As the academic year wraps up and graduation caps are flung high into the air, it’s easy to celebrate the accomplishment of students, teachers, and the organizations that educate them. But it’s harder to take a step back and recognize that higher education institutions face challenges similar to those of marketers in other industries. Their students are their buyers, just like they are buyers when they purchase other products or services. Whether they are prospective students, current students, or recent graduates, they expect content and communications that are relevant and personalized to their unique behavior and interests. On top of this, a majority of today’s higher education students are millennials, which means that they’re interacting (and expect to interact) with institutions across channels, devices, time zones, and geographies—all of which are disconnected touchpoints without the right tools to tie them together.
With the plethora of information and resources available to guide them in their purchasing decisions, buyer behavior (prospective students included) continues to become more fragmented, self-directed, and non-linear. Here are three trends shaping today’s world, specifically in higher education, and how you can address them with marketing automation:
1. Increased Customer Autonomy
Buyers are increasingly discovering information on their own before engaging with a brand. For higher education in particular, 72% of students develop their shortlist prior to reaching out to a school and only three schools make a prospect’s shortlist, according to LinkedIn. And Google reports that non-brand searches are increasing, while brand searches are decreasing. In other words, students are performing their searches by specific programs, degrees, career outcomes, and other keywords rather than by any given institution’s name.
To keep your organization top of mind, whether a business or institution, it’s critical to personalize and segment your marketing messages based on an individual’s unique journey. For instance, Ohio State Fisher School of Business understood that to personalize their communications at scale and reach their audience at the right time, they needed to automate their workflows. Leveraging marketing automation, they were able to segment their database into the following key stages: known, suspect (early), suspect (late), recycle, future prospect, opportunity, application, and enroll. This enabled them to create different communication streams, track activity, and nurture students over time towards the next stage. And by aligning admissions with other departments, they were able to engage the right students through recruitment calls, catalogs, information sessions, and other activities—further enabling them to reach students early on in their decision-making process.
2. Increased Competition
Brands today operate in an increasingly competitive landscape. In fact, 58% of admissions directors didn’t meet their goal of filling fall classes by the deadline in May last year, according to Inside Higher Ed. This can affect institutions on multiple levels—rankings, revenue, reputation, and more.
Like every institution, Fisher School of Business has enrollment numbers to hit every year. However, the school prioritized finding the right students over students who are in close proximity or easy to enroll to reduce drop-out rates, ensure a better fit, and set them up for long-term success. With marketing automation, the school was able to identify and foster relationships with the right students—from the time they’re in high school through enrollment, graduation, and beyond. Let’s take a look at the practices that made this possible:
- Cross-functional alignment enables you to act on the same view of a buyer across teams and departments. For example, if a student expressed interest in Mechanical Engineering, then all departments, from recruiting to events, should tailor their communications accordingly.
- Continuity in messaging as opposed to single, point-in-time communications. If the last communication with a student was about an upcoming campus event, then you should send a follow-up after the event based on whether the student attended, missed it, or did not register for it.
- Contextual messaging based on the student’s interests and behavior at any given point in time. If a student has been browsing content on scholarships, you should provide more information on the same topic across other channels the student uses.
This applies to any organization, not just educational institutions. Whether you are a marketer communicating your brand’s value to consumers or businesses, it’s equally important to be focused on engaging your buyers with relevant and seamless conversations.
3. Tighter Resources
In any industry, the goal is to do more with less. Ruffalo Noel-Levitz, a technology and fundraising consultancy for higher education, reports that most private institutions said their recruiting and admissions budgets were declining or staying the same. This means that marketers need to increase the effectiveness of their efforts without using more resources.
Overcome tighter resources and budget constraints with a complete marketing automation platform that can enable a 360-degree view of your audience base as well as transparency across different teams. With the right set of reports and dashboards set up, higher education institutions (and really all marketers) can analyze important data such as your pipeline, lead status, lead source, and ROI. These sets of information are critical for decision-making on many levels—in particular, decisions around the allocation of marketing investment. Being more strategic with your time, resources, and budget allocation is made easier with a thoughtful and well-integrated marketing tech stack.
More than ever, it is critical for your customer’s journey and their experience to be at the center of your marketing strategy. Marketers who successfully master the art and science of engagement marketing through marketing automation can realize significant gains in higher education and beyond. Give your buyers what they need, when they need it, wherever they are—whether that’s by building a lifetime relationship throughout a student’s schooling past enrollment to graduation and then to a fulfilling career or from acquisition to advocacy.
For a deeper dive into best practices in higher education marketing, watch our on-demand webinar, “Mastering a Student-First Approach to Marketing Automation.”