How has applicant sentiment changed during Covid-19?

Prospective students are concerned about visa requirements and missing out on the true university experience

Key points:

  • On 1 June, 20% of the UK’s year 12s said they were worried about missing out on the real university experience (versus 15% early May), while 7% is concerned about not having enough contact hours (vs 4% early May) and 6% is worried about not having access to academic staff (vs 3% early May)
  • 16% of prospective international students compared to 11% of current students consider information about scholarships and funding as the most helpful to them when in the awareness and comparison phase of their student journey
  • Universities could aim to take away some of these concerns within their messaging by providing more information on topics such as visas, scholarships and funding, and on the number of contact hours and access to academic staff

Higher education applicants are concerned about missing out on the true university experience and not having enough contact hours, as Covid-19 continues to affect many aspects of life. Meanwhile, international students are increasingly worried about visa requirements.

These are the main conclusions of two separate studies looking into the concerns and decision-making processes of prospective students.

Fundamental Media has conducted desk research into how the Coronavirus has affected applicant sentiment and consulted several sources such as research foundation YouthSight and a survey by educations.com.

YouthSight found that 77% of the UK’s year 12s has been personally affected by the coronavirus, with 69% indicating personal or family financial and/or job problems due to Covid-19.

On 1 June, 20% of respondents said they were worried about missing out on the real university experience (versus 15% early May), while 7% is concerned about not having enough contact hours (vs 4% early May) and 6% is worried about not having access to academic staff (vs 3% early May).

The uncertainty around their university experience is affecting their commitment, with 21% already having changed some of their university decisions. Eight percent said they had decided to defer a year, although YouthSight said this is not yet reflected in the data where un-deferring is a trend. Of those applicants considering a deferral, 26% said they wanted a true university experience, while 38% said they do not want to be taught online.

Visa requirements a growing concern

For international students, the travel restrictions in place to combat Covid-19 also have a significant impact. A survey by educations.com among 20,000 international students found that visa requirements are an increasing concern, as 14% of prospective versus 9% of current students rank this as their top concern about studying abroad. While the survey was carried out pre-pandemic, it is likely these concerns have only become worse since.

Furthermore, 16% of prospective international students compared to 11% of current students consider information about scholarships and funding as the most helpful to them when in the awareness and comparison phase of their student journey. Given the high percentage of prospective students in the UK who indicate the coronavirus has affected their personal or family’s financial and/or job situation in the YouthSight survey, it seems likely that international students’ need for information on scholarships and funding will have only increased since the start of the pandemic.

Universities could aim to take away some of these concerns within their messaging by providing more information on topics such as visas, scholarships and funding, and on the number of contact hours and access to academic staff.

Universities will not only struggle to attract international students in the face of the coronacrisis, but the research by educations.com also suggests the competition for them will increase. Over two thirds of prospective students said they have applied or plan to apply for three or more schools, while only half of current students applied for more than two schools.

In the UK, 57% of year 12s are waiting until A level results day (13 August) before changing any of their university decisions. This will be a prime time to target this audience, but by then the circumstances related to Covid-19 are likely to be very different.

Fundamental L&D offers media and marketing solutions for clients across Higher Education, Business Education and Employer Branding

Q&A: how might Covid-19 affect marketing in the long term?

Fundamental Media speaks to James Budden, director of marketing and distribution at Baillie Gifford, about the potential lasting effects of COVID-19 on asset management marketing

Budden James

What communication lessons have you learned in the last couple of months during Covid-19 and what impact will these have on your marketing approach going forward?

Unsurprisingly the provision of information to existing clients has taken precedence over promotional activity. Unless we hit another wave of volatility in markets, we may move into a more promotional mode given the relative strength of our offerings. This approach is going to be digital given the lack of scope for physical and OOH activity.

Have the new ways of engaging with your clients changed the way you work internally with the different stakeholders?

It is too early to tell. Both ourselves and clients and prospects have been bound to work from home. So we are in a situation which has been forced on us and not one that we should extrapolate too much from as to the shape of future marketing mixes. Nevertheless, virtual engagement is here to stay both in terms of colleague interaction, client service and promotion to prospects.

Digital platforms have allowed clients to have a very immediate and personal response from you. How will you build on that?

Amongst professional investors we always expect to have immediate and personal response. This has not changed. However, in the D2C market we have seen considerable engagement and feedback at scale which will guide our thoughts. There are considerable opportunities to build our databases amongst this group in conjunction with third parties.

A lot of people believe that once the crisis is over, many aspects of life will no longer be as they were before the crisis. Will there be a ‘new normal’ asset management marketing and what will it look like?

Some things will change and some will remain the same. It won’t be the death of non-digital such as print and events, but it may accelerate the change towards digital. Face-to-face will remain important as it cannot be wholly replicated online. People will still read real newspapers and magazines. But virtual engagement will form a greater channel. However, marketers will have to think how best to attract the right audience in a market which will offer huge choice for participation.

If you could give one advice to your peers, what would that be?

Don’t give up. Keep marketing through the downtimes. Hang on to your people and budgets.

Publishers seize digital opportunities of Covid-19

Fundamental Media Q&A finds publishers fairly optimistic about the future

Key points:

  • Publishers are proactive in dealing with Covid-19 and have taken advantage of new opportunities
  • All publishers highlighted the importance of technology and most have enhanced their digital offering
  • Print publications are faring relatively well. Most publishers have offered to send paper editions to home addresses, and many report high take-up levels

Publishers have taken a very proactive approach to dealing with the Covid-19 situation. They have taken advantage of new opportunities and are fairly optimistic about the future.

This is one of the main takeaways from Q&A sessions with 15 of our key publishing partners in Europe. We asked them about how the Corona crisis has affected their business, how they have adapted so far and the challenges they have faced during this tough time.

While the crisis has had a severe impact on publishers’ business models, most have adapted by exploring new avenues of revenue and 20% have even seen their revenue grow. A third of publishers also mentioned a dramatic increase in traffic to their website, as people are searching for relevant information during these uncertain times. This is in line with earlier findings by Fundamental Media.

Naturally, most employees at publishing houses have been working from home for almost two months now, but most publishers seem to be pleased by how well the transition to having to communicate with colleagues via technology only has gone.

All of this would of course not be possible if it wasn’t for modern-day technological solutions, and everyone we spoke to highlighted the importance of technology and digital propositions, with two thirds of them offering more digital content, events, podcasts and so on.

While many predicted an extremely difficult period for print titles, we surprisingly found print publications are faring relatively well. A fifth of publishers have made their print publications available for download online, while 27% have offered to send paper editions to subscribers’ home addresses and are reporting a high take-up of the offer, with one publisher saying up to 90% of their readership gets their publication delivered at their home address.

To read what each publisher has to say about publishing in times of Corona, please click here

Communicating with business education prospects during Covid-19

business education

Fundamental L&D has identified the messaging that is resonating the most strongly with prospects in the precontemplation and active consideration phases

Key points:

  • During these tough times, it’s crucial that not only the lights are kept on, but that all brand communication wholly reflects the needs and concerns of the current and potential prospects
  • Prospects want to know that if they consider you, you’re future-proofed. Tell them how you’re navigating these times and give them the reassurance they need
  • The essential pivot from classroom to virtual teaching has opened up the opportunity to promote a ‘taster class’ to prospects; an opportunity for potential applicants to experience the quality of your teaching first-hand

Business schools are in a period of unprecedented change in how they engage with prospects and deliver to their existing cohorts. With challenges come opportunities, and those schools who have been quick to adapt and remain fluid in their marketing approach are likely to not just weather the storm but emerge with a strong pipeline and a refreshed outlook to their messaging and delivery.

The core tenets of any campaign are raising awareness of the value of business education to a professional audience, and then nurturing that audience as they go through the discovery and decision-making process. For example, for a full-time MBA, the process of discovery through to decision can be up to two years, meaning that globally there are many thousands of people actively considering an MBA, many of whom are at the final stages of choosing which school to apply to. It’s therefore crucial that not only the lights are kept on, but that all brand communication wholly reflects the needs and concerns of the current and potential prospects. 

Through our work with our clients in the US, Asia and Europe, Fundamental L&D has identified the messaging that is resonating the most strongly with prospects both in the precontemplation and active consideration phases of their business education decision-making.

  • Trust and reassurance
    Active applicants want to know they’re in safe hands. Prospects want to know that if they consider you, you’re future-proofed. Tell them how you’re navigating these times and give them the reassurance they need.
  • Adaptability and flexibility
    The essential pivot from classroom to virtual teaching has opened up the opportunity to promote a ‘taster class’ to prospects; an opportunity for potential applicants to experience the quality of your teaching first-hand. Application dates may be moved back, or entry requirements adjusted. Prospects need to know that you’re working to help make things easier for them.
  • Strength of faculty
    Communicate the wealth of research you have, from the latest research on COVID-19 to advice on how to look after your mental health.
  • Everything is different, but still the same
    The way your programmes are being taught or how people can apply may be changing, but the fundamental reasons as to why someone should consider business education has not. Be it career progression or advanced leadership, the reasons to undertake professional education are more compelling than ever. 

Business schools are privileged to have a wealth of content rarely seen in other sectors. Understanding how to use it to communicate with trust and reassurance will set you apart from your peers.

Fundamental Learning & Development (Fundamental L&D) offer media planning and buying, research and marketing services across higher and business education and corporate sectors.

How is COVID-19 affecting financial media consumption?

Coronavirus COVID-19

Data shows increased traffic to general and financial news sites during the past few months

Key points:

  • General and financial news sites have seen a substantial increase in traffic during the period from December 2019 to February 2020
  • Traffic to large trading platforms has also boomed over the same period, with volume increases often outstripping those of news sites
  • Our research shows that two-thirds of professional investors surveyed are frustrated by managers who stop communicating during challenging times

Across the globe, public life is grinding to a halt as countries take drastic measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. While this has a dramatic impact on people’s lives and the way information can be exchanged and obtained, people still want information. Now more than ever.

The increased information need coupled with somewhat more limited access to print media has resulted in an explosion in web traffic, our research shows. Looking at major newswires in various countries we can see a dramatic increase in visits over the last three months. In the graph below, we look at Italy and Germany as an example.

These figures do not include the current month – we expect an even more dramatic increase in March as events are accelerating.

General news sites traffic Dec 19-Feb 20

While it is to be expected that the public wants to stay informed on the latest developments in relation to the virus, the last thing on anyone’s mind right now is anything to do with funds. But the data shows this is not true.

Looking at six major sites for financial news, the same trend can be observed.

On reflection, this shouldn’t be surprising – economic uncertainty and turbulent markets lead to investors worrying about their investments.

In such circumstances, investors also often forget that funds are a long-term investment. Our data shows that they are not only looking for more information online than ever before, but are also looking at alternatives.

The table below shows the web traffic of five large trading platforms. They have seen volume increases which very often outstrips that of news sites.

Not only do investors need information on how fund managers are responding to the current market conditions – they also need a reminder of why being invested in funds is a good thing.

Don’t go silent during difficult times

It may seem an inappropriate time to run a marketing campaign, but during this period of uncertainty investors are trying to find information that helps them understand measures they should be taking. Think about your communications strategy and ensure you are delivering timely, relevant, high-quality content to every part of your distribution chain that needs it.

According to Fundamental Research, two-thirds of professional investors say that one of their frustrations is that fund managers go silent when market conditions are difficult.

Investors genuinely appreciate it if you provide them with relevant messages about their investments and your view on the markets. How do we know? Clients who have already adapted their communication strategy and deliver timely content have seen performance increase threefold – a clear sign of appetite for relevant information.

Don’t go silent and adapt your communication strategy to deliver what your clients need now.

"Lack of contact when performance is bad. It is precisely in these circumstances that communication is indispensable."
Discretionary manager
German savings bank

With that in mind we recommend, among others, the following two steps:

  1. Optimise current activities to reflect a changing world
    We’re seeing drastic changes to working patterns – this ranges from ‘working from home’ to ‘split work’ and the cancellation of industry events and meetings. Media plans need to be optimised to reflect the current status quo:
    1. The role of the digital channel is increasing even further
    2. Work patterns are potentially changing
    3. Information requirements & exchanges are changing

A digital emphasis allows you to respond nimbly to changing market needs and adapt messages accordingly.

  1. Flexibility to respond to events as they happen
    The last few weeks have been very eventful – both socially and economically. It is important that messaging is responding in an appropriate manner to be relevant and appreciated. Employ dual strategies whereby you have a repository of messages for likely events which can be delivered dynamically in the very instance an event occurs.

We would advocate dynamic messaging wherever possible.

Social media: the final frontier for professional investors?

Man using laptop
In global asset management, an industry driven by analytical and rational professionals, it is still surprising to see how many senior leaders question whether social media is a channel worth considering when targeting professional buyers and investors.What if the same analytical mindset could be applied to understanding the role of social media in global sales, distribution and marketing?

“It is surprising to see how many senior leaders question whether social media is a channel worth considering.”


Informed decision making
Simply being able to access a research database containing a wealth of information about investor preferences and the role social media plays in their purchasing behaviour would provide senior leaders with the insights they are seeking; how and when are investors using their mobile phones, what is the extent of professional social media usage and what do they use it for? And finally, do professional investors prefer reading the content from asset managers on their desktops, mobile device or both?This is vital information for tailoring distribution and marketing to meet the needs and wants of the professional investor.

Fund selectors have embraced social media
In our research among discretionary portfolio managers and fund selectors*, we looked at the usage of social media and investigated their reasons for using the medium.The chart below compares professional usage of leading social media sites across key European markets in 2018 vs 2016 along with the devices used to access them (desktop, mobile, both).Across the board we can conclude that social media has become indispensable for engaging professional investors at large. While the overall growth in usage is consistent across the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, there are some significant differences between individual countries. It is essential that any country specific distribution strategy and tactical plan is mindful of these differences, as one size doesn’t fit all!

“Distribution tactics of asset managers should be mindful of key differences that vary from country to country.”

 

Facebook and Twitter are up and coming but LinkedIn is absolute market leader across Europe

From our previous research conducted in 2016 to our latest research in 2018, the usage of LinkedIn has shown significant growth; it has practically doubled from 43% to 85% in just two years.

In the German speaking markets usage of Xing is popular. Xing is LinkedIn’s key competitor in Switzerland and in the case of Germany, usage even out-paces it as the leading platform for professional investors.

However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Xing is very much a national medium and professionals with an international outlook have both Xing and LinkedIn accounts. Recent anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that people are closing down their Xing accounts or linking their Xing account through to LinkedIn accounts. We expect the importance of Xing among fund selectors to diminish over time.

Across these key asset management distribution markets we can see that professional investors have truly discovered social media.
 

Social Media mainly used to consume content and to connect with peers

While professional investors also use social media for publishing content, marketing their business and contacting clients, their key motivation for using it is the opportunity to interact with asset managers and their peers whilst keeping up to date with industry developments.

The top three reasons for usage are:

  1. Networking with peers,
  2. Reading up on industry news and
  3. Reading content from asset managers

Professional investors clearly use social media to get informed about asset managers, their content and their offering. Therefore, it’s a ‘must’ for asset managers to leverage these platforms to drive customer engagement.

 
Due to the dominance of mobile devices, responsive design is the only way forward
Our research also shows that the use of mobile devices has reached an all-time high in European asset management. The majority of social media content is being consumed through either mobile phones or a combination of mobile phones and desktops. It is imperative that content is designed to accommodate all these devices. We are still seeing examples where asset managers are struggling with implementing responsive design and are continuing to use website formats that do not communicate well on mobile devices. It’s essential the entire asset management industry keeps apace as consumers become spoilt by the engaging experiences offered by online retailers and in the B2C space.Asset managers should jump on board if they don’t want to lose the attention of investors!

“Use of mobile devices has reached an all-time high in European asset management.”

 
Social media is here to stay
The trends highlighted in our research lead us to believe that professional buyers and investors have embraced the role of modern technology in their day to day lives, both personally and professionally. The strong growth of social media usage among professional buyers and investors in these key European markets underpins these findings. To ensure they are not left behind it is essential that asset managers keep apace of these developments and take the role of these platforms and channels seriously.