Choosing which college to attend is often one of the biggest decisions a young adult makes. Higher education brands need to be in tune with what the potential new student and others in their support system value in order to be that school of choice.
Creating higher education marketing strategies that support college enrollment presents several challenges:
- A complex targeting strategy: How do you reach rising juniors and seniors, parents and guardians, and adults seeking advanced degrees or just starting their education?
- The popularization of alternate schooling routes (e.g. trade schools or certifications)
- A long sales cycle: Influences on college decision making begin at a young age. When do you start marketing and how do you keep individuals engaged over the multi-year journey?
Fortunately, having a strong digital strategy can drive enrollments with agility and efficiency.
Here’s my top three higher education marketing strategies to help you get started:
1) Mix Targeting and Messaging to Reach Both Students and Guardians
Start by reaching parents and guardians first, providing long-term education to these key decision makers. Parents are the longer term play and require a unique messaging and channel strategy. Promote the value of a degree from your university or program five years after graduation. That’s what parents are typically thinking about and value most – how will your school set their child up for success?
With young students, you want to persuade them with their hearts. Communicate the experiential benefits of your school and how they will become part of the community. Capture the campus life vibrantly to show what makes your college or university special. Lastly, help them see how your school will prepare them for the future, while offering a safety net to learn and grow.
Persuading non-traditional students
Don’t forget your non-traditional students. Showcase benefits like flexibility to forge their own education path. Highlight programs with online options, night classes, or part-time schedules, allowing students to create custom experiences for their individual needs. Additionally, create personalized campaigns to promote the value of advanced degrees.
2) Select Channels that Resonate with Your Key Demographics
Video offers a solid foundation for higher education marketing strategies. The medium naturally lends itself to strong engagement, and offers a more personal view into day-to-day life on campus. Videoed student testimonials are a great way to build relatable content for students. Similarly, videos of professors can instill confidence that students will thrive in the school’s learning environment. Complement the video with a QR code or landing page to a PDF or brochure that reinforces the video content.
Placing these videos on more premium channels such as Connected TV (CTV) and YouTube is a great place to start. YouTube is a channel people go to for advice, perhaps looking for content such as “top 10 universities for engineering.” CTV offers the non-skippable, large-screen format to establish brand trust and recognition across the household (with greater flexibility than traditional cable TV).
Social media is a huge part of decision making for students thinking about next steps in their lives. Content on social is a major source of influence and inspiration. Video marketing ties in very well with a paid social media strategy, especially on TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
We’re currently seeing high engagement on TikTok ads with our higher education clients. When done well, higher education institutions are able to reach stakeholders in a way that feels more organic. People inherently use the platform to find information, not just to seek entertainment. So it’s great for building intent, beyond awareness
With paid social creative strategy, the key is communicating your value authentically. Don’t try to be deceptive and act as if your ad isn’t an ad. But do be natural and avoid over-curation which sticks out and can cause more harm than good. Think of social media as a way to initiate a conversation, not just create demand.
These individuals live lives outside of social media. Sure, they’re likely spending several hours a day on social media. But, you need to reach them across various touchpoints. Video advertising across programmatic and social channels starts to drive education and consideration of various programs you offer. Then, look into mid-bottom funnel tactics to start supporting conversions.
This is a great time to introduce paid search – a very reliable conversion driver for higher education brands. Use insights from your awareness campaigns to inform the keyword and audience targeting strategy on this channel. Paid search can be a vehicle to promote downloadable educational materials or even applications now that your audience is at a higher intent phase.
3) Use Lifecycle Messaging to Keep Decision Makers Engaged
Understand the multiyear cycle of a collegiate decision making process. Lifecycle messaging engages students and influential decision makers from initial awareness to application.
Start the cycle by investing in broad awareness early on. Focus on reaching parents first, then students, placing your school on the map as an option for their future. Use compelling video and other visual content to create a memorable impact. In this stage, use messaging to evoke positive emotions while making audiences aware of the higher education options you provide.
Work to establish yourself in the consideration set – those top 5 -10 colleges. Shift to more conversion-based tactics, such as lead generation display ads or swipe-up campaigns on social media to gather prospective student information. In this phase, offer more details about the value of your programs, the campus experience, and the differentiators making your school special.
Application & Enrollment
Once a new semester is approaching, how do you get interested students to take the leap and apply? Use data and insights to find audiences who are ready to take action. Then, drive conversions using tactics like paid search, email marketing, social, and SMS ads with the call-to-action of “Apply Now.”
If you need a marketing partner to create your custom higher education marketing strategies, contact Coegi today to learn more.
We’ll guide you through the process of in-depth research to identify your ideal target audience and how you can reach them. Then, we’ll partner with your team to activate a strategic, omnichannel media plan based on your core business goals.