You are here

The new rules of engagement

3 steps to finding new student prospects
University Business, March 2018

If you are tasked with driving enrollment for undergrad or grad programs, but your marketing teams are not taking advantage of the myriad of ways to personalize digital content to increase lead capture, enrollment and retention—you may be seeing the impact in your acceptance and yield figures. In this piece, we open up the new playbook for finding the right student prospects.

Who’s calling the shots?

One of the critical factors that is inadvertently sapping performance of enrollment campaigns is the dispersed and shared responsibility of marketing and admissions teams to manage parts of the enrollment process which are increasingly more connected. We all know the traditional model is shattered – prospects no longer respond to direct mailers by submitting an application to admissions. They do their own research, bite off pieces of information they want to consume, and engage on their own time and terms. This happens at the top of the funnel when marketing is responsible for interacting with prospective students, or in the middle of the funnel when admissions must respond. The issue we’ve found in our work with Higher Ed is most schools don’t have an integrated marketing “quarterback” guiding the effort – a role we often gladly play.

Dismantling silos between admissions and marketing allows schools to create an integrated team with a free-flow of information across departments. Admissions and marketing all need to work together and be true partners in the enrollment marketing process. This can also be achieved by creating an integrated enrollment marketing position within the organization. But this only works if that professional can be an equal with the admissions and marketing department heads so they can influence process improvements. Critical to making it work is avoiding departmental friction—one reason why it often makes sense for a dean or president to bring in a consultancy to play this role.

Once the internal teams are aligned, a school can truly transform its marketing approach using storytelling that support enrollment goals, keeps everyone on the same page, integrates with earned and owned media, and uses thematic content across all channels.

How to reinvigorate the old playbook

Twenty years ago, a college might spend a significant portion of its marketing budget on brand building in traditional media and the printing/dissemination of marketing materials. But evolved schools today are infusing new strategies and tactics into their repertoire under the direction of integrated marketing and enrollment leadership.

This starts with dusting off old audience profiles from traditional campaigns and drilling down deeper using new technology to define and create personas. By incorporating the treasure trove of data collected by ad networks and social platforms including marital status, income, hyperlocal geography, interests, hobbies, company, specialty area, level of education, industry, job title, cause affiliation – a complete picture of your target personas emerges. Once you go through the process of building detailed personas (name them as you go through the process to make them more real), you can then leverage digital and social channels to their fullest potential.

As an example, we ran a campaign for unmarried young professionals age 25-40 within a mile radius of an event in Mumbai who worked in finance, technology or engineering, had a bachelor’s degree but no master’s and had moderate to high income levels. The campaign, conceived and executed within a week, drove registrations for the event and booth traffic, and resulted in more than 100 leads.

Building personas also lets you tailor your channel mix for more efficient results. Whether it’s a programmatic display ad campaign, digital/traditional thought leadership, geofenced mobile campaign, sponsored content in Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter, event ad, lead capture ad, text messaging campaign, earned social media contest, experiential event on campus or livestreamed, virtual reality direct email/mailer or video campaign—there are a lot of ways to move the dial with a targeted audience without a 30-second cable television spot.

How to use data to change the game

Every college, department and program faces budget constraints. Digital and social campaigns allow you to analyze performance data and optimize your approach to generate yield at every phase of the campaign, thereby maximizing the impact of every dollar spent. Awareness, traffic, lead capture, nurturing and application are all key phases to monitor. You can also evaluate data points such as impressions, half/full video views, clicks, time on site, page depth on site, lead capture, cost per lead, email opens, email clicks, event registrations, event attendance, content engagement, likes, shares, comments, etc. By measuring, you can build evaluation criteria that informs every phase of the campaign.

Data also allows you to test messages and creative for resonance with your various personas. One recent campaign we conducted for adult learning programs tested 20 different creative campaign iterations selectively applied to eight different student personas. Testing allowed us to tailor the top creative and messaging campaigns for each individual persona to drive the most program interest. This college was experiencing a multiyear decline in fall enrollment but within 6 months, we stemmed the decline. Within 8 months the college was on an upward enrollment trajectory even though most campaigns don’t see significant results for 12+ months. There were other factors that made this performance possible, including strong admissions leadership, a proactive recruiting team and strong nurturing content campaigns  – but nurturing is the topic of our next article.

The next time you meet with your leadership team, think about how you can start engaging in the new rules of engagement in enrollment marketing.

Tom Ryan is the Vice-President of Brand Integration at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston.