These days, most prospective students are savvy consumers. Overwhelmingly digital natives, what they want from an educational provider can’t be neatly summed up in a glossy course prospectus. In response, schools are becoming smarter about how they market themselves to this next generation of students. With strategic marketing for educational institutions fast becoming a priority, ed(tech) marketers are often found questioning how they can optimize their digital marketing for the education industry.
With more disruptive competition and more demanding “customers”, institutions and programs need to rethink their higher education marketing strategies to truly stand out. But how? When it comes to selling something like education, it’s important to remember the conversion cycle—the timeline from the first click-through to enrolment—is much longer than what we typically see in e-commerce or retail.
Ultimately, prospective students are making one of the biggest decisions of their lives. And that takes time! With this in mind, there is plenty of scope for optimization to ensure your digital campaigns speak to the right students at every stage of their decision-making process. Here’s how:
1. Target your audience
Understandably, prospective students are going to be choosy about which programs they apply to. Equally, when it comes to considering your sales cycle, it pays to be picky about the audience you target with your messages.
There are millions of students searching online for courses, and therefore millions of prospects you could display your ads to. But there is very little value in creating hundreds of thousands of unqualified leads. If you want to ensure more leads ultimately progress to enrolled students, focus on targeting a smaller pool of highly qualified candidates. Prioritizing quality over quantity will pay dividends in the long term.
2. Remember what you’re selling
Equally important as understanding your audience is understanding your product. What works for selling face cream, a smartphone, or a pair of shoes online simply doesn’t sell degrees.
In many ways, you’re selling a dream—something of deep value that often comes with a significant investment of time and money. This understanding should influence the tone, timing, and expectations you have of your digital marketing campaigns, specifically - your higher education digital marketing strategy.
3. Align your marketing messages with your student’s decision-making process
Taking the next step in education is a huge decision, and no one decides to do a degree overnight. For example, most undergraduate candidates start thinking about schools well over a year before applying. Even enrolling in a short course is often a long-considered decision.
Imagine the thought process of your prospective students and aim to deliver messages that speak to their needs at key points along the way. At what point are they in a “research” stage of considering programs? What information is most compelling then? And what is a reasonable timeframe to make a final decision?
Because this is such an important personal decision, overly pushy “sales” messages rarely work. Often, “nurturing” content, such as student and alumni success stories, is the most compelling. But also recognize when a prospect may need an extra nudge to take that next step and apply.
4. Consider the length of your sales cycle
Understanding the decision-making journey goes hand in hand with nailing down the timeline of your sales conversion cycle. If you don’t know the length of your sales cycle, your marketing machine cannot work. So, what’s the optimal time frame from first impression to a fully enrolled candidate?
To answer that question, it’s critical to know your lead generation time (how long does it take to get an inquiry?), the lead response time (how quickly are you able to follow up?), and how many touchpoints are needed to convert a lead into a student (is one retargeted ad enough? Or do you need to plan out several touchpoints along the way, including retargeting campaigns, follow up calls, emails, webinars, etc.?). The perfect formula will be different for every program and school.
Looking at past performance data is the best way to hone in on your optimal cycle length, which is where a good CRM system is key. But if your student data is too messy to run this analysis, then getting your CRM in order is an essential place to start. That way, going forward you can base your marketing decisions on good data. Have a look at how we helped our client harness their data to increase enrolment numbers from paid advertising.
5. Get help from the experts
If you’re going to partner with an agency to optimize your digital strategy and lead-generating campaigns, we believe it’s crucial to work with someone who has a deep understanding of the education industry.
Of course, we want to believe every agency knows how to create good Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn ads, but that doesn't mean every agency will understand your “product” or how to market it in the right way.
Making the journey from first ad impression to consideration to enrolment as smooth as possible for your students will leave a lasting positive impression. And if you can give prospective students the feeling you knew what they needed at each step—even before they knew—they will eventually turn into your very best lead source.