2023 and Beyond: Experiential and Event Strategies for a Thriving Campus Life
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As the modern world continues to transform campuses across the country, experiential events have never been more important as we move to an endemic covid world, to ensure a positive and memorable college experience. As colleges and universities continue to transform with the modern world, the student experience on campus has never been more important. In this article, we will cover tips and tricks to elevate your campus events in 2023 and beyond. Whether you’re a seasoned event professional or just starting out, follow along to discover how universities and colleges can enhance the student experience on campus.
1. Think about the student journey, identify your target audience, and set KPIs
Whether it’s a high-energy event for prospective students, a networking opportunity for current students, or a celebration of achievements for alumni, the key to success is understanding your target audience and designing events with their journey in mind.
Event coordinators and university staff need to consider the entire student journey when planning events. This means thinking about how events can tie in with various stages of the student experience, from high school seniors during recruitment to current students on campus and alumni. Identifying your target audience allows you to define specific KPIs for each event, resulting in experiences that are tailored to each group’s needs and wants, making the event more memorable and impactful.
2. Design events that cater to your target demographic
Once you’ve identified your target audience and KPIs, it’s time to tailor your event format and design to each group’s interests. By identifying the specific demographic for each event, you can ensure that you are communicating effectively in their preferred language and engaging your audience in a way that resonates with them. For example, high school seniors may respond better to interactive and technology-focused events, while alumni may prefer more traditional, nostalgia-driven experiences.
Northeastern University’s Pub Punters activation is one example of a successful alumni event that brought back a lot of nostalgia and generated massive social media buzz.
3. Engage students in the planning and promotion of your campus events
When it comes to enhancing the student experience on campus, make it a priority to engage students in the planning and promotion of events. By doing so, you tap into a wealth of knowledge and creativity that will help ensure your events are relevant, impactful, and enjoyable for your student body. Furthermore, involving students in the process also helps build a sense of ownership and pride in the university community. Whether it’s through student committees, social media takeover, or feedback sessions, there are many ways to get students involved and make them feel like an integral part of the campus experience.
VDA works with many universities in the greater Boston area, such as Emerson College, to help enhance their campus events. One of many examples is how VDA guides Emerson students through planning and executing their annual EVVY’s award show. During the design process, VDA guides and educates Emerson students while they fulfill their creative vision. This approach elevates the students’ creativity and aligns front-end design with production. Preparing future young professionals for their potential careers in experiential and scenic design. Having students voice their ideas transformed the award show to be an extremely successful and well-attended on-campus event.
4. Embrace diversity and promote inclusion in your events
Universities and colleges should embrace diversity and promote inclusivity in all aspects of campus life, including events. A university can create a more vibrant and inclusive campus community that celebrates the unique experiences and perspectives of all students by organizing events that students from different backgrounds can connect with, such as Martin Luther King Day, Juneteenth, Pride Month, Diwali, or Lunar New Year, just to name a few.
These events can be tailored to educate and spread acceptance, promoting understanding and respect among different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. In addition to enhancing the student experience on campus, this also prepares students for a diverse and inclusive world after graduation.
Northeastern University hosts its annual Martin Luther King Day event on campus to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This event brings together students, staff, and community members to celebrate the life and work of the civil rights leader and engage in discussions and activities that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
5. Collaborate with relevant brands
Collaboration between universities and relevant brands to create fun campus events can be a mutually beneficial endeavor. Brands can bring unique experiences to students and increase student engagement without adding additional costs to colleges. Additionally, these events can serve as a valuable marketing opportunity for brands looking to reach the college demographic. By aligning their brand with a positive and fun event, brands can establish a genuine connection with students and potentially increase brand loyalty.
Schmooze, the dating app that matches people based on their meme preferences, teamed up with not one, but four prestigious Boston-based universities, including MIT, Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern University. Through the partnership, a unique experiential marketing campaign was launched directly on campus at these universities. The campaign included a range of activities, such as meme and love-themed games, mobile brand activations, and food trucks, all designed to captivate students and encourage them to download the app.
6. Authenticity is key to a successful experiential campus campaign
Incorporating authenticity in your events can bring a unique and genuine experience for the students. It helps to create a sense of belonging and connection to the university, which keeps them engaged as alumni. This is important as students should feel that the university reflects their values, beliefs, and interests, and in the long run brings them a community they can share. When planning an event, think about what makes your college unique and how you can showcase that through the event. When you stay true to who you are as an institution, you attract new students who share similar values and create meaningful and memorable experiences for your students that they’ll treasure long after they’ve graduated.
7. Create photo opportunities and interactive installations that encourage user-generated content.
User-generated content serves as an organic and cost-effective form of promotion for the university, but more importantly, it is crucial for building a strong sense of community within those associated with it. Tap into the power of social media by offering students the opportunity to share their campus lives online through interactive activations or branded photo opportunities on campus that are unique to the university. This increased engagement can drive up student applications as well as alumni involvement.
Developing a photo op can be for the young and the young at heart. At MIT, a photo opportunity was designed for alumni reunion classes from 5 years to 50 years to engage with a 3D Replica of the Brass Rat that is on all of the alumni rings, at graduation. Coupling an amazing photo with instant reach to social media helps to engage new prospects and elevate University culture.
8. Partner with an experiential design agency that designs with your KPIs in mind
Bringing experiential agencies and event partners on board can take campus events to the next level. By working together, colleges can plan more strategic events that prioritize KPIs, and agencies can bring more creativity to ideation and ensure smooth production. By working with an event partner, your events can have a far bigger impact. VDA has a proven track record of successfully designing events for campuses and being a catalyst in growing brand awareness and elevating campus experiences.
In conclusion, in 2023 colleges have the unique opportunity to create an impactful and memorable experience for students through their campus events. Whether it’s through targeting specific audiences, promoting inclusivity, incorporating authenticity, or engaging students in the planning process, there are many ways to enhance the student experience on campus. By working with experiential agencies and considering the student journey, colleges can create events that are tailored to the needs and wants of their students, helping to build a stronger sense of community, brand recognition, and a lasting impact. Ultimately, investing in a strong event strategy can help drive student engagement and satisfaction, while also helping to boost the reputation of the university as a whole.