UBC Homecoming Experience — Marketing & UX Case Study

Role: Experiential & Digital Marketing Lead, Festival Experience Designer
Position: Manager of Campus Experience, UBC

Context

University of British Columbia Campus Experience Portfolio
UBC ranks as a top academic university but census data reports low sense of belonging and school pride, metrics that are inversely correlated to academic success and likeliness to recommend UBC to peers and prospective students. I was hired onto new project for the UBC president. The ask was to understand, and communicate and then design and implement strategies to improve the non academic student experience on campus.

Previous work on homecoming
I have worked on homecoming on contract for the past 3 years before working as a staff member on the project directly. This case study sums up the learning and success working with different staff teams over the previous years and focuses on the major event experience and marketing overhaul while working on the project as a full time staff member in 2017 .

Challenge

Homecoming at UBC was primarily a three hour football game with a few sponsor booths and far from the experience you would expect form a world top 40 university. Around 2000–3000 students made it out to homecoming each year and left feeling disappointed wishing their experience was as exciting and captivating as their friends studying at eastern Canadian universities and as wild and magical as the college experience they grew up watching in Hollywood movies.

  • Growing up watching Hollywood college movies and seeing media from East coast Canadian universities students have big exciting expectations that aren’t met
  • Students report being disappointed the lack of school spirit at UBC
  • Goal: dramatically enhance the homecoming experience, UBC is the top 40th university in the world build a homecoming experience that matches that. Increase attendance and value for attendees. Spread the homecoming excitement and UBC spirit to the entire campus

Research

User Interviews

Upper Year Students– We conducted 10 User interviews with upper year students to better understand their previous homecoming experiences.We wanted to understand:

  • Hear about their homecoming experience from start to finish
  • What were the most fun, memorable, enjoyable parts of your previous homecoming experiences
  • What were the most frustrating parts, what do you wish would change
  • What surprised them about previous home coming experiences
  • What did you feel was missing

New Students — We conducted 6 User interviews with incoming students. We wanted to understand:

  • What they imagined and expected their first university homecoming experience to be like.
  • What did they expect or hope to see when they walked in?
  • What would they be doing on campus in advance of the game
  • What would campus feel, look, sound like in the week leading up?

Super User Blue Sky Workshop

We hosted a two hour workshop with student leaders. We walked through the above questions and facilitated a visualization and ideation methods to come up simple, easy, impossible wild and crazy ideas to enhance the homecoming experience

Stakeholder Blue Sky Workshop

We hosted and facilitated a 2hr design thinking ideation workshop with the entire Vice president Students portfolio including 20 or so UBC managing directors and executives. We got UBCs top student administrators to open their mind and imagine the most incredible and amazing homecoming . The homecoming that you would expect form a top 40 global universities. Using sticky notes we collected ideas and concepts and generate general buy-in for big ideas and changes.

Planning & Strategy

Combining and Analyzing the ideas

Affinity diagram photo from Iphone
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Synthesized Stakeholder + User Goals

  • Increase Homecoming Attendance
  • Elevate the production value and ‘Wow Factor’ of the entire experience
  • Enhance the pregame culture and experience on campus
  • Improve and increase the crowd experience and energy at the game
  • A new engaging Halftime Show Experience
  • Increase the overall sense of spirit and pride at the event — including the creation and promotion of a sprit item

Driving a new vision

  • Transform homecoming from 3hr event to a campus wide student holiday that students anticipate all year.

Experiential Marketing — Design Highlights

Main Mall Banner + Homecoming Bunting

Need — In oder to push more sales and participation in homecoming we needed to bring it to the forefront of students minds. Furthermore as a top 40 global university students are expecting homecoming to be something incredible, huge and important. We needed to communicate this to students in a big way. I wanted every single one of the 55,00 students to know when homecoming is and experience some of the school pride. excitement and joy even if they don’t attend themselves. Solution Rather than only promote and hard sell homecoming what if instead we created the feeling that everyone was obviously already going. What if the entire campus was decked out in homecoming preparation. Making it obvious to new students that of course everyone goes to homecoming. So we planned to transform campus in the weeks leading up to homecoming. Students would arrive on campus and be literally enveloped in campus pride and anticipatory energy.

We thought about the hollywood images of the homecoming experience students had been exposed to and talked bout in interviews and wanted to use these cues to our advantage. Let’s give the people what they want. Let’s create the same cinomatic festive small town fair visual look and feel that everyone wants.

Design Considerations

  • Simple classic minimal varsity look, something that also be movie prop
  • Reference the cinematic Hollywood college experience, reference American football towns like the one depicted in Friday Night Lights.
  • Letters so large you can read them from either side of campus, these becomes
  • Removable velcro date stamps

Homecoming Merchandise & Give-away Campaign

Need — Spirit wear and belonging to something bigger is a big component of the sporting event and school pride experience. Solution — We worked with the UBC Bookstore to to create and subsidize an affordable sprit item that many students could a obtain. We decided on a scarf because anyone can wear it and add it their outfit, in any season to add colour and spirit

Need — We wanted to promote the sprit item. And we wanted to give students as many reasons as possible to talk about homecoming with their friends and get excited. Solution — In the week leading up to homecoming we organized a huge branded merchandise give-away campaign run through the growing facebook event page. Each day we posted the general location of 5 tokens that were hidden throughout the environment. Student had to find the token, comment with a photo once they had found them and pick up the prize from our office. The contest was a blast we had students waiting and running around the plaza and huge smiles when they came to pickup prizes on the day of.

Residence Hall Theme Package

Need — In many ways homecoming felt like an optional experience that some students participated in rather than the obvious campus tradition with maximum participation it is at other schools. Some students still woke up and went to bed without even knowing what they were missing out on. Solution — Like christmas, on the day of Homecoming morning we arranged to have each of the residence hall cafeterias decked out in homecoming themed balloons and bunting, with special homecoming themed breakfast options. We wanted student to be immersed by the homecoming sprit. Acting as a catchall for any students who were undecided or forgot. We wanted to communicate that this is without a doubt a campus wide holiday.

Theme packages deployed at 7:00 AM in the residence hall cafeterias to set the campus holiday tone for the entire day.

Pre Homecoming Experience — Design Highlights

One of the important ways occasions and holidays differ from an event is the activity, excitement and ownership throughout the day leading up. Prior to 2013 UBC Homecoming was primarily a three hour football game with a few sponsor booths. One of the key ways we began changing the culture of homecoming at UBC was to reimagine how the beginning of the day would look if it was a full blown campus wide holiday like it is at other schools and like the last day of class is at UBC.

We imagined the day with a network of organic student hosted pre-parties sprinkled across campus connected by a student parade that connected the parties and stragglers along the way and descended on the main event.

Student Hosted Cross Campus Pre-parties

Need —A key missing component of the homecoming experience was the lack of organic student events and pre-parties sprinkled across campus.
Solution — In order to start a new tradition from scratch we partnered with student organizations and hand delivered homecoming pre-party packages that included decorations, balloons and face-paint. Oh yeah and we also sponsored and hand delivered kegs to their doorstop on the morning of in exchange for them hosting their own homecoming pre-parties.

Homecoming Parade: Establishing Tradition and Student Pride

Building on the raw student excitement of the pre-parties homecoming also needed a greater sense of authentic student pride and tradition. We partnered with the student athletes to completely reimagine an old tradition. The homecoming trek was a short, largely low energy walk of student athletes form the fountain across campus to the stadium. We worked with additional student clubs to reimagine the great trek as a cross campus tradition that everyone can participate in. Rather than a straight shot the trek would start with a real student pre-party, then festival goers would commence on a wild, loud and adventurous march to the stadium storming through the different pre-parties and residence halls along the way growing larger and larger and descending on to the main event.

Gathering Steam: Residence Hall Pickups

The Homecoming parade picks up energy and students as it stops at major residence halls along the way. Exploding a whirlwind of and energy and noise into the residences making sure every student on campus knows its time to head to the stadium for the biggest student event of the year.

Tailgate Experience — Design Highlights

Wow Factor

Need —The overall homecoming experience lacked the wow factor students expected from the largest student event at a worlds top 40 university. We need to change that. Solution — At the blue sky brainstorms with students and staff the ferris wheel was a classic ideas that came up over and over again. When comparing the pros and cons of different wow elements and moments including, different rides, a helicopter or parachute ball drop the Ferris wheel became the obvious best choice. The Ferris creates a spectacular sense of arrival to homecoming upon entering the gates. The vertical height, visual focal point, motion and evening carnival lights elevate the entire experience for every guest that attends, even if they don’t get to ride it. And for those that do ride: the chatter about who wants to go wait together, the anticipation and social experience of cueing, the ocean view and photo op all contribute to standout memorable moment that adds to the whole day.

More Things to Do and See: Interaction & Discovery

Need — Students reported that the tailgate experience was a little boring and didn’t really feel like a fair. You could walk around the entire thing in 5 minutes and it was mostly just more of the same car2go sponsor booths. But students loved the booths that gave out free stuff and the activities you could engage with and spectacles you could watch. Solution — We treated the same blue and gold bunting and balloon package to the entire fair ground to establish a clear sense of spirit and celebration. And then focused on adding interactive elements like bull riding, axe throwing, kick to win and tasked the sponsors with contributing an element of significant interaction and value at each of their booths. With more free stuff, added features to discover find friends to go experience with and a few live preferences the fair experience felt like a real fair.

In Game Experience — Design Highlights

Westside Berm Student Party

Need — Two problems we faced in previous years spurred the creation of the now most loved experience of the entire day. Historic homecoming attendance was about 2,000 people which fit within the stadium grandstands. The mixed crowd of students, athlete families and alumni created a dulled experience for students. There was no centralized spirit or party section. It was hard to build energy and socialize with students scattered in islands throughout the crowd. Solution — As the event grew we began to build out the Westside Berm Student Party experience. By funnelling students to the berm we were able to facilitate the hyper social back to school homecoming experience many students were hoping for. On the berm students can now pile together, get up freely to get drinks, explore, find other fiends to visit and get loud and let loose. The energy and social atmosphere and back to school visiting on the berm is now the most beloved part of the day by many students.

Crowd Participation Tactics

T-shirt Canon
Need 
— Students reported the overall crowd engagement of homecoming was still somewhat underwhelming in terms of energy and participation. Solution — We took into account the clear user feedback at interviews and from testing in previous years on crowd engagement and doubled down on the ones that work. Making more use of the T-shirt cannon which instantly has entire sections of the crowd up on their feet and screaming by simply pointing the gun towards them. We leveraged the same effect to more of the crowd with boxes of merchandise to throw out into the crowd.

Spirit Ambassadors
Need
 — the school spirit and pride aspects of homecoming was still lacking to what it could be, and still felt tentative in some ways. Solution — We also added spirit ambassadors. the idea here was to intentionally continue to change the culture of homecoming by rewarding and celebrating the behaviour we wanted to see more of. In this case we wanted to gives serious positive feedback to the attendees who took risks and covered them selves in paint, made signs or wore costumes. We had handpicked well known students give out drink tickets and personally congratulate the students who took risks in the direction we wanted to see.

Halftime Show Solved — Famous Frisbee Dogs

Need — An unsolved issue with previous Homecomings was the halftime show. It’s incredibly difficult to create a large enough experience to engage the audience on both sides of the field. With now more than half the guests now on the westside berm it was no longer possible to ignore this. Previous football games employed cheesy crowd contests that struggled to keep the audiences attention creating an awkward split focus experience for the crowd. While Beyoncé would be the ideal solution she was unfortunately busy and out of budget. Solution — After researching different non-Beyoncé halftime strategies we discovered the frisbee dog halftime show. Other running up ideas were a pro logger sports demo, ‘Superdogs’ obstacle course and a mini kids football or soccer game. The key was finding something big enough and instantly entertaining enough to tie in both sides of the stadium. The brilliance that makes up the halftime dogs show is: the instant emotional buy-in towards the dogs, the wow factor from the tricks, the energy created by the music and speed of the animals covering ground across the entire field and lastly from fantastic collective tension and celebration waiting to see if the dog will catch the frisbee after chasing it down the entire length of the football field. The show had entire audience on their feet and screaming for the entire 7 minutes performance, more captivating more audience attention and energy than the game itself.

Outcome

Stakeholder & User Goals Achieved

  • Increase Homecoming Attendance
  • Elevate the production value and ‘Wow Factor’ of the entire experience
  • Enhance the pregame culture and experience on campus
  • Improve and increase the crowd experience and energy at the game
  • A new engaging Halftime Show Experience
  • Increase the overall sense of spirit and pride at the event — including the creation and promotion of a sprit item

Results

  • Record Breaking 9,500 Attendees
  • Largest Homecoming turnout in UBC History
  • Local news & media coverage
  • Increase in ticket price in following year
  • X Instagram Posts totalling X number impressions
  • Homecoming Banner & Bunting Impressions:

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