7 Simple and Effective Higher Education Marketing Strategies to Boost your Enrollment Rates
Higher education marketing, simply put, is the process of marketing any sort of degree post-high school diploma. Given the diverse nature of the degrees, the marketing efforts need to be equally diverse as well.
Given the competitive nature of the field and the fact that colleges are putting a premium on marketing, it has become incredibly difficult to stay relevant and unique.
With higher education marketing best practices and strategies being as diverse as the social distancing guidelines of certain countries, it’s challenging to find a place to start.
Fret not, read till the end to leverage the recent and trending strategies to fuel your marketing campaign.
Before we dive into higher education marketing strategies, let’s take a deeper dive into the problems that are present in the industry. Some of them are,
- The higher education industry is currently witnessing a steep decline in enrollments rates which have been made worse by the aftereffects of the pandemic.
- Online competitors who offer similar content as universities are gaining good traction as their credibility keeps increasing every year. They are no longer considered as cheap alternatives to a college education.
- Financially higher education looks scarier when the thought of repaying your education loan seems very bleak owing to the unemployment rates post-COVID.
- COVID took away the most efficient higher educational marketing strategy out there, i.e. Senior-Junior interaction.
- The increasing public skepticism about the need to go for higher education in the first place to acquire knowledge and the real value of a degree.
- Pandemic put a halt to higher education recruiters who travel from school to school trying to get prospective students to sign up.
- Since fewer students took SAT and ACT during the pandemic, institutions lost an easy route in capturing student details.
- Adding on top of the above problems, heavy competition from other colleges who had started investing in digital marketing during the start of the pandemic and many years before that.
Understanding the Student’s Point of View
To gain insight on how you can market higher ed to the Gen-Z, you’d first need to step into their shoes. Follow their thought process and journey in deciding “their” perfect school.
Once you go through their pain points, you as a higher education marketer can figure out what and how they want the content to be projected towards them.
Let’s consider a hypothetical situation where we are high-school/undergrad graduates and are looking for prospective institutions for higher education. How would we proceed?
Google the name of the college? Read the online reviews? Click on their website? Stalk their social media? See how the college ranks amongst its competition? Check out who their famous alumni are?
Given that the initial step we took was that of combing through online content, you can observe that it’d play an important role in your marketing. However, there are certain strategies that would help you reach this step, let’s take a look at them first.
Don’t like surprises? Well here’s a list of strategies we are about to cover,
- Define your goals
- Create/Refine your value proposition
- Increase your brand awareness
- Create your brand persona
- Make use of conversational marketing
- Ramp up your digital marketing
- Engage in social media marketing
1. Define your goals
What’s the purpose of your marketing? Who are you targeting? Why are you targeting them?
The answer to the above three questions would help you set the tone for your marketing campaign. Generally speaking, the two main goals of higher education marketing can be split into increasing the enrollment rate and growing your donations.
Given that your team size can vary from hundreds of people with multiple dedicated departments to that of a small team who might work on all ends, it’s very important to set realistic and achievable goals.
Achievable goals will motivate your team and keep them excited. It’ll also help you target and design your marketing plans to increase student enrollment in a better way.
Make sure that your goals are specific and measurable, attainable given your resources, relevant to the context, and time-based.
2. Create/Refine your value proposition
The credibility and usefulness of a college degree are constantly under question, now more than ever with some of the biggest firms hiring people without a degree. It is the job of the marketing team of higher education institutions to show the relevance and its requirement in the real world.
Sometimes, higher education can act as a stepping stone towards a better career and how your institution can play a part in it can be a big part of your value proposition.
Here are a few ideas on how to get the message out:
- Get in touch with your successful alumni and give them a chance to speak on your behalf about how the institution was an essential step in their journey.
- Use social media to get the word out about your accomplished educators and students.
- Put content that highlights the latest successes in your institution (be it sports, theatre, academics, research, etc)
- Use statistics to support all your facts and success stories.
3. Increase your brand awareness
Let’s take a bit of help from our corporate counterparts in this section. How do you choose your favorite/preferred piece of daily-use item, clothing, fast food?
The billboards, advertisements, marketing campaigns spending millions of dollars that these corporates churn outplay a subtle yet significant role in making us choose them among all their competition.
Brand awareness and brand image are extremely important when it comes to a prospective student choosing your school over another.
You might have all the qualities of an ideal school but if your image is not projected to the audience in a well-crafted manner, then it’ll be incredibly difficult to achieve your goals.
Ask yourselves the following questions,
- What makes your institution unique?
- What can it offer in terms of academics, extracurriculars, and placements?
- Why would anyone want to attend it?
- How are your educators unique compared to others?
- How is infrastructure compared to the rest?
- How special is your institution’s legacy?
Your answer will determine the amount of substance you hold to craft or optimize your brand image.
4. Create your brand persona
Personalization is an important part of digital marketing.
The way technology has evolved to use complex machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to deliver a customized experience to the user was advantageous to marketers.
However, with the advent of new data privacy laws, compensating personalization with persona-based marketing can be considered as a great alternative and in fact, a must, given the competition.
Personas are basically fictional representations of your target audience. They are essentially your existing data being personified.
So instead of defining your target student audience as an “18-20-year-old high school graduate”, you’d define them as
“Jennifer, an 18-year-old cheerleader who is a high achiever in the field of biology and wants to pursue Biotechnology in the future. She loves to play guitar and is a regular at National level debate competitions. She is afraid of the increasing unemployment rate and the competition in her field and is very vocal about the same.”
In the above example, we get to know Jennifer, her age, aspirations, anxiety, etc. This information would help you to further target your marketing campaigns. It will also help you understand your audience and how you can connect with them better.
When you are creating brand personas, ensure that you are not just being superficial about it. Make sure that you include more than their name and age. Their hobbies, ambitions, interests, etc. would give a better understanding. Make sure you include different ethnicities, genders, cultures, etc.
Under/over-representation is always a menace when it comes to brand personas.
5. Make use of conversational marketing
These days, both students and parents desperately want fast and useful information that they can use to finalize their decision. Sure, they can scroll through your website, social media, or even your curriculum, but a lot of them won’t stick around for that long.
This is where the concept of conversation marketing comes into play. It involves engaging with prospective students and parents on a real-time basis.
It removes the friction that is caused due to forms and increases trust and credibility by inducing a sense of personalized communication. Your target audience wants information now, not after a day or week from the moment they raised their query.
Targeted messaging can help universities to connect with their prospective students, narrate a compelling story, and further boost the conversion from application to acceptance, and finally enrollment.
One of the quickest ways to add conversational marketing to your campaign would be to implement an intelligent chatbot into your arsenal.
You can either set it to answer basic questions and then connect with a human operator for the more complex ones or just have a chat window that is directly connected to one of your operators.
Using Whatsapp to communicate relevant and time-sensitive information can also be considered as a viable medium owing to its high open rates and accessibility to the masses.
The 2021 RNL E-Expectations Report stated that almost 50% of high school students wanted to use a chatbot to engage their prospective higher education institution than complete a form.
6. Ramp up your digital marketing
These days the higher your page (be it your website or social media handles) is being clicked/visited, the higher the chance you have of being selected as someone’s prospective college. Let’s deep dive into some of the digital marketing strategies that you can employ to attract more traffic and drive up your enrollment rates.
a. Do a profile on your faculties
The quality of faculties and the research work they put out is one of the prime reasons why students chose an institution. Doing a short profile on them and the work they do on a daily basis can be a huge factor for those who are looking for the same.
It can drive up that specific department’s enrollment rate and decrease the requirement for speculation. It also acts as a motivation to your educators who could always use a boost of encouragement.
Make sure you are very flexible with who you profile, it need not be those who win big grants or those who are extremely well published. It can also be people who have unique skill sets, stories, and those that can really flesh up the diversity your university offers.
b. Livestreaming, virtual events, and community-based engagement
Bring your alumni and recently graduated students who have found success during the COVID times and let them describe their experience graduating and finding employment during those tough times.
Let your popular educators host virtual events and webinars based on their research and their future plans to develop the subject and department further. Engage the students with a Q&A session and gauge their enthusiasm levels.
Show results of your community engagement and what the institution was able to give back to the society pre and post-pandemic and how it made a difference.
All these will make the prospective students understand that the university gives prime importance to the things that they are concerned about and that it’s an open platform for them to engage with.
c. Useful content and SEO
The objective here is to have a healthy mixture of on-the-go, easy-to-digest, and long-form content. This will ensure wide readability across all the platforms and those that want to go deeper will have resources at their disposal.
Multi-tasking friendly content like podcasts and short-form videos will increase the accessibility and audience base. Try to include interactive content on all your channels.
This could range from an on-campus expense calculator, daily calorie burner, an interactable map of the dorms and hallways, and many more.
Make sure to have loads of relevant FAQs and detailed answers so that your prospective students don’t have to go somewhere else to get their questions answered.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a key factor for any form of content to take off organically. In this day and age, ignoring SEO would give you a very bad headstart especially when your competition is investing heavily in the same.
Your content should be focused on providing the users with the most relevant answers pertaining to the questions they might ask and be well within their actual intent.
From a technical point of view, it is important to build structured data with semantic schema and provide both internal and external linking into all content.
Bonus points if you can convince your alumni or existing students to write blogs about their experience during their time on campus and the things they miss. Testimonials from parents and alumni work wonders too.
d. Appointment Scheduling Software
If you are hosting one-to-one sessions for prospective students or holding a group meeting as a recruiter to a high school, the way you conduct the entire session will hold great significance.
If your meeting details are miscommunicated or if your audience misunderstands the way the process was supposed to go about, it shows the level of preparation and passion you have towards the event.
Bringing an education scheduling software into the equation would solve most of your problems and the targeted audience can make use of the book buttons that are available on your website and social media handles to enjoy a hassle-free and comfortable session.
e. Email Marketing
It’s no secret that everyone hates those mass-sent promotional emails, and to be honest, very few of us even take the time to open them. However, if we see our name and interests somewhere, there’s an innate curiosity to click on it.
Similarly, personalized emails are a way for you to tap into your prospective students. Sending out emails that describe your institution and what it can offer will act as a very solid foundation for your efforts further down the lane.
You can use your database of client emails that you may have collected from various mediums for this purpose. Use infographics that would attract your audience and language that resonates with them. Here is a blog that will describe in detail how you can use your email list better.
7. Engage in social media marketing
Ahh yes, last but not least, Social Media. Words would not suffice in describing the importance of it. Gen-Z lives and breathes in this space.
Therefore it’s very important for you to not forget to target this domain as well. Here are some things to keep in mind.
a. Feature achievements
Use your social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) to boast about your student’s and faculty’s achievements. You can use it as a public place to hang your trophies.
The existing students sharing and commenting on the same will drive up your engagement levels and help more students see it.
If your departments have different accounts, then make sure to link them as well.
b. Showcase your campus
Who doesn’t love a beautiful campus? It’s yet another small but significant factor for anyone to choose their future college.
An early morning shot of a road that’s covered with brown fallen leaves can make anyone click and read the caption.
If you have a beautiful campus, then don’t be afraid to showcase it. Use clever captions and CTA’s to lead the students to your website and to resources where you can further your pitch.
c. Social life
Partying all night or taking part in huge volunteering drives would probably be on the bucket list of a prospective student. Showcase your campus’s social life through your social media.
Post about the places in and around your campuses where most of the students congregate, the restaurants, and other places of interest.
d. Make good use of #hashtags
By using targeted hashtags on social media, your university can leverage social proof to grow its brand on social media. You can even create different hashtags that are specific to different departments and events.
By optimizing your hashtags and by growing the number of people who follow them, you can increase your engagement and visibility levels.
Higher education marketers usually face a lot of challenges when it comes to projecting their input and getting the desired results owing to the ever-changing dynamics in the world of academics and students.
The pandemic definitely did raise a lot of questions regarding the credibility of a degree and why someone has to be physically present to receive a quality education.
The world has changed and the tables have turned.
The time has come for higher education institutions to make their case as to why someone should attend their establishment and not vice versa.
Appointy’s education scheduling tool is the perfect fit for all types of academic institutions. Automate academic counseling, advising sessions, let students reserve a seat for webinars and conferences, etc.
Leverage intake forms, integrations for personal calendars, Zoom, Google Meets, and even various payment portals to make your job (and life) a bit easier!
We hope your enrollment rates definitely go “higher” after trying out these marketing strategies.
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