With more students choosing gap years, the state of student loans unknown, and the ROI for a college degree in question, how are colleges and universities driving enrollment? Below are a few proven marketing tactics higher education institutions are using to get on the radar of prospective students and their communities.
Who Are the Decision Makers In Higher Education
While data collection and analysis are important components of modern marketing for universities and state schools, it's important to recognize that there are other factors that influence prospective students' decision-making. There are several key influencers that universities must consider when developing their marketing campaigns.
- Guidance counselors High school guidance counselors play a critical role in helping students identify and apply to colleges and universities. Counselors have deep knowledge of the schools in their area, including their academic programs, extracurricular offerings, and are relied on for students for recommendations.
- Parents are key influencers Parents often play an active role in helping their children choose a college or university, providing guidance on important factors such as affordability, location, and overall reputation. In addition, parents may have their own relationships with universities based on previous educational experiences, making them more likely to recommend certain schools to their children. Targeting messaging to parents, by highlighting key factors that are important to them, such as the availability of scholarships or the strength of the school's alumni network, is a good way to get into the consideration set.
- Don’t forget about the influence of peers and social. Students often rely on their social networks to gather information and advice on which colleges and universities to apply to. This can include online forums, social media groups, and even direct conversations with friends and family members who have attended a particular school. Establishing a presence on social networks with messaging that is interesting, relevant and engaging will tap into the super influential peer and social networks.
5 Proven Higher Education Marketing Strategies
- Defining Measurements of Success with KPI’s Just as students may be asked what your goals are, the same question should be asked of your advertising campaign. If the answer is increased enrollment that makes sense but there’s more. Just as a liberal arts education strives to be well-rounded so too should be marketing tactics leveraged to meet this objective. Ideally your campaign should several KPIs in place that can be adjusted and modified as needed to get the results desired. These include conversion rates and monitoring where website traffic is coming from so you can optimize performance.
- Call-to-action conversion rates: Are visitors responding to your website? Filling out forms? Registering for events?
- Traffic sources: Is website traffic coming from organic search? Email campaigns? Social traffic? Paid search? Do you have UTM codes in place to track?
- SEM Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of digital advertising that allows universities to place ads at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) when prospective students search for relevant keywords, such as "best universities for engineering majors" or "top MBA programs." SEM can be an effective way to drive traffic to a university's website and increase brand awareness among prospective students who are actively searching for information about colleges and universities.
- OTT In basic terms, this is the delivery of video content over the internet, bypassing traditional TV distribution methods. Universities can use OTT advertising to reach prospective students who are consuming video content on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, or YouTube. By targeting specific demographics, universities can reach their ideal audience and promote their programs and offerings in a way that is more engaging than traditional advertising methods.
- Social Media: Most Americans use social media, but among 18-29 years old that number jumps. Do you know that Harvard has over 1.1 million Twitter followers? Ignore social channels in your higher education marketing plant when your primary market is Gen Z and you’ll be making a significant mistake.
- Email marketing involves sending targeted emails to prospective students, such as reminders about upcoming deadlines, information about financial aid opportunities, or invitations to visit campus. Email can be tricky however, to make sure your message doesn’t go directly to spam you’ll want to test messaging and subject lines to see what performs best. And always make an effort to send personalized, relevant emails. You can even use tools like Seventh Sense to identify the best time to email each person who’s interacted with your email in the past.
What Do Prospective Students Want to Know?
Higher education institutions using a combination of marketing tactics to attract students will be the ones most considered, talked about, and see the highest enrollment rates. Here are a few things on the minds of prospective students.
- Emphasize the value of a degree: While the ROI of a college degree may be in question to some, universities can emphasize and prove the long-term benefits of a degree, such as increased earning potential and job placements.
- Highlight the unique features of the university: Universities can promote what makes them stand apart to attract prospective students by promoting classes, clubs, faculties and more. For example, if a university has a strong research program or athletics program, it can share this on social media.
- Use social media: Beyond showing what campus and academic life is all about, social media is a great way to include CTA’s to learn more and engage with prospective students.
- Have alumni do the talking: Graduates can be powerful advocates for schools. Showcase their success stories, let them speak about their experiences and let them be your brand ambassadors.
- Talk about finance: Keep it real, what’s it going to cost? Be forthcoming about in-state, out-of-state and living costs. Share options. Are there scholarships and financial aid packages available to help make coming to your school available? If so, get the word out through whatever means possible because no one wants to graduate with a ton of student loans or worse yet, start and not finish getting your degree because you couldn’t afford it.
- Emphasize experiential learning: Learning takes all forms and it goes beyond the classroom. Many students are interested in hands-on learning experiences in the form of volunteering, teaching, internships and travel abroad. How can they do that at your school? How are you letting prospective students know? Meeting them where they are through targeted messaging is one way.
- Go virtual: Provide virtual tours and information sessions. Be creative. If the pandemic taught us all one thing it’s that meetings can take place anywhere. Use Facebook to offer a live session or send out an email to prospects inviting them to a Zoom session. Or have fun, have a virtual pop-up event to tour the campus.
Privacy is an important consideration when collecting data on prospective students. Universities must comply with privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and ensure that they are collecting data in a transparent and ethical way. This includes obtaining consent from individuals before collecting their data, providing them with clear information on how their data will be used, and giving them the option to opt-out of data collection or request that their data be deleted. Universities must also ensure that any data they collect is secure and protected from unauthorized access or use. The best way to get data from prospective students is by giving them information relevant to them. Do this and they will share. And remember, if you don’t have the data, you need others do. Find a partner like MNI that offer targeted solutions that comply with data privacy.
In conclusion, higher education institutions must adapt to change times and employ a variety of marketing tactics to attract prospective students. By understanding the key influencers in students’ decision-making process and addressing their priorities, schools can raise their visibility and drive enrollment. Emphasizing the value of degree, highlighting what makes your school unique, utilizing social media and being open about finance are all effective and authentic strategies. Additionally having an integrated media strategy in-place that is informed by KPI’s allows nimbleness. In the increasingly competitive higher education landscape, it’s important that universities and state schools stay nimble.