Over the years, I’ve been on marketing teams responsible for managing millions of dollars in media spend across numerous colleges and universities. Now, more than ever before, it’s a pay-to-play market, where competitors are investing more and more to break through the clutter to reach prospective students. Generating inquiries can be expensive, and without an active plan to help move them through the enrollment process many will go dormant, so we need to be strategic about integrating the efforts of our marketing and enrollment teams. Fortunately, there are ways to improve enrollment performance that don’t necessarily involve spending more on advertising—for example, impactful messaging targeted to the right audiences, a user-friendly and value-add landing page experience, and a sound lead-nurturing process designed to meet prospective students where they are in their journey.
Let’s look closer at a few ways to generate maximum impact on your enrollment pipeline in the coming year:
Data-Driven Ad Targeting
Most of us don’t have the luxury of unlimited marketing budgets, so it’s important to focus on what we know works. You have a lot of data on your prospects, students, and alumni that can help focus your advertising efforts on prospects who are most likely to enroll in—and succeed at—your institution. The beauty of digital advertising is how robust you can get with targeting; your investment will go much further, and you’ll be able to show positive ROI to leadership, which is critical for increasing the investment when many of us are tasked with growing enrollment year over year.
You don’t need to be a data scientist to get started. I’ve spent a lot of time running pivot tables in Excel spreadsheets to extract important insights that have led to significant cost savings and improved performance. A few easy things to look for:
- What ads are generating the highest engagement rates? (Tip: Metrics such as impressions and clicks provide early insights into campaign performance, but to understand the true impact, the ultimate goal is to track enrollments to the marketing channel and ad of origin.)
- What does the demographic profile of my (most successful) students look like? (Tip: Use this information to narrow down your targeting in digital ad platforms such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.)
- Where are my students coming from? (Tip: Narrow down geotargeting to focus only on states where you have generated enrollments or areas that research and data are showing as opportunities for expansion.)
Relevant and Impactful Creative
There is what we refer to as a “sea of sameness” across higher ed marketing. Look at the ads of your competitors and you’ll notice that many are touting the same benefits. The limited space afforded by digital advertising makes it challenging, but it’s essential to relay your strongest and most unique selling points with compelling—and concise—ad copy. It also doesn’t hurt to experiment with imagery, particularly with advertising on social platforms. Photos of students behind laptops are a dime a dozen. Instead, consider your user’s frame of mind. Or, even better, use your data to pull in behavioral insights that can provide insight into what types of images your prospects might find most engaging.
A Focused and Delightful Landing Page Experience
Once you’ve captured a prospect’s attention and inspired them to click on an ad or piece of content, it’s critical to send them to a web experience that’s user-friendly and designed to add value based on their wants and needs. Use your landing page to address what matters most to prospects:
- What makes your institution and program different?
- How long will this take?
- How much will this cost me?
- What do I get for my investment?
- When can I start?
Make it easy for your prospects to engage and take the next step, whether that’s through a request for information form or a toll-free number to speak with a knowledgeable advisor who can answer their questions. By configuring systems correctly and using the right tools, you can track these inquiry methods—having this data will be essential when evaluating ROI and advocating for expanded ad budget in the future.
Small gains in the ratio of the total number of prospects visiting your site to those who take action can yield significant impacts to the bottom line, so this is an area where you should absolutely be investing time and resources.
A Sound Lead-Nurturing Process
Data tells us that the prospect research process in higher education is lengthy and intense. It generally happens over the course of an average of three to 18 months (depending upon the degree type, audience, frequency of starts, and a number of other factors), and usually looks something like this:
- Identify the need or desire to obtain post-secondary education
- Gather relevant information
- Identify the alternatives
- Weigh the evidence
- Choose among alternatives
- Take action
- Review your decision and its consequences
The recent changes that NACAC made to its Code of Ethics pose some interesting challenges for this last step: What was once protected ground (prospects who have made a decision and declared intent to attend a school) is now open territory for competitors.
It’s important to implement a strategic and sound lead-nurturing process designed to meet prospective students where they are in their journey. Lead quality is a popular topic in marketing, but just as important is what we do with those leads, particularly during a high-stakes decision-making process such as selecting a college or university. Simply collecting a lead is not enough. At Blackboard, we’ve found that the more engaged we are with a prospect (through touchpoints such as calls, emails, and texts), the more likely they are to enroll. Earning a degree is one of the largest investments people make in their lifetime, so it’s not a decision that’s made lightly. A little handholding and encouragement can go a long way in building a strong relationship that lasts, so it’s critical to think about what this process looks like at your institution. Build a communication plan that helps keep your institution top of mind and adds value during key stages of the process—this will help ensure you’re making the most of your marketing and enrollment funnel.
Questions? Please reach out—I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective. Blackboard’s Strategic Marketing & Recruiting Services have helped dozens of institutions break through the noise to reach their target audience with digital marketing campaigns that capture what makes the brand or program unique, while addressing the questions prospects care about. We’d love to do the same for yours.