Augmented reality for higher ed. marketing: The basics for supercharging prospective student engagement. Augmented reality for higher ed. marketing: The basics for supercharging prospective student engagement.

If you’ve used an interior design app to see which couch would look best in your living room or played with silly Snapchat filters, you’ve utilized augmented reality (AR). It’s the ability to take a mobile device and layer digital assets into your physical environment. And it could revolutionize your higher ed. institution’s marketing.

Unlike virtual reality, which requires a specific device like Meta’s Oculus, augmented reality is accessible to everyone as long as they have a smartphone or tablet.

Imagine students a continent away using their smartphone to get a 360° tour of your campus. Or the chance to see and hear from your president about your institution’s offerings — right in front of you. With AR, there are endless opportunities to make your brand reach out and stand out.

It’s an exciting, mind-bending way to tell stories, share information, increase engagement — and more.

Web-based AR vs. app-based AR for your higher ed.’s marketing campaigns.

Before you daydream about the potential of AR in your campaigns, you need to know there are two different channels through which to access your content.

Web-based AR

Web-based AR is an experience accessed through a webpage. Accessing the AR content is as simple as scanning a QR code with a smartphone.

Pros: Web-based AR is infinitely trackable. You can track the number of engagements, length of engagements, and events within the engagement. Not only that, but it’s easy for anyone to access your content as long as they have the QR code to unlock it.

Cons: Any web-based AR will be through a third-party subscription-based model and connectivity can be a challenge in certain situations. Platforms like Zappar can be a doable option for tighter budgets, with 8th Wall being the blue-chip standard, and therefore quite expensive.

App-based AR

App-based AR requires users to download an app for the experience.

Pros: App-based AR is infinitely trackable. Apps may perform better and be able to output better features. They can be beneficial for events or conferences where attendees are expected to download the app to access relevant content. Want to keep your app from the general public or worried about getting it approved on Apple’s App Store? Fear not. Using apps gives you the ability to load the experience onto specific devices, as opposed to a publicly available download. Not only is this great for events like trade shows in effort to create environments that are otherwise unavailable, but apps are also a great way to show AR in a stable way without worrying about a strong Wi-Fi connection.

Cons: Tracking requires much more effort than web-based AR. We have found it is challenging to get students to download an app. They would rather just scan a QR code and not worry about an app taking up memory on their phone.

At ED., we recommend using web-based AR for most marketing campaigns simply because it eliminates the hurdles of getting the consumer to engage with it and its ease of access. While every project is different and certain types of tech are better-suited for different initiatives, talking to a creative agency with expertise in AR about your campaign objectives and goals can steer you in the right direction.

The 3 types of augmented reality in higher ed. marketing.

You’ve learned about the two ways AR is delivered. Now you need to know about the four types of AR to kick off your campaign brainstorming.

  1. Image tracking. The technology detects a certain image that your camera is capturing, like an image on a page or a picture on a wall, which triggers digitally augmented content to appear on it. Think: Detecting an image of campus in your guidebook and a video playing showing off the sites.
  2. Surface detection. Technology places a 3D digital image or model on a real-world flat surface in front of you, like the floor or a desk. Think: A model of a research lab for students interested in majoring in biology.
  3. World effects. Technology adds virtual objects to real-world environments using front-facing cameras, which places the user at the centre point of the compass while building around them. Think: A student surrounded by 3D screens, where they can turn 360° to tap on and view whatever content interests them most.

You can combine more than one of these types of AR in your marketing material. As you can imagine, the possibilities to engage, excite, and educate your audience are limitless.

Top 4 reasons to leverage augmented reality in your higher ed. marketing strategy.

Augmented reality is inherently captivating. It delights, surprises, and engages an audience in a way traditional marketing methods can’t.

But that’s not the only reason to consider using AR in your institution’s marketing strategy.

1. AR gives your institution a competitive advantage.

Using AR in your campaigns already gives you a leg up by virtue of it being a different way of connecting with your audience. But while AR has been around for some time, it is virtually non-existent in higher ed. marketing.

Imagine your institution being a marketing leader for using AR.

Think about sending a piece of literature or an email to a prospective student with a link from the school. Clicking it drops your institution’s president onto the student’s desk, greeting them, and sharing an anecdote about the uniqueness of your institution.

In your student’s mind, this could solidify your institution as one that knows where the future is going — and that it’s the best place to be. Especially if innovation is one of your school’s values.

2. AR is a powerful tool for storytelling in recruitment.

Prospective students want to hear from real students about their experiences. They want to know what it’s like to live in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, and navigate campus between classes.

With AR, putting current students in front of prospects is simple, compelling, and best of all, it feels personal. Simply put: AR can be a persuasive storytelling tool.

Instead of watching a YouTube video or reading an online Q&A, you could send links to prospective students that direct them to current students talking about their experiences.

You can use the best and brightest minds of your institution in so many ways to aid in your recruitment efforts, too.

What if your superstar in the engineering department was a spokesperson for your engineering program? A prospective parent might scan a QR code, drop the spokesperson onto their desk, and hear a preamble about how wonderful the faculty of engineering is. Then, they might say, “Let’s talk about the six disciplines within engineering.”

From there, the AR would switch from surface detection (which has placed that person onto the surface) to world effects, where curved screens are placed all the way around that user. They can look around and see six menu items floating about the six disciplines within engineering, with options to lead themselves into a different area.

When it comes to recruiting students near and far, the way you tell your stories matters.

3. AR increases user engagement and data tracking.

Once a user clicks on the QR code, they’re in. From there, you can extend their engagement in multiple ways.

You can have a student share their story about the first day of class, and then a video pops up behind them to introduce another student talking about their study habits. You can have clickable CTAs within the same space that drive traffic to your website, or specific pieces of content.

While there are ostensibly endless ways to drive engagement, there are also far more opportunities to track that engagement and use the data.

For instance, you can’t tell if a prospective student actually reads your viewbook cover to cover. But if they receive your viewbook that is loaded with AR surface detecting content, you’re able to capture their journey. What do they look at? What are they interested in? You can do so much more with that information.

AR works best when you understand the real-world environment it will be shown in — creating a better experience for your viewers.

4. Everyone already has the tool(s) to access AR.

Not everyone has an Oculus headset to experience virtual reality (nor can everyone afford one). The beauty of AR is that everyone has the tool they need to use it: Their smartphone.

Gen Z are digital natives who are arguably more addicted to their phones than the rest of us. That means your marketing has the potential to meet them where they are, making a bigger impact.

While there is a lot to learn about AR, you don’t have to know everything to start brainstorming about what’s possible. What ideas will you come up with for your institution’s marketing strategy?