Enrollment Marketing: Building your Fall 2020 Class Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic
By: Keith Knowles
Higher Education has the notorious distinction of being stuck in the past when it comes to enrollment marketing. Yup, nothing screams “cutting-edge” quite like a dining room table full of viewbooks, postcards, and unopened letters from “leading” colleges and universities throughout the country. I know this not only because I work exclusively with colleges and universities on marketing campaigns utilizing the latest in digital strategies, but I also happen to be a parent of a high school senior. What I can tell you from personal experience is this: you’re wasting a lot of paper!
The good news is that it’s 2020 so the “past” is somewhat more digital than it has ever been. The bad news, however, is that the implementation of these digital strategies is still far from ideal. For example:
- Your website isn’t optimized for enrollment. You spend so much time, energy, and effort sending prospects to your website but it’s simply not equipped to handle the task of converting prospects into your admissions funnel. You may look at your website and think “ours looks great” but looks aren’t everything. It’s functionality and strategic intention are far more important.
- You don’t use proper landing pages in your digital marketing campaigns. I click on just about every digital ad I see for a college and university and the vast majority DO NOT use landing pages. If you’re not using landing pages, you’re wasting your marketing dollars at an alarming rate. Creating an ad and driving traffic to a web page is one thing, but producing a digital marketing campaign that employs best practices and is executed to ensure maximum ROI is marketing on a “whole other level.”
- You use impressions or clicks as your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Or worse, you let your well-known and expensive vendor highlight the number of impressions and clicks they’ve been able to deliver. I’ve seen this in person so I know it happens. Impressions and clicks are what you pay for. They aren’t results that should be touted! Are you tracking actual student enrollment as a result of your campaigns? How about form conversions? Dig deep to make sure you’re marketing dollars are being spent wisely.
Our Current Predicament
So here we are, still in 2020, and on top of being dated in their use of digital tactics and strategies, colleges and universities now have to deal with a pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on enrollment management teams all throughout the country. For some schools, meeting enrollment goals has never been an issue and probably won’t be this year regardless of the current state of affairs. For others, the struggle is real and the number of schools that fall into this category is soon going to balloon – if it hasn’t already.
So what to do?
Let’s make a couple of assumptions first:
- The current state of affairs has forced many schools to focus on short-term issues: Campus closures, distance learning, loss of revenue, staff furloughs, etc., etc.
- Your Fall ’20 prospects are afraid to commit by May 1 and need more time to make a decision. They are also feeling the economic pain caused by the national shutdown.
- Because of #2, the traditional May 1 deadline needs to be extended.
- This Summer is going to be a very busy time as schools scramble to meet their enrollment goals. The primary issue here is that it’s going to be a crowded and competitive market as more schools than ever will be in the hunt for students.
With so many schools focused on the short-term, the way to gain a competitive advantage over them is to start planning for the Summer frenzy now. That way, you’ll ensure your campaign is well written, beautifully designed, utilizes proper landing pages, and tracks useful KPIs. In other words, you’ll ensure that your campaign is executed properly to maximize ROI. It won’t be thrown together at the last minute, or worse, a rehash of an old campaign.
We’ve seen reports indicating that students may feel more comfortable staying close to home this year due to the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. You can draw two conclusions from these reports:
- Your marketing efforts should focus on a local audience this Summer
- You should be prepared to lose some students who decide to transfer closer to home
For an enrollment campaign this Summer, your ideal audiences to target should include:
- Your existing lists of inquiries, applicants, and accepts
- Traditional-aged first-year prospects who live close to campus
- Transfer prospects from other schools who live close to campus
- Adult learners who live close to campus
One benefit of the current quarantine, as it relates to enrollment marketing, is that there may never be a better time to reach these audiences in a single shot – they’re all home!
With Data Targeting and Impression Retargeting, you can reach these prospects on their cell phones, tablets, laptops/desktops, and Connected TV devices with timely and appropriate messaging. Banner ads work great and if you’re fortunate enough to have video assets, the effectiveness of your campaign will see a boost.
Add in Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Instagram as well as a Search Engine Marketing campaign with Google Ads and you’ll have all the makings of a thoughtful, strategic, and purposeful campaign.
The key is, you have to start now! So what are you waiting for, get to it!