The ultimate guide to higher education marketing strategies

Being a higher ed marketer today can be challenging. No only are you burdened with managing your marketing strategy and initiatives day-to day, you might also be marketing to the entire campus, while other campaigns also trying to reach prospective students, alumni, and more. 

The good news is you can overcome these obstacles. When you do, the rewards of an effective, higher education marketing strategy effect every aspect of your institution. This comprehensive guide will help you create a successful marketing plan. Use these tips to promote your college or university creatively and effectively. 

It wasn’t long ago that higher education marketing took a uniform approach to attract students. It often started with a glossy brochure filled with impressive photos of engaged students and beautiful campus scenery. The brochures were sent out to prospective students, enticing them to check out the school. Today, that tactic of marketing to the masses is no longer the most effective.

Now, higher education marketing strategies must be personalized and reach students on their terms. Think of the platforms students use today like social media, podcasts, and micro-influencers. Branding for colleges and universities needs to translate well along a host of mediums. Finally, you need a website for your institution that ranks high in search engines. Your site should create a positive user experience for prospective students, parents, and alumni alike. 

Defining the goals of your higher education marketing strategies 

Multiple audiences create a big challenge for marketers in higher education today. You are not simply marketing to list of buyer personas. In this industry, you must target your marketing to a variety of audiences and goals. Some of those might include:  

1. Marketing for enrollment  

Enrollment in colleges has declined over the past eight years, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed. Lower numbers makes marketing for enrollment a critical goal for marketers today. These campaigns are typically designed to target prospective students and their parents. Students today have a large range of channels they use to collect information. Colleges have not always kept up with the changes to these channels as efficiently as they could. Institutions that focus on expanding their digital presence are often the ones with the greatest advantage. 

You can create a more effective higher education marketing strategy by adopting the following in your next campaign: 

  • Publish informational blog posts and podcasts

  • Initiate authentic interactions on social media

  • Use micro-influencers to build your presence and credibility

  • Create video content, including live streams

  • Make the move to mobile-first marketing 

Micro-influencers are a relatively new concept in marketing, but they already have a significant impact on the college-age audience. These people have an online presence with a small but loyal group of niche followers. When you can leverage micro-influencers in your marketing, you succeed at both targeting your market and creating social proof in a group that likes to follow the latest trends. 

2. Marketing for advancement  

Advancement moves beyond the student to build relationships with alumni and friends of your institution. This email was sent to alumni of Eastern Illinois University: 

The school colors in the email are blue and white. However, the website material shows that their color scheme includes black and grey quite heavily.

Source: Emma

This email is focused on fundraising. While fundraising is a common goal in advancement marketing, it is not the only one. It is also beneficial for your school to keep alumni abreast of news and happenings to maintain a strong network for your college or university. Emma explains how Texas A&M forms a personal relationship with alumni through email campaigns that keep the audience up to date on all things Aggies while effectively raising money for a variety of purposes. 

3. Marketing for athletics  

Your athletic programs are a significant source of income for your institution. That income comes from building and expanding the programs that perform best. Marketing plays a key role in that goal. By building interest in the most popular programs, you can raise fan spirit to boost other athletic teams on campus as well. Here is an email that was used to spark interest and boost attendance to an upcoming football game at Vanderbilt: 
 Here is an email that was used to spark interest and boost attendance to an upcoming football game at Vanderbilt:

Source: Emma 

This type of marketing might have a broader target audience that includes students, alumni, friends of the institution, and even people in surrounding areas. 

4. Marketing for student involvement  

Enrolling students in your institution is just the first step. The next is to keep them engaged by alerting them to the activities and opportunities available to them on campus. You can use many of the same channels that were effective in boosting enrollment numbers to boost membership in clubs, activities, and volunteer opportunities. 

The role of email in higher education marketing strategies 

Email marketing might be one of the most effective methods of higher education marketing today. This medium offers a return of $44 for every one dollar spent on marketing, according to Campaign Monitor. Email marketing also produces a high ROI across every aspect of higher education marketing strategy, including enrollment, advancement, and student activities. 

Email marketing strategies that work in higher ed

Emma offers a few statistics to help you shape an email marketing strategy designed for results: 

  • Go automated: automated emails feature a 152% higher click rate

  • Be mobile-friendly: more than half of all email is opened on a mobile device

  • Keep content relevant: 56% of people unsubscribe from emails if the content is not relevant

  • Add images: including images with content results in 94% more views 

  • Add video: including “video” in your subject line increases open rates by 19%

Using segmentation and personalization to your advantage 

Make your email campaigns stand out from the crowd. Use the marketing tools available today to create personalized messages to precise audience segments. An email subject line that is personalized is 26% more likely to be opened. When you add segmentation to the mix, your emails are also relevant to subscribers. Relevant content can increase your open rate even further. 

Keep your branding consistent

Consistent branding is one oversight that can hurt your higher education marketing strategy. Branding has always been a vital part of higher education marketing, but it sometimes gets lost when it comes to email. Your email messages will see a higher open rate if you are utilizing your brand colors, fonts and logos that make your emails easily recognizable to your recipients. 

Killer subject lines and captivating content 

Your subject line is a key indicator of whether your email will be opened. The best subject lines are personable, actionable, and unique. Once your email gets opened, the content inside needs to be both relevant and interesting. If your audience determines that the content you are providing does not offer any value, your emails won’t be opened for long. 

Captivating content is how you'll keep readers interested in what you have to say. Not only does it have to be interesting, but it must also be relevant to the reader.

Source: Emma

This email is a good example of content that is relevant to the reader. The email was sent to college students and their parents. The goal was to provide basic financial information students needed to know as they started their school year.

The importance of testing

You want to spend your marketing budget wisely, getting value from every dollar. The best way to know the value of your email campaigns is by testing them. The right testing tools let you know how many recipients open your emails as well as how many click throughs they get. You can test your subject lines to improve your open rates or analyze your segmentation to keep your targeting on track. 

One of the most effective methods of testing is A/B testing, or split testing. This method compares two different versions of an email or email subject line to determine which version will perform better. A/B testing provides the data necessary to adjust campaigns precisely so you can produce the best possible results.  

Email allows you to launch campus-wide campaigns or target specific departments or groups, depending on your needs and goals. With email automation, you can create email campaigns with much less individual effort and better results. 

Wrap up

Developing higher education marketing strategies is vital to your institution but it is not without its share of obstacles. One of the biggest challenges is to define your marketing goals, which might include:

  • Marketing to prospective students to increase enrollment 

  • Marketing for advancement to build alumni relations and increase donations

  • Marketing for your athletic programs to increase interest and revenue

  • Marketing your student organizations and activities to increase student engagement 

Email is one of the most effective methods of higher education marketing. This method can be used for campus-wide campaigns or to target very specific audiences within your university system. Email has been proven over time to produce an excellent ROI. The ROI is high whether it is used to increase enrollment, raise donations, build athletic programs, or enhance student engagement. 

Email marketing is a critical component to any higher education marketing strategy. Learn how to increase the open rates of your next email campaign with these tips on creating email subject lines designed to engage and convert.

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. Unlike other email providers, Emma puts their customers first. It's email marketing that works for you.

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