For many higher ed institutions, college homecoming is the flagship of their event marketing. To get the greatest marketing results out of your homecoming event, you’ve got to get it right.
In fact, I believe homecomings can be the biggest opportunity for building loyalty to your school’s brand among current students and alumni.
Of course, that means you’ll also be preparing the ground for the next generation of students.
Here are seven tips to making your college homecoming event an unforgettable experience.
1. Make it all about your students and alumni.
As enrollment marketers, college homecoming is all about promoting the school’s brand and securing its future.
But that’s not why your students and alumni are coming.
Your alumni are coming to resurrect old friendships, reconnect with mentors and faculty that made a difference in their lives, or maybe even rekindle old romances.
Students are coming to have a good time, meet new friends, and experience the college life they’ve been dreaming about.
So when you market your homecoming event, think about it from their point of view.
What’s in it for them?
This simple, but profound, change in your messaging makes all the difference in the world.
Show alumni and students how your homecoming is the perfect place and time to have some fun, be a part of an incredible community, and stay connected to their college family.
2. Diversify your college homecoming events.
The parade, the dance, the bonfire — these are all incredible events that have become tradition at many homecomings across the country.
If your school has a strong athletic department, then stadium sport events like a football, soccer, or basketball game are definitely something you could put on to rouse their school spirit.
Here are some great ideas for activities you could put on at your next homecoming:
- Homecoming Court
- Marching Band
- Alumni band
- Popular local or alum musical artists
- Competitions like powder puff or flag football
- Student and Alumni art galleries
3. Celebrate the past, present and future.
There’s something really exciting about the present potential of your institution when you can see it in the light of the past.
It’s not just nostalgia.
Remembering the past, especially all of the people who’ve given so much to help us get where we are, inspires us to run towards the future.
- Show historic photos of your campus and classes
- Honor alumni and class years or decades during special events
- Give tribute to past and present faculty that are especially dear to your students and alum
- Feature a vision wall or hall to show alumni where you’re going
- Give your capital campaign community space to set up an exhibit of the next great capital improvement you’re making on the campus
4. Create a Disney experience.
You might not have a Disney-like budget, but you can definitely create Disney-like experiences for students and alumni attending your college homecoming event.
You hear the saying that Disney is the most magical place on earth. Everybody’s smiling. It almost seems like a euphoria, that they’re all just really excited to be there. For the kids, it doesn’t matter what their ages are, they’re just really excited to be there.
I remember going there with my kids, and it was hot. The kids start complaining, and then someone comes up to us, “Hey, you guys look like you can use some water.” And they hand out bottles of water! Those little details make our experience better.
If you take that mindset, that everyone is special, [you can begin to plan] those events so that it is a unique experience for them.
During homecoming, think of ways to serve your guests in ways that will make them feel special.
What are the things that make coming to homecoming frustrating, difficult, or uncomfortable?
Will it be hot outside? Cold? How far do they have to walk?
When you identify these kinds of challenges, consider, “What would Disney do to help the guests feel special?”
5. Set up spacing in the event for various initiatives and alumni demographics.
Will young alumni be coming to campus with kids?
Perhaps a place with fun activities for children like crafts, art, or music would help them feel comfortable being there with their families.
This could be the perfect space to assign some students from your education or arts program.
Will you have students or alumni from an ethnic minority present?
Think about gathering some student ambassadors to set up a fun space celebrating their culture, food, or music.
Do you have an important new initiative or capital campaign happening?
Consider creating a space exhibiting what you have coming up.
Booths featuring your initiatives create conversation points with attendees that would not happen otherwise. Be sure to staff your booths with students or staff who’ve been trained to answer attendees’ questions.
6. Live stream your homecoming events.
One of the best ways to tell authentic stories about your school and your mission is to livestream your events.
Consider live streaming homecoming activities such as your homecoming court, banquet, contests, and parade.
Alumni who can’t attend homecoming will be able to reconnect with your school and share about the event on their social media through your livestreams.
If your football program won’t allow you to live stream games, try live streaming interviews with players and coaches before, during, and after the games to create buzz around the game.
7. Pass out posters that appeal to everyone, especially preteens.
Okay, so maybe this sounds a little strange, but follow me on this one.
Posters are a more permanent and longer-lasting marketing message than most of what you’ll ever publish.
Since his preteen years, my son has had an Indiana University football poster on his bedroom wall.
My son saw that every day for years, and had IU top-of-mind when he began considering where to study.
Education marketing doesn’t have to begin with sophomores or seniors in high school.
You can start much earlier with posters that tap into the interests and cultural trends of kids as young as 10 years old.
This way you can keep your brand messaging in front of the generations of alumni family members with long-lasting, durable print materials.
Homecoming can be an amazing event for you as an institution and for your guests!
Enjoy your time during college homecoming.
Have fun with attendees — but make sure you have these marketing ideas in place before you begin so that you get the very best results from your homecoming marketing efforts.
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