians and Loved Ones

Just like with any big life decision, parents, guardians, family and friends all play an important part in a student’s choice of university.

Institutions like Birmingham City University, the University of Brighton, the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Portsmouth know this and have run paid advertising campaigns aimed at parents and guardians.

It’s a smart strategy; obviously, the student should come first, but also targeting parents, guardians and loved ones covers all bases. After all, a parent could suggest an institution for a good reason and one that their child perhaps hasn’t considered themselves.

Featuring: University of Gloucestershire, University of Brighton, University of Portsmouth, Birmingham City University.

8. Using Slogans and Hashtags

Taglines and slogans are undeniably memorable. You can tell a good one because they’re catchy, while the best ones even become integrated into our everyday vocabulary – like these examples:

  • “Every little helps” (Tesco)
  • “Because you’re worth it” (L’Oréal)
  • “Just do it” (Nike)

It’s no different during Clearing, with some institutions using the same tried and tested slogans each year, while others change it up with a fresh concept. Here’s some we’ve spotted for 2019:

  • “Choose Plan ARU” (Anglia Ruskin University)
  • “Belong at Kent” (University of Kent)
  • “Clearly Good for Me” (Kingston University)
  • “Get Clear on Clearing” (Northumbria University)
  • “London Calling” (University of Westminster)
  • “Clearing Sorted” (Coventry University)
  • “Conquer Clearing” (St George’s University of London)
  • “Proud to Be More” (De Montfort University)

Turning your slogan into a hashtag can help you gain traction on social media, but why not take this one step further? Asking students with confirmed places to share content using the hashtag is a brilliant way to spark the creation of user-generated content, which you can then reshare on your own social media channels. If your students need a little bit of persuasion to use your hashtag, consider running a competition where the content they share is their entry.

Featuring: Kingston University, University of Kent, St George’s University of London, Coventry University, University of Westminster, Northumbria University, University of Salford, De Montfort University Leicester, Anglia Ruskin University.

9. Communicating that Clearing 2019 is Open

Although UCAS Clearing opened early this year for the very first time, this isn’t necessarily something that every potential Clearing student is aware of.

Understandably, institutions wanted to spread the word so that students who were ready to apply before the 15th August knew they didn’t have to wait. Cue the phrase “Clearing is open”, which we found on multiple universities’ websites, as well as on their organic and paid social channels.

Featuring: University of Kent, University of Westminster, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Solent University.

10. Promoting Clearing at a Subject Level

Promoting individual subjects throughout Clearing happens every year and it makes a lot of sense. Naturally, it’s important for institutions to fill places for subjects that are struggling to meet their targets. A strategic approach is to use targeted advertising to promote the course to a relevant audience.

For example, if you’ve got places available for maths, you could consider running a paid campaign targeting those aged 17-19, who haven’t been to university already, who are interested in higher education and are also interested in maths.

Featuring: Kingston University, University of Huddersfield, Queen Mary University of London, University of Portsmouth.

Clearing 2019: It’s a Highly Competitive Place!

In the process of discovering these marketing trends, what has been reinforced is just how many universities are competing for potential Clearing students.

Although UCAS applications are up marginally compared to last year (+0.4%), many institutions still have places to fill and are vying competitively for the spotlight. Since students have so many options to choose from, the more creative and innovative you can be, the better it is for standing out from the crowd.

At the same time, it’s vital that you stay true to your brand and your values, while also putting the needs and concerns of students at the centre of your communications. After all, they’re the one with the huge life decision to make.

Have you noticed any Clearing-related marketing trends this year? Or perhaps there’s a powerful ad we’ve missed that’s caught your eye? Let us know in the comments; we’d love to hear from you.

If you need help with creative concept and production, get in touch to speak with one of our experts.

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