Being a part of the education marketing industry means that we’re no strangers to the fact that all too often, its creative strategies end up resembling that of an alternate industry. While there is merit in taking inspiration from other industries - there are fundamental differences, that when ignored can spell disaster for your institution.
The primary objective of any campaign, regardless of industry - is (quality) lead generation. Arguably the biggest mistake, or challenge that education marketers face, is that is where the campaign ends. Unfortunately - student acquisition isn’t as simple as marketing a standard product, let’s say - an age-combatting night cream targeted at women between the ages of 50 and 65. In this case, the entire strategy would be centered around 1 consumer desire, to appear younger. This product would sell itself, and with the addition of a few brand promises, consider it sold. Student acquisition is a complicated process - where the course, tutor, or degree is not a product, it is a means to an end for the prospect. Education marketers sell hopes and dreams. They sell the future - and that’s a lot harder to market than something that you would find in a store. Instead of a standard campaign strategy, one that targets students would need to include multiple steps, and even more consumer touchpoints.
Finding the right balance between standard procedure and innovation is vital for education marketers: admittedly, if you cling to the same Playbook you used last year or that your competitors use, your message will be forgotten. That said, there are strategic frameworks that should be used to provide structure to the experiments and brand you're attempting to build.
As what could be considered a niche industry, education marketing needs to be strategized and further broken down into audience segments. A prime example of this would be that an institution could have a buyer persona of anywhere between 18 and 40 years old, often comprised of both parents - and students.
Let’s have a look at the most common mistakes, and misconceptions about education marketing
A run of the mill strategy just won’t do it
It's easy to overlook nuances that define the space in the rapidly evolving world of education marketing. The most common mistake we see marketing teams make is relying on experience from other industries and defining their funnel as strictly B2B or B2C based on the target buyer and sales process, without recognizing the complexity between those models and the funding and purchasing cycles in education.
Easily one of the biggest challenges that we see in the education marketing space is a failure to include multiple touchpoints in a marketing funnel. A touchpoint is defined as a significant interaction between a consumer, and a company. (Emphasis on significance.) Touchpoints occur before, during, and after a purchase. These contribute to the consumer's perception of your brand. The customer experience is a journey that consumers follow when they interact with a company, and customer touchpoints are the stops along the way that make the journey worthwhile.
Let’s go back to the face cream metaphor for a minute. When it comes to selling a cosmetic product, there would be a standard of 3 touchpoints with a potential consumer before purchase. This could include a single targeted awareness ad, a testimonial campaign - and then straight to the “buy now” creative. There is not much need to include more communication with the consumer, simply because they are already aware, they know their problem - and more importantly, they know that your product is the solution. Education marketing is nowhere near as simple. Campaigns need to be longer, more authentic - and more consumer (student or parent) driven.
Where the investment is high, so too should the communication! It’s not enough to grab the attention of a prospective student through a compelling ad, sign them up to a database - and then ask them to buy. The journey from prospect to student is much longer and requires a far higher level of nurturing than that of a retail product.
This is why multiple touchpoints matter
- They nurture the new relationship
- They breed a sense of trust.
- They communicate authentically.
- They make your prospect feel valued.
Underestimating the length of your sales cycle (and expecting immediate results)
Many first-time (and even seasoned) education marketers make this mistake; they are experienced software or consumer marketers who believe that a standard enterprise vs. SMB or B2B vs. B2C funnel blueprint will adequately define their buying cycle. As such, these marketers enter a campaign with high hopes - and often expect (and promise) results within weeks, because this is what they’re accustomed to.
Unfortunately, in the ed space, this simply isn’t the case. The standard education sales cycle could last anywhere between a few weeks - to months - to years. Equipping yourself with, and accepting this knowledge before designing a campaign allows you to adequately adjust KPIs, manage expectations, and design a funnel based on the needs of the student or parent audience.
The pool of prospective students is massive, and it's accessible - due in part to the online presence of the audience, with the web making the process simpler for students to find an institution, enroll, and study online.
This is where the value of consistently, and regularly analyzing your funnel comes in handy. This is a significant trend for any ed(tech) marketer to be aware of, as it has far-reaching implications for marketing and recruitment strategy, as well as inquiry and admissions management. It also calls into question traditional notions of managing the enrolment funnel (also known as the "recruitment funnel" or "admissions funnel").
Here’s a prime example!
This is how you can make it work.
- Embrace the nuance
- Accurately qualify prospects
- Focus on engagement
- Use the data
Overreliance on lead generation
We have identified two main problems that can be found in an education marketing campaign; mimicking a (successful) sector’s campaign, and underestimating the length of the prospect-student sales cycle. Each of these dilemmas leads to one, final mistake that ed marketers make. That is - spending too much time, budget, and creative resources on lead generation - while overtly neglecting the lead nurturing process.
Let’s have a look at this from the student’s perspective. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes for a moment. You’ve recently entered your last year of high school. Your parents are pressuring you to make a decision that will have implications for the rest of your life. Your friends seem to know exactly what they want to do - and they give you the impression that they have a foolproof plan to get there. You’re keenly aware of the cost of higher education, but in the same breath - you appreciate the value that a degree will add to your career. You’re stuck. The ball is in your court - and it’s the first real-world decision that you’ll ever have to make.
How do you, as a marketer address, appreciate, and solve those fears? We’ll tell you how not to do it. Simply targeting this teenager with an aggressive ad, stating that your institution is the best, (and only) option that they have will only serve to throw them back to the starting line. Your audience is sensitive. They’re prone to be offended easily, and they do not want to be put in a corner.
You need a gentle approach - and that takes time
While lead generation is certainly a vital part of any successful campaign - it’s not the end goal. In fact, without an effective lead generation strategy, your institution won't stand a chance in today's fierce market. The process of lead generation and nurturing is an excellent opportunity to create and distribute engaging online content! To gain your audiences' affection and trust, a well-equipped marketer will provide them with some form of valuable, juicy content. Blogs, social media posts, offers, or other online resources such as an eBook or checklist template could be examples of content. Moreover, creating content for the purpose of lead generation is an excellent way to boost your company's Google ranking. The more high-quality, fully optimized links you have on the internet, the more likely it is that your website will be flagged in search results for specific keywords.
Once that shy and fearful teenager has become aware, and engaged with your institution - through gentle and well-placed nudges, what are you going to do with him? In the case of our example - he has months to make a decision, and many other institutions are gunning for his attention too. What makes you stand out? Why should he keep engaging with you, let alone enroll at your institution?
Nurturing leads entails purposefully engaging your target audience by providing relevant information, assisting them in any way they require, and maintaining a sense of delight throughout their decision-making journey. In other words - you become their friend, you understand their emotional drive, you care for their future - and you’re there when it counts. You’re also there once they’ve made their decision, you provide valuable tips and advice - you still care.
Before you throw in the towel and become overwhelmed at the vast amount of work required to tick this box - invest in a CRM! The great thing about lead nurturing is that it can be automated, and personalized in the same breath.
Here are a few tips to get you started on your lead nurturing journey
- Adopt an omnichannel approach: Marketing automation, email marketing, social media, paid retargeting, dynamic website content, and direct sales outreach are all common components of effective multi-channel lead nurturing. Because there are so many tactics involved, you must ensure that your sales and marketing teams are well-aligned and working together to execute this properly.
- Focus on the touchpoints: According to research, prospects receive ten marketing touches on average between the time they become aware of your company and the time they convert into customers. Often, in the education sector - far more are required. Consider how you can nurture your prospects into customers using a combination of content types such as social media, blog posts, whitepapers, interactive prep sheets, or even direct mail, in addition to email tactics.
- Keep it personal: Email marketing remains a highly effective lead-nurturing tactic — and personalization of those emails tends to produce better results. According to an Accenture study, 41 % of customers switched businesses due to a lack of personalization.
- Automate it: Automating lead nurturing allows for the systematic tracking of lead engagements with your content and site, and accurate pinpointing of that lead’s stage in the sales cycle. That means you can drip-feed appropriate content at the right time – leads are never forgotten and opportunities are never missed.
Our purpose is always our biggest opportunity. (Higher) Education was built to serve. Its intentions are noble — and its influence is transformative. As we navigate these challenges, those brands that can simply and masterfully convey purpose — that can show prospective students a value proposition that aligns institutional purpose with student perception of purpose — are on the right track. Tactics and strategies implemented should align with the pursuit. Lead generation, while valuable - is not the end of the campaign, it is in fact - only the beginning.