Successful marketing in Higher Education demands creativity, measurement, and consistency. This is a competitive activity in which others institutions are likely participating against yours.
But how should you do it? Your college doesn’t need a marketing department or a large budget to produce results. Instead, thinking outside the box, betting on innovation, critically observing data, and keeping up with available technologies can go a long way.
Ultimately, the goal is to connect with leads and convert them into enrolled students by positioning the institution in a positive light.
This article will explore 5 strategies for successful marketing in Higher Ed, designed for 2023.
Develop a Detailed Persona of Your Ideal Students on a Program Basis
Too many organizations are seeing their marketing efforts fail because they don’t have a crystal-clear understanding of their prospective students. They don’t make the most of the available data. They create marketing assets based on assumptions.
A persona is a detail-rich fictional person, based on real-world data and facts, representing a group of people. This is a powerful yet overlooked tool in marketing and sales.
It is your job to develop a detailed persona before anything else. Observe data from existent students, such as demographics, socio-economics, and interests. Extract insights and create this fictional person.
Why? This is the only way to craft an effective marketing message, one that hits home. If you don’t know someone, how could you expect to push the right buttons? You want to satisfy doubts, appeal to interests, and help with particular challenges.
Another problem of working without a persona is actually ignoring where your prospective students are. Maybe you are running ads on Facebook while, in reality, your prospective students are on TikTok. You will not have any certainty until the persona has been developed. The purpose of this tool is to answer these questions.
Guarantee Strong Online Assets
Your online assets are the tools that make marketing actions possible. Your college needs a website, social media profiles, email marketing infrastructure, and branding and graphic elements.
Higher-Ed institutions must aim for superb quality when working on these assets. They will be dealing with high-digital-literacy individuals who know how to distinguish a great website from a mediocre one.
This also means full compatibility with mobile devices. As of November 2022, 59.5% of all website traffic comes from mobile devices. Yet we continue to see so many sites mainly designed for desktops and showing deficiencies when visited on a smartphone. This is not acceptable anymore.
Your online assets, starting with your website, must be up-to-date, modern enough, responsive, fast, and convenient to browse. With an average user attention span of around 8 seconds, you literally have next to no time to waste!
The same applies to social media presence. Below-average efforts are not acceptable in 2023. You need a professional or a team to manage your profiles, producing high-quality content that:
- Talks directly to the audience,
- Generates interest and conversation,
- Includes top-notch media assets such as photos, illustrations, and videos,
- Uses the right hashtags to reach the right people, and
- Involves thought leaders and influencers in the conversation
Partner with Thought Leaders and Education Influencers
All across the board, influencers are playing a big role in brand exposure and community building. People are drawn by other people. The audience can relate and connect more easily with a real person than with a faceless organization.
In the case of Higher Ed, we want to find thought leaders and education influencers who can be the bridge between colleges and prospective students.
How to find them? A thought leader has strong authority in a specific field, being recognized by peers and others as someone acknowledgeable, well-informed, and capable of expressing himself.
Explore social media and communities in the education space to identify influencers of all sizes. Internally evaluate how your college can collaborate with them, ideally forming long-term partnerships.
Build an Online Community
If you already have the support of thought leaders or you don’t, your institution needs to be working on building its online community. Being a college, you can start building and developing experience and a name with existing students.
By using social media and chat-based community tools such as Discord or Slack, your institution can begin to work on this. Look for the help of an online community manager that can boost the process and make things right from the beginning if possible.
With existing students on board, make sure that your community has enough appeal. Come up with online and real-life activities for students to participate in and connect with each other. Slowly, as students get more and more involved, make the community more visible and open. Create a circumstance where prospective (non-enrolled) students get interested and join.
If your institution is not ready for the management and moderation efforts required for a dynamic Discord-based community, you can start with Facebook or LinkedIn groups. Even a subreddit on Reddit. Here you can stimulate conversation, share content, and get people increasingly involved.
Leverage the Power of Email Marketing
Email is the most popular digital communication tool in the United States, even bigger than social media and any other messaging apps. As of January 2022, 92% of the population that uses the Internet have reported email as a form of communication. Compare this to the second place, social media with 83%.
Even young people, who are more active on social media, depending on emails to have a functional online life. All services and platforms require users to have an active, accessible email address to create an account.
Email is not going anywhere and institutions must leverage the available opportunities. To begin with, your college should have an ongoing, proactive email campaign schedule. In this particular case, we are not talking about reaching out to existing students but building an email list of prospective students and using it.
Make sure your website and social media profiles include the right mechanisms to capture email addresses. Offer special content and perks to people who subscribe to your email list. Provide free 30-minute consultations on high-value topics to prospective students. Give them privileged access to online and real-life activities. Join college fairs and collect contact info.
With an email list, you need to set up drip campaigns that automatically reach out the prospective students with a clear sequence. You want to slowly develop a relationship, based on warmth and trust. The goal is to provide clear information to the prospective student and generate enough interest in order for her to reach out. This inbound approach has proven more effective than aggressive tactics that both staff and students hate.
The Bottom Line
Here is the reality: The strategies described above are not complex nor original. They actually hit the foundations of marketing and community building. However, most institutions are not getting the basics right.
Successful marketing in Higher Education is more about getting the basics right than finding and executing secret, unique tactics. Experimenting is not only good but highly recommended. Yet such experiments must come after the foundations are in place.
Here is a brief summary:
- Begin by understanding your students in depth.
- Identify where they are and what they want to hear about.
- Aim for high quality in each effort but beware of perfection (it leads to insufficient action).
- Partner with the right people in the education field.
- Build a community that feeds life on campus.
- Leverage the potential of the old but reliable email.
And be aware of your college’s operational situation. All these efforts come at a cost, either in time, money, or both. Your staff may be saturated already. So before embarking on these necessary efforts, make sure every single workflow and process that can be automated gets automated.
Edular helps with this. Our all-in-one platform for colleges and universities simplifies processes all across the board. Everything from enrollment and admissions to attendance and grading gets streamlined and automated. This doesn’t only free the capacity of your staff but also the financial resources to improve other elements of your institution.