Have you ever noticed that most institutional-level websites can be boiled down to a core set of common patterns?
Navigation options, placement of photography, calls to action, and even the general flow of content is similar from university site to university site.
I am not saying that this is a bad thing. On the contrary, having common patterns for the most-desired content and actions is a great help to our web visitors. The difficulty comes in finding ways to set our institution’s web properties apart from the pack.
If we think about the tactics people use to make websites stand out, they often boil down to differences of voice, photography style, and maybe throwing in a video or two.
These add a much-needed narrative and sense of personality to (honestly) quite boring must-have content. However, Bravery Media have also been working with digital-first sub-narratives that we believe can help support those more humdrum examples of content development.
See, we believe that if an institution creates a personal connection in a focused context, that connection acts as a lens through which a prospective student, parent, or donor will view and interpret the wider institutional narrative. A bit academic-sounding, yeah? Let’s break that down.
We all know that first impressions carry a lot of weight. When considering a website redesign or a change in copy voice, we consciously consider what our audiences will think when they first interact with our properties. We expend loads of energy in crafting social media plans, knowing that those interactions comprise many of our audience’s earliest impressions. If the next interaction — presumably on our institution’s website — doesn’t measure up, we’ve gained a bit of grace from that first impression.
Imagine, now, that that second interaction provided your visitor with a focused, purposeful narrative experience. The goodwill gains could be enormousif executed correctly and impressively.
Over the past two years Bravery have had the opportunity to work on several of these projects with US-based universities. And the results have been encouraging.
The digital viewbook/prospectus
Most universities have some sort of publication that serves as an introduction to their campus culture, academic programming, and requirements. In the States we call this a Viewbook and it is similar to a prospectus, though tends to be photo-heavy and detail-light; more of a true marketing piece. These publications provide a visual and tactile opportunity to extend our campus community values to a prospect miles and miles away from our physical location.
In the UK, universities often offer a printed prospectus by request, but most, if not all, expect the website to serve as the digital version of that print piece. And while the website may contain all the same technical details, there’s often a visual narrative element missing by necessity. Truth be told, with sprawling content it is difficult – if not impossible – to keep up a consistently engaging visual narrative across a full university website. Concessions must be made, if just for sanity’s sake.
That’s where Bravery comes in. We partner with universities to develop and create immersive digital-first brand experiences.
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles had an initial idea of putting their premiere print marketing piece for prospective students online as a flip-book style PDF. We helped them develop that concept into an immersive, content-first digital viewbook which served as a jumping-off point to their normal web-recruitment practice.
By focusing on several intertwining sub-narratives, LMU were able to communicate a focused lifestyle message to their prospective students. They also didn’t need to ship print materials internationally, and were able to deep-link to academic, campus life, and admission content on the main website. We helped LMU focus their main story to a few defined sets of measurable actions and increase their overall enquiries and applications, while reaching a wider audience.
The digital viewbook or prospectus is just one example of the sorts of focused web projects that can have a big impact. We have worked on interactive outcomes pieces highlighting alumni achievements, rich media fueled “quick fact” pages with loads of deep-linking into the main university website, and on-page interactive micro-narratives meant to visually communicate a student’s process through an academic programme. Each was developed in partnership with our clients to create something uniquely tailored to their audiences and goals
Making it successful
The real fun in complementing an institution’s normal webpage content with these interactive sub-narratives is found in the planning process. While I believe a digital viewbook or prospectus can be effective for any university, its definitive power lies in amplifying those specific cultural traits that make a community distinct. For LMU, a magnificent campus on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean in Southern California is an easy sell. They use their location to their advantage with beautiful photography and videography.
When interacting with an institution’s web properties, there should be an intangible feeling or “vibe” that can make all the difference to whether a visitor stays a visitor, or becomes an actual prospect; whether an alumna stays simply a graduate or becomes a financial supporter; whether great professional talents look elsewhere or become job applicants.
In that way, content strategy is the centre of successful creative sub-narrative projects.
Universities that can strongly identify their aesthetic, sense of place, and cultural position have the opportunity to create spectacularly effective digital experiences. Whether an institution is trying to emphasise a specific course of study, an annual event, or a major fundraising campaign, specifically targeted creative digital narratives can make a big difference in the campaign’s results.
The institution’s unique character opens up unlimited opportunities to craft wholly original experiences that are all their own.
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