Four Trends to Look Out For in 2017

From virtual reality to analytics, Paul Redfern makes his predictions for higher ed marketing.

January 19, 2017

Industry leaders will once again publish countless pieces about their predictions of the top trends and technology that will impact marketing during 2017. Last January, I joined that group and wrote about three trends to get ahead of in 2016. As we start a new year, let’s look back at those three trends — virtual reality, connectivity, and social media advertising — and add a new item to think about in 2017.

1. Virtual reality is not coming — it is here

Contrary to my prediction in 2016, colleges and universities did not universally adapt virtual reality, and it did not become the game changer I thought it could be. But I still stand by the technology in 2017.

According to a piece on INC.com, 2017 is the year where virtual reality finally takes off. Andrew Abedian, level designer at Survios, said, "2017 will be the year where VR becomes normalized, where the sudden influx of consumers will meet a virtual tidal wave of content developed by both small and large studios alike, facilitated by the big guns behind the Vive, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and more.”

The technology is getting better. The cost for entry is getting lower. I see more advertising about virtual reality and more consumer brands moving in the VR direction. Check out this Volvo ad and this tour of Yosemite National Park. It has to be only a matter of time when it hits higher ed — not a matter of if.

2. Everything and everyone is connected

If you don’t believe this trend, then you may very well have your head buried in the sand. Look no further than my new Comcast Xfinity option that includes connecting seamlessly with my Netflix account. It eliminates the need for my Apple TV and centralizes the management of all of my family’s home entertainment options. If you are interested in how to take advantage of these digital moments in our space, check out a post I wrote last year on Micro-Moments for Higher Education.

For many institutions, there is still a plethora of opportunities available to update internal business processes, identify and fix areas where the web experience is difficult for your audience, or provide some thoughtful suggestions about how you can help move a traditional paper process online.

3. Social dollars count

This was true of last year and will be true in 2017—and probably forever. According to a story on eMarketer.com, by the end of this year, US digital ad spending will reach $72.09 billion, representing 36.8% of US total media ad spending and surpassing TV ad spending. As a higher ed marketer, you are missing a gigantic opportunity if you don’t have a paid digital strategy in place.

If you attended the American Marketing Association Symposium on Higher Education in December, you couldn’t walk through the exhibit hall without bumping into a firm that could help you with retargeting, IP targeting, or geolocation strategies. At Gettysburg College, Facebook continues to be the number one driver of social traffic to www.gettysburg.edu. Colleges will need to realign resources, find new funding, or create partnerships to help fund digital campaigns.

4. Analytics “is king”

My prediction for 2017 is that analytics will take over the leading role. If you have not found a way to begin to measure the impact of your marketing efforts prior to now, 2017 is the year to start. The digital nature of our work gives us more opportunities for measurement than ever before. Boards and Presidents are expecting marketers to be able to deliver concise and clear analysis of activities. I would not be surprised to see higher ed offices of all sizes hiring positions that strictly deal with analytics in the coming year. We will be challenged to create more meaningful analysis, and our ability to deliver that analysis will hinge on our ability to collect and use data.


As we kick off another year, hopefully our days are filled with energy, excitement, and anticipation as we find out how the marketing landscape will help shape our work in the years to come.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences.



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