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This post is written by Christina Fleming, Senior Director of Marketing & Enrollment Services at Blackboard Student Lifecycle Service.

Today’s students thrive on information to help them make important decisions. They’re used to having access to the answer they need when they need it, and expect information to be personalized to their needs. This same mindset influences how students approach their college search. With so many options for where and how students seek out the answers to their higher education questions, institutions are realizing the need to engage students across the many channels they use to gather information.

The desire to stay competitive and reach enrollment goals, combined with a growing number of options to target prospective students, can often make it challenging to know where to invest. While paid advertising—like television, radio or direct mail—is still an important element of a successful marketing strategy for institutions, the growing popularity of owned or earned media—such as improving the school’s website, blog or social media content—signals that it is more important than ever to invest in a diverse mix of marketing techniques to reach students.

So, with so many options and limited budgets, how can your educational institution get the most out of your marketing spend?

Here are four key steps to consider before you invest.

4 Key Steps to Making Better Marketing Investments


Prioritize with Market Research

Thorough market research can create a more accurate picture of your target audience. When you know what type of student is most likely to consider your institution and programs, you can better target your marketing efforts to their needs. This helps to ensure that your marketing resources are being used as efficiently as possible. By categorizing your target audience into various personas based on the trends your collected data reveals, your institution can make smarter marketing investments more directly designed to boost enrollment.

Market research also enables you to identify which of your institution’s existing programs are most beneficial to your long-term enrollment goals. Armed with an understanding of your target audience and which programs will help you maximize your enrollment goals, you can make smarter choices about how and where you investment in marketing.

Develop Compelling Content and Messaging

When a prospective student visits your website or landing page, or receives a marketing-generated email from your institution, they should feel like your messaging is speaking directly to them as an individual. Based on what you learn through your market research and persona development, develop personalized content and messaging that speaks to the motivations and concerns of your target audience.

As you develop your content, take some time to consider how your messaging aligns with your brand. Maintaining a solid and consistent brand will help prospective students connect with your institution.

Reevaluate Your Marketing Strategy

In addition to defining your target audience traits like demographics and interests, your market research should also give you insight into each persona’s media preference. For example, traditional and non-traditional students are influenced differently by various types of advertisements and are seeking information across varying sources and technology in diverse ways. This information can then be leveraged to create a marketing strategy that is personalized to your prospective students’ needs and protects your marketing investment.

As you create your marketing strategy, consider the advantages of digital marketing initiatives that generally come with a lower price point and a higher conversion rate.  Additionally, running paid advertising campaigns can be an effective way to quickly reach new students and grow enrollments, but it can also be expensive and require minimum levels of investment to make it successful. Prioritizing owned and earned media above paid advertising can help keep your marketing budget in check, while also speaking to your target audience’s preference to receive information across many different channels. While these channels may not produce the immediate volume of student inquiries driven by paid advertising campaigns, longer-term, they can be an extremely cost-effective way of attracting and connecting with students.

However you intend to invest in marketing, having your strategy backed by market research and data will ensure you are making the most of the investment and reaching more of the type of students more likely to succeed at your institution.

Continue Tracking and Reporting

In order to see how effective and worthwhile your institution’s investment in marketing is, you need to make sure you have the proper tracking and reporting processes in place. The way you track and report on marketing and enrollment activities is critical to understanding how you can make better investments in marketing and reach more students the future. Determine which channels are producing the most prospective student leads by tracking whether those leads tend to convert to applicants and enrolled students. You’ll learn which initiatives were beneficial and which weren’t worth the investment.

This data can then be leveraged for the next campaign—one where you’ll have an even clearer picture of what types of advertising and marketing resonates most with your target audience.

Investing in marketing is an important step to achieving continued enrollment growth, but it’s important to make sure every dollar you invested is done as efficiently as possible. Following these four key steps before launching a new marketing campaign can save your institution valuable time and money. You’ll be able to make better choices and better investments that lead to smarter marketing, increased enrollment and an edge over your competition.

To learn more on improving your student recruitment strategies, download Blackboard’s free playbook: Top 3 Ways to Give Your Student Lifecycle a Boost.

About the Author:

Christina Fleming is the Senior Director of Marketing & Enrollment Services at Blackboard Student Lifecycle Services. Leading her team, she works closely with Higher Education clients to deliver strategic marketing and enrollment plans, execute on media and creative, and bring programs to market based on research and quantifiable insights. Prior to Blackboard, Christina spent 10 years in Product and Brand Marketing, working in the telecommunications and technology sectors. Christina holds a Bachelor’s in Business with a concentration in Marketing from The University of Notre Dame.


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  • James Townsend

    Thanks for sharing the insights. I’ve found that the lack of solid research is one of the biggest problems in higher ed marketing. Years ago at the Snowmass Institute for Enrollment they had each participant draw a picture of their typical student and include narrative on what makes that student typical. Not only was it interesting to see how various institutions envisioned their students but how members from the same institution had different opinions. This can be a tremendous exercise for faculty, staff, and senior administrators of a school to do if they are struggling with their student profile. Then compare their perceptions with the research and see how alike or different they are – makes for a great discussion.

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