Pursuing a higher education degree is a big commitment that requires both a lot of time and a lot of money. Prospective students make decisions on where to attend college based on a number of practical factors like location, degree programs, scholarship opportunities, and so much more. But, there’s also an emotional element at play — and that’s where your higher education marketing can really differentiate your university and help you stand out.
While every student’s path is different, one thing is for sure: Higher education marketing comes with a unique set of challenges. In this post, you’ll learn how to meet those challenges head-on and create a higher education marketing plan with 11 strategies that work:
- Create personalized, targeted social campaigns.
- Use emotion to connect with prospective students.
- Highlight what makes your school unique.
- Let your happy students tell your story.
- Encourage personal connections through events.
- Showcase successful alumni.
- Use the power of video marketing.
- Start an informative and engaging blog.
- Share your positive press.
- Get heard on popular podcasts.
- Don’t be afraid to try guerilla marketing.
What is higher education marketing?
Higher education marketing is marketing an institution to those seeking any type of higher education degree, which in the U.S. is defined as any degree beyond a high school diploma.
The higher education space is one of the most challenging marketing industries to be in. Not only is making this decision a huge personal commitment, but it’s also a huge financial investment. Current research also shows that higher education student enrollment is on the decline, making the state of the industry even more challenging for marketers — especially right now. Making sure your higher education marketing plan has strategies that actually work is more important than ever.
And with that, let’s jump in.
1. Create personalized, targeted social campaigns.
We all know that social media has become a popular space not only for teenagers, but also young, middle-aged, and even older adults to spend their time online. So, whether your target audience is the teenage high school student starting their college search or the middle-aged parent looking to make a career change, they’re spending lots of time browsing through their Instagram feeds and checking their Facebook messages.
This is why your institution must have a robust social media marketing plan for all social media networks. And, this can’t just be a set-it-and-forget-it social media strategy. Nope — you have to tailor your social media posts and social media ads for your audience. Luckily, platforms like Instagram and Facebook make this easy.
For example, let’s say your school sees high enrollment among high school students interested in environmentalism and politics. You can create personalized campaigns to find those prospective students (see example below).
Pay attention to the age and location settings as well as interest and demographic targeting in Facebook’s Ad Manager platform to ensure your campaigns are reaching your target audience. Then, make sure to cater your ad copy and content to this same group.
2. Connect with prospective students through emotional marketing.
A higher education degree can truly impact a person’s life in many ways. So, it’s not a surprise that getting that degree is often a very emotional and meaningful experience. Why not play this up in your marketing?
Emotional marketing is a highly-effective strategy. A Nielson study found that individuals are 8.4x more likely to trust a company and 7.1x more likely to make a purchase when they feel a positive emotion from that brand.
Luckily, there are so many ways to use the power of emotion when marketing your university because school is often the start of a life-altering path. Whether it’s inspiring people through stories of how one graduate’s financial life improved significantly by obtaining an education or showing how people who met through your university changed their lives, think outside the box, and pull together some compelling storylines to draw new prospective students in.
Take the example below from Harvard University showing how two graduate students with disabilities were able to connect and work together to form a resource to support and empower other students. Combining a story with a human photograph or video is key to communicating these emotions and stories properly.
3. Highlight what makes your school unique.
So, you work for a well-known institution with highly regarded professors, an array of activities, sports, and clubs to involve the student body, a food program, and plenty of housing options for on-campus students. COOL — but what makes your school truly stand out?
Most prospective students are aware of what’s out there in terms of what higher education programs have to offer, and there is a LOT of overlap. To successfully hook a new student, you need to promote what makes your school unique.
For me, when doing my research as a young and carefree seventeen-year-old, Fairfield University hooked me with their close proximity to New York City and Fairfield Beach. Okay, perhaps I was a bit young and naïve then, but if it works, then flaunt it!
Check out the example below from Northeastern University that often distinguishes itself with a very unique co-op program where students gain a year of real-life internship experience before graduation.
The key is to find the thing that makes you different and desirable and then highlight that in your marketing campaigns.
4. Stand back and let your happy students tell your story.
One of the best ways to market your school is to give your happy and successful students a platform to tell their stories. Not only is it a great way to highlight what makes your school unique, it can also create that emotional connection that sets you apart from the university one city over.
Plus, people trust what others have to say. In fact, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 72% say that positive reviews allow them to gain trust in a business.
Lucky for you this is the perfect industry for testimonials. Students who have had a positive experience at school typically love to speak up and help other incoming students. Just take the video below that Elon University shared of a current student giving some advice to incoming freshman based on her experience.
5. Encourage personal connections through events.
What better way to turn skeptical applicants into excited future students than to make real, in-person connections? I’m not the only one who believes this. In fact, 84% of leadership believe in-person events are a key component to their company’s success.
Higher education marketing can greatly benefit from taking things offline and doing some in-person networking through event marketing. Create a list of event ideas to bring new potential students together. For instance, host a summer barbeque on campus where you have current students and/or alumni join to speak with potential applicants. You can also adjust this for the pandemic by hosting virtual or live-streamed events.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than making an in-person connection to get new students on board, so plan ahead to make your events frequent, organized, publicized, and successful.
6. Showcase your successful alumni.
There’s nothing like having your alumni succeed in major ways. Why? Because your alumni represent your institution, and when they’re interviewed and profiled, it will likely say where they graduated from, giving you a little boost in credibility.
So how can you take things to the next level with your successful alumni? Build and nurture stronger relationships with these individuals so they can partner with you to promote how amazing and wonderful your school is.
One great way to get this ball rolling is by honoring your successful alumni with awards. Take the example below from Fairfield University, which gave Kathleen Murphy, president of Personal Investing at Fidelity, an Alumni Professional Achievement Award. This is pretty inspiring for future students looking to be successful in the financial world.
7. Get hip to video marketing.
Not all prospective students can visit every school they’re applying to — especially now — which is why video should be a huge tool in your marketing playbook. Not to mention, video can serve as a way to get on the radar of students who may not have even considered looking at your programs.
Video is one strategy higher education marketers can’t afford to skip out on. Marketers who use video grow revenue 49% faster than marketers who don’t. It’s also no secret in the higher education industry, with 86% of universities and colleges having a presence on YouTube.
Take a look at how Boston College is using video on Facebook to show the excited students returning to campus. What a great way to show off the campus and get potential applicants excited!
8. Start an informative and engaging blog.
Having a well-written, quality blog for marketing purposes is key to your higher education marketing plan. While this may serve as more of a long-term conversion strategy, it’s a great way to get potential students invested in your brand. And if you can run niche blogs for different interests, even better.
Take the example from Dartmouth University, which writes a blog for business folks called “Tuck Education Executive Blog.”
This blog features articles shared to teach and inspire current or future business leaders, but this type of content also includes CTAs to learn more about the program, like the one below.
I love this strategy of marketing because it feels genuine and not pushy, allowing potential students to do their own research without feeling pressured to convert.
9. Share your positive press.
Did your college win a prize? Get voted into the top 20 colleges by the Princeton Review? Whatever it is, this positive press should not be ignored! Use it in your higher education marketing campaigns to show off how well-loved your school is to potential students. Why? Because these positive press moments are another way to instill trust in leads that your school is worth the investment.
Take the example below from Elon University. This school was ranked for several categories in the U.S. News and World Report and promoted this on their social media platforms to share with the world — because why wouldn’t they?
10. Get heard on popular podcasts.
Did you know that 51% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast with 32% listening every month? Podcasts are also most popular among young adults, i.e. those who are more likely to be pursuing degrees in higher education, according to Music Oomph.
Podcasts are a huge deal and have been only growing in popularity over the last five years. So why are you not running podcast advertisements?
Advertising on popular podcasts is a great way to sneak into a potential student’s mind as they’re doing something they enjoy. For example, let’s say you’re looking for students to join your graduate business program. Sponsor some of the most popular business podcasts that these kids would most likely be listening to in order to get your name on their radar.
11. Don’t be afraid of guerilla marketing.
Why not take things offline and into the wild? Whether it’s a simple poster on a bus or something fancier like a performance in the street, guerilla marketing is a great way to let your creative marketing juices flow to capture a potential future student’s attention as they’re living their day to day lives.
The other great thing about guerilla marketing is that it is often more budget-friendly since the campaigns are localized. If you’re in need of some guerilla marketing inspiration check out this post for 20+ guerilla marketing examples.
Now, you’re ready to ace higher education marketing!
With these strategies, your enrollment rate can go through the roof in no time! So hit the books and implement some of these strategies to take your higher education marketing game to the next level.