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How big brands can engage with students

If you'd asked me to describe Freshers’ Week two years ago, I would have said a physical stand with free merch thrown in for good measure, with face to face interaction being at the heart of it. However, fast forward to today and you’re facing a much different reality.

Freshers’ Week 2020 saw students start their university experience remotely as they adapted to university life in halls or at their parents homes. Suddenly brands were left needing to rethink their marketing strategies which, until then, had primarily relied on a physical presence.

Virtual and physical

Working with our clients, we flipped their strategies to be completely virtual, bolstering our digital capabilities to ensure we were still able to bring a face to face experience to students in lockdown. From AR, VR, 3D modelling, live stream and digital games, we were able to create a virtual world for our brands that still allowed them to interact and learn about the students they were talking to, without seeing them in person.

Now that we are out the other side, it is so important brands do not just revert back to their traditional physical approach to student engagement. With some universities continuing to study remotely and many students anxious about attending in-person events, the need for physical and digital options is still essential, and having both capabilities means we can create an experience in real life which can be amplified digitally to grow their footprint through digital reach and engagement.


One brand that has embraced the hybrid approach has been Deliveroo, who created “Deliveroo on Campus” for this year's Freshers, combining physical food distribution with a digital voucher redemption.

At the physical event, brand ambassadors hand out free food with marketing materials directing customers via QR codes. When they land on Deliveroo’s page, they can then redeem money off vouchers which will sit in their digital wallet making the whole customer experience seamless and convenient.

Beyond vouchers

This digital experience can be replicated across multiple campuses and has more longevity than a physical event, driving reach and engagement year round. Customers can also be retargeted through wallet push notifications when new offers become available.

The brand's online presence can equally go beyond voucher redemption and can become an immersive experience. We worked closely with Pot Noodle to recreate iconic landmarks for each university on the our platform which offered a great virtual combination to the traditional freshers’ experiences and paired with their Virtual Alternative Fair and Twin It To Win It competition, they saw a significant boost in student engagement.

The future

Now that Freshers 2021 has wrapped up and we look ahead to refreshers and careers fairs, hybrid promotion is certainly here to stay. Physical events will always be preferable to virtual experiences, but students now have an expectation that everything they do will have a digital counterpart. Therefore, it is crucial for brands to continue to think outside the box when it comes to student marketing and promotion, and explore ways to continue the engagement beyond the event itself, not only to build loyalty but to ensure the experiences they create have a life-span that outlives the initial weeks of university life.

Written by David Burgman, managing director of hybrid events platform ayda

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