What Makes Marketing for Higher Education Different?

Higher education marketing is one of the services that the education specialists at Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) are approached about most often. Why? Because higher-ed institutions are in a tightly-packed, competitive space, one that has been wracked by tremendous upheaval in recent years. With 36% of institutions reporting declines in campus visits, and a limited pool of applicants to entice, colleges and universities know they must launch bold advertising initiatives that foster engagement through multiple channels. Those initiatives have to take account of where the relevant audiences mostly reside: online. It comes as no surprise, then, that the average higher-ed governing board now allocates between $429 and $623 for marketing — much of it digital — per enrolled student.

Some institutions handle this work in-house, and some contract with higher education marketing firms, but either way the goal is the same: to publish compelling communications that strengthen a brand and reach the right people at the right time to boost enrollment.

How to Create a Successful Higher Education Marketing Strategy

If you are a higher-ed institution vying for enrollment increases in this high-pressure ecosystem, you will need to have a solid plan, along with data, experience, and industry intuition, to attract and hold prospective students’ attention. You may find that it makes more sense to engage a partner out-of-house for all your higher ed marketing activities than to manage them yourself. In any case, for higher-ed institutions hoping to distinguish themselves from competitors and attract enrollees, the following tips can lay the groundwork for an effective higher education marketing strategy.

10 Higher Education Marketing Strategies to Boost Student Enrollment

1. Utilize YouTube

Education marketing strategies should take advantage of Gen Z’s affinity for YouTube. This social platform gets traffic from up to 93% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29, and ads on the platform often see higher levels of engagement than many other forms of promotion. Marketing for higher ed can harness these trends by showcasing education institutions’ outstanding qualities and connecting their stories to those of their target audiences.

2. Incorporate Video

Video in general is a fruitful avenue for higher education marketing, and one of the biggest education marketing trends. Video is a powerful medium that can give prospective students a better introduction to your campus amenities or eminent faculty than you could achieve otherwise. This builds trust and brand awareness that will benefit your campaigns at large. Your videos can be long or short, and they can cover a huge range of topics, from campus life to the history of your college or university, to FAQs about the admission process. Making this form of content a priority in your marketing campaigns across channels will help you raise engagement and conversion rates and boost your SEO metrics.

3. Increase Organic Traffic Through SEO

Speaking of SEO metrics, you might think that enrollment is a game of chance, that you have little control over whether students stumble upon your website. That is not true. In fact you can increase the traffic entering your marketing funnel through a variety of SEO strategies. To make sure your higher ed marketing cuts through the commotion of internet activity in your field, you first have to conduct research to find out what searches your audience is performing most often. Next, use that research to find promising keywords to include in your content, so that search engines will be more likely to send people toward your website, blog, or other material in the course of their school enrollment research.

Leading people to your content is half the battle; the other half is influencing their interactions with that content, so that search engines know users are getting value from what you’re putting out. Make sure your blog posts, infographics, thought leadership articles, videos and webpages are well-organized, clear, functional, credible, and timely. This will improve metrics like time on page and bounce rate, while also increasing your chance of earning citations from third-party sites, i.e., backlinks, which exert a further favorable effect on your search engine ranking and overall competitiveness. Spending time on SEO is an avenue for marketing higher education that should not be overlooked.

4. Use Lookalike Audiences

The Lookalike Audience option in Facebook Ads allows you to identify key characteristics from an antecedent customer base — such as age, sex, income, location, engagement patterns and interests —  and then target a group of people similar to that base with your advertising. You may choose how closely the lookalike base must match the original base, opting for a wider, less similar audience or a smaller, more similar one depending on your marketing goals. Lookalike audience campaigns tend to have much higher conversion rates than just sending your promotions out blind, making it a valuable tool for marketing in higher education.

5. Prioritize Mobile

People are on their phones more than three hours a day on average. That means there’s a good chance potential enrollees will run across your marketing campaigns while on a mobile device. You can help create the best user experience possible in this scenario by utilizing responsive ads and, if you rely on a CMS for your webpages, choosing one that gives you the option of flexibility between desktop- and mobile-friendly formats. If you partner with an outside agency for web development, make sure they understand and can fulfill your need for mobile-enabled content.

6. Create a Personalized Experience

90% of consumers prefer working with companies that make the effort to offer a personalized experience. Meanwhile, consumer willingness to switch brands is at an extreme high. Factor this into your higher education marketing. Emphasizing how your institution respects individual learning styles, schedules, goals and preferences in your marketing campaigns can give prospective students confidence that you provide a service tailored to their unique circumstances, making it easier for them to take the step of enrolling.

7. Make Friends with Influencers

We’ve written before about how paid media (traditional ads) likely aren’t enough to compete in a highly content-driven environment like the digital world. With earned media taking on more and more importance in modern marketing, you’ll want to try to secure third-party endorsements of your institution. Social media influencers can be a powerful force to generate awareness of and interest in your brand, and a multi-tiered marketing strategy that harnesses that force can work wonders in education contexts. Marketing for higher education should include some strategy for getting the people who set trends in your industry on your side, so that students researching colleges to attend are likely to run into a positive mention of your organization.

8. Choose KPIs Wisely

As in all other types of marketing, collecting data from education marketing campaigns can mean the difference between failure and success. The key performance indicators (KPIs) that you choose to monitor can tell you how your efforts are going in real time, highlight trends over time, reveal areas of weakness, point to new opportunities, and allow you to revise your campaigns for maximum effect and focus future efforts where it is most economical to do so. Will you track leads? Conversions? Backlinks? Time on page? Traffic source? The particular combination of KPIs you prioritize will depend on your institution’s goals, budget and timeline, but the bottom line is that you have to collect data in order to make informed decisions about your marketing.

9. Emphasize Real-World Outcomes

In a period of economic instability and high tuition rates, students are worried about getting jobs after graduating that justify the cost of going to college. Emphasizing real-world outcomes and the practical value of the education you offer will not only make prospective students feel understood but also help allay their fears about enrolling.

10. Create Engaging, Sincere Content

Enrolling at a higher ed institution, with all the effort and expense that entails, is a deeply emotional decision that requires a strong bond between the institution and its audience. Even if you offer a program that is a perfect fit for a student and falls within their budget, if they don’t feel an emotional resonance with your messaging, they may turn elsewhere for help. One way to avoid this is by making sure your higher education marketing conveys who you really are — what your values are, why you strive to help students succeed, and how you understand their motivations and concerns. This can go a long way toward building the relationships you need to achieve higher enrollment rates.

FAQs about Higher Education Marketing

How do you market higher education?

You market higher education through preliminary research and audience insight that informs a balanced campaign with both PR and marketing elements, across multiple channels, guided by real-time data.

What marketing strategies do universities use?

Universities use a variety of marketing strategies including influencer outreach, social media, SEO, paid media, reporter pitches, video, and thought leadership articles.

How much does higher education spend on marketing?

Individual baccalaureate programs now spend upwards of 1.4 million dollars on average, masters programs almost 2 million dollars on average, and doctorate programs almost six million dollars on average.

Ready for Your Next Move?

Successful marketing in higher ed is a complex process that will most likely require expertise acquired through long experience. If you want to skip the trial and error and go straight to the payoff, you’ll need help from a higher education marketing agency. The education team at CSG is always ready for a new challenge, so get in touch with us here today.