As an institution of higher education, you are constantly competing against other schools to reach, attract and convert students. With more than 7,000 postsecondary institutions in the United States, how do you plan on standing out? Do you have a marketing strategy? If so, is it heavily digitally-focused with a connection to your print and in-person tactics?
Establishing a marketing strategy for your institution is an extremely important task. This is the foundation of your lifeline to prospective students. Identifying how you will present your institution to the outside world and the various areas you want to target will help you reach your ideal students and, in turn, increase your admissions.
When creating a marketing strategy, or reflecting on your current one, consider how all of the tactics come together and represent your brand. Is it cohesive? This is the biggest problem for institutions that use multiple channels for marketing. While digital is the largest and fastest-growing sector, there are still many schools that use traditional print and in-person marketing as well. This is not a bad thing – in fact, for higher education institutions, it is oftentimes still necessary. The issue here is understanding the importance of a cohesive brand.
Consider the current target audience you are trying to reach and attract to your college or university. For the most part, Millennials make up this group of prospective students. Millennials are a picky bunch, and they know what they want. They demand a cohesive brand experience, and if they don’t get it, they will move on to those who can give it to them. If your institution is very put together in person and has beautiful brochures and flyers, yet has a dated website that takes too long to load, you’re not providing a cohesive experience that will reach or attract any students – especially not the Millennial sweet spot.
It’s up to you to provide a seamless experience to your ideal prospective students, regardless of the channel. Whether they engage with your institution in person via a college fair or campus visit, through print via brochures and mailers, online via your website or blog, and/or in real-time via social media, provide a cohesive brand experience. Every interaction each prospective student has with your institution should be consistent and complementary – and you must rely heavily on your marketing strategy to accomplish this.
So, how do you give them a cohesive brand experience using the various marketing channels you already occupy? The answer is easier than it might seem.
First, identify your brand story and stick to it. What is it that makes your institution different from all the others? Do you offer unique programs? Is your history remarkable? Whatever it may be, identify it and highlight it in your marketing messaging. Create emails specifically crafted around your unique brand story to educate prospective students. Also, you can post about it on social media and your blog. Again, you want to be consistent and share your brand story so people can identify with it.
The University of Washington does a great job showcasing their unique facts. The homepage of their website highlights an innovative, new program followed by fast facts about the university like “440+ degree options” and “87% of 467 patent applications filed by the UW in 2014 included student contributors.” These are things that will interest particular students and nudge them toward your university instead of another.
Second, decide where you will talk to and interact with prospective students. Determine what channels are most beneficial for your time – where are Millennials spending most of their time? Typically it will include some mix of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, plus a blog and even marketing emails. You want to be sharing your message in places where your prospective students already spend time. Do a little research to confirm exactly where your target audience is.
Maryville College’s content hub, My College Path, is geared toward prospective students, and includes a blog that answers questions high schoolers have about college and the college application process. Additionally, Maryville College’s admissions office has teamed up with the content hub on Twitter to provide real-time feedback to prospective students.
Finally, establish key messaging and tone. From your brand’s look and feel to your key messages, uniformity is key. You want the prospective students to be able to distinguish your brand from all the other thousands of institutions reaching out to them. What kind of tone do you want your institution to have? Personal yet informative? Engaging and comical? Strictly professional? Make the decision and stick to it. This tone will transfer over into key messaging on all different platforms.
The tone that University of Rochester uses in its messaging is consistent and true to its brand. The university uses a more playful, personal tone in its blog and social media posts to connect with prospective and current students. Blog topics like “Inexpensive, easy ways to make your dorm room awesome” and social media posts like “We are TOTALLY digging this guy's plates, right Rochester Institute of Technology? Love that #ROC pride” help with the brand consistency.
Strong, cohesive branding across any medium will help build a relationship between your institution and your prospective students. If you’d like to learn more, this white paper, Attract Your Ideal Student Base, has specific tactics and additional ideas on reaching and attracting Millennials to your institution.