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Higher Education Marketing


Higher education marketing is a tough business.

Higher education marketing tends to fall into a pattern of viewbooks, direct mail, open houses and a slew of digital marketing and advertising to recruit future students. Because of the repetitive nature of the college and university business cycle, it becomes easy to routinely do the same thing every year.  On a higher level, the schools that are doing the best job of recruiting and enrolling their most desirable types of students have realized that higher education is a business and they must treat their audience as a customer paying for a service. Here are a few concepts that are being embraced by larger colleges and universities:

Onboard seamlessly.

  • Businesses that have an efficient sales process enjoy the benefit of higher returns on their marketing investment. The more automation that can be integrated into your recruitment funnel, the easier it is to filter the most qualified students through your enrollment process.  From the initial contact, through condition based response mechanisms, to acceptance and matriculation, you must be able to guide prospective students along a path, dare we say “journey”, to becoming financially and emotionally invested in your institution.

Separate yourself. 

  • Why should a high school senior choose your college or university? This is basically Marketing 101 (pun intended!), as any small business, corporation or charitable organization must be able to demonstrate why they are different from their competition. It’s no different for schools, but it is so much more difficult due to the nature of its “product”.  The real deal marketing work is done at this level – determining what truly makes you different from any other school who has a 98% job placement rate. Of course, this will mean you need to align to your specific target audience, which is based on…..

Target personas for higher education marketing

  • When developing a business or marketing plan, one of the primary components is the designation of your audience. This is accomplished by developing target personas that exemplify the type of students you want to attract to your school. In some cases it’s obvious, such undergrad versus graduate students. In other cases, it takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to generate this element of a school’s overall strategic marketing plan.

A personalized approach

higher education marketing
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  • Personalized marketing communications is nothing new in higher educational marketing. Direct mail using the prospective students first name is supposed to have more of an impact than generic mailers. But as a society, we are becoming desensitized to this type of marketing. If we’re doing our job properly, we’re capturing pertinent information and preferences from our prospective students and using it to respond in a relevant and timely manner.

“A personalized approach is key to making a university stand out from the others. A professor from a specific program—either graduate or undergraduate—who reaches out to admitted students and actually understands who they are as people shows that someone at the university cares about their education, and the students feel like they are more than just tuition dollars.”

Lorraine Joyce, Associate Director of Publications, Seton Hall University

Optimize for the digital world.

  • As if it even needs to be stated, we are living in a digital world and we cannot continue to rely on the same tried and true methods for admissions marketing that we have in the past. There’s no way a college or university could rely solely on direct mail and BRCs, and even today we can not be beholden to digital marketing concepts that peaked 5-10 years ago. It’s imperative that we stay updated on new technologies, digital trends and changes in the way that major companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook, etc. offer their products and services. There’s new features and quirks popping up everyday and being on top of it feels a lot better than missing the boat, because it will change again before you know it.

Content is king. Still. 

  • The prevailing opinion today amongst marketers is that you cannot constantly ram your company’s product or service down your customer’s throat. When it comes to the integrated marketing strategies involving content, social media, search, email and your website, you must also valuable information that is relevant to your ideal prospective students. Great content has the ability to activate a chain reaction of engagement that will blow your conversion rates through the roof. The ability to do this without seeming self serving is the trick. Is your school investigating alternative, non-branded points of distribution for its content? It should be. Also, how well are you using video? How about AR (augmented reality)? There are major advancements coming in this world and it will offer an integrated experience that will be a game changer for marketers in general.

Students are customers, treat them as such. 

  • Getting students to come to your school is important, but retaining them is just as important. Once students are enrolled, it becomes the responsibility of student affairs and all the peripheral support services (such as bursar, registrar, housing, financial aid, etc…..aka. customer service) to retain them. Be sure that your students are handled the way any business would handle it’s valued customers.

Higher education marketing is no different than marketing any other business or organization. The fundamentals are the same, it’s simply the window dressing that changes between vertical markets, as well as brands within those specific industries. Understanding what is going on in the world outside higher educational marketing can have a tremendously positive impact on your marketing results.

We’d love to hear about any success stories or any challenges you have had with higher educational marketing. Comment below!


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