It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2020 presented a lot of challenges across almost all industries. But one that was particularly hit hard was the higher education industry.
Between trying to figure out the best way to keep students and faculty safe, coordinating online learning, and looking for innovative solutions to keep students invested and interested in higher learning – it’s difficult to prioritize where your higher education marketing should focus its efforts in 2021 and beyond.
To better understand how students are making decisions about higher education and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted those decisions, we conducted a survey of over 1,500 adults ages 18-49 who are currently considering, enrolled in, or recently completed a course at a college, university, or technical or trade program.
What we found was both surprising and enlightening and can help you create a higher education marketing strategy that both attracts new students and retains current ones.
Download our exclusive report to see all the data, and keep reading to get some actionable data-backed tips and insights you can use to run successful enrollment and brand campaigns in 2021 and beyond.
Define Your Culture Online
Our study found that prospective students begin their research into higher education with two schools in mind before doing any research – 75% end up enrolled at one of those two institutions. Once the decision is made, enrollment happens quickly. This speaks to the importance of building brand awareness with prospective students before they even enter the decision-making stage.
You can build awareness for your institution and win over new students by creating a clearly defined culture. You can promote your culture online by unifying your marketing and presenting a strong brand identity that carries through any information students can find about you on the internet.
1. Start Building Brand Awareness Early
To become one of the two schools that prospective students choose from, you must be on their radar early. Our study found that students first identify schools with the following qualities:
- Well-known or respected reputation.
- Offer financial assistance.
- Have programs or courses of interest.
- The student’s friends and/or family attended.
- Close to the student’s work or home.
Many of these qualities are proximity but some are tied to your school’s brand identity, so it’s important to focus on building a quality reputation and touting your institution’s achievements, programs, and campus culture.
2. Run YouTube Advertising
YouTube continues to be one of the most popular channels for consumers of all types, with over 3.74 million videos watched on the platform each minute. And, our study found that YouTube advertising had the highest ad recall of any channel and drove the most actions, so it’s crucial that your school is running ads there.
Here’s an example of a YouTube ad from Florida State University.
Think about how you can create video ads that not only target your most likely student but also hit on the most important factors students consider in their decisions: job placement opportunities, affordability, and a wide range of academic programs.
3. Don’t Neglect Facebook Advertising
Many education marketers have neglected Facebook advertising in favor of other advertising channels, but our study shows that Facebook (and Instagram) advertising continues to be effective at driving both awareness and action for prospective students.
Couple your Facebook and Instagram advertising with a robust organic social media marketing strategy built around engagement and awareness so you’re creating a community of both current and prospective students as you grow your audience online.
Think Like a Student
To connect and engage with students, it’s important to know how they’re consuming information, researching their options, and making decisions. Taking the information from our study, here are two ways to help you think like a student:
4. Offer Incentives for Online Learning
While the majority (54%) of students would prefer a hybrid learning experience, it’s also important to illustrate how your college or university is supporting or can support those who may not have the same resources available. If you’re able, provide promotions or special offers for students learning virtually. Maybe you partner with a technology provider to give them a discount on a new laptop or tablet, or maybe you provide some sort of stipend for internet access.
If you have study or learning space available on campus that students learning virtually have access to, make sure to share that information in your higher education marketing materials as well. It can be an added perk for those who may not have easy access to an ideal learning environment.
5. Look for Transfer Incentive Opportunities
With more students transferring or planning to transfer due to the pandemic, according to our study, now is the time to target potential transfer students and increase enrollment. Our data found that students are transferring to find better quality education, so make sure to reinforce your school’s caliber of programs and job placement tools to show transfer students the benefits of graduating from one of your programs.
Additionally, look for ways you can retain your current students so they aren’t transferring to a different program. This might be focusing on your job placement resources and finding ways to secure work experience early.
Inspire Students to Aspire
Students know that education is important – especially when it comes to career placement and job opportunities – but many are having a hard time visualizing it for themselves. Include reminders, data, and real-life success stories that help prospective students realize the doors education can open for them and their futures.
Here are two ways you can do that:
6. Share Information About Your Job Placement Resources
According to our study, job placement is a top factor for students when choosing where to pursue their degrees, so it will be critical to include how your university prepares and places students upon graduation, including what opportunities are available to students, any companies or organizations you’ve partnered with, and what training or resources you provide to help prepare them for the job market.
7. Create & Share Case Studies from Recent Grads
By creating case studies from recent grads about their degree program, how your university helped them secure a job, and how they’re succeeding now, you can put some of those fears to rest and win over new students.
This speaks to many of the factors that students consider when making their higher education decisions and can also help your school get on a student’s radar before they enter their decision-making phase.
Higher Education Marketing in 2021
Higher education marketing is going to continue to be a challenge in 2021, but with the right data and strategies, you can successfully retain current students and increase enrollment. Learn more about how we can help with higher education marketing here, and download our exclusive report that details our study (plus more tips to help you get ahead!) below.