In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of colleges, universities and trade schools. The exact number depends on many factors. Add to that, the number of educational institutions around the world, and one starts to wonder how on earth a prospective student decides where he or she will go for higher education.
In the digital age, it seems there are no boundaries for those dreaming about college. The Internet makes the task of researching any college in any corner of the globe a virtual breeze – a task that was once only possible by making endless long-distance phone calls and requesting packets of information via snail mail.
Schools large and small, specializing in both mainstream and niche programs and degrees will come up by the hundreds in a Google search. Just click, and all the information you need will be right there.
College of What?
How then, if you happen to be in charge of marketing your school or program to new students, do you cut through the clutter to get them to notice you?
I have a coworker whose daughter is currently considering her choices for college. She receives new communications every day from colleges pining for her attention. When I asked how she decides which ones to even look at, my coworker said “she only opens the ones she’s heard of”.
According to collegestats.org, schools are trying all sorts of new tricks be “heard of”. Thanks to technology developments and social media, schools are trying, and having success, with things like interactive and virtual tours, short films and viral videos, Groupon Promotions, podcasts, text marketing, hosting chat groups, mobile websites and apps, and business partnerships.
Cleveland State University is placing online ads and videos on streaming radio sites. Their vice president of marketing cites research showing that 70 percent of teenagers listen to streaming radio, 25 percent are mobile-only online users and 90 percent watch online videos.
With their online ads, CSU was able to test messaging and learned that an ad that mentioned the amount of savings a student could earn under its freshman scholarship program was more effective than stating the savings percent. This allowed them to adjust their ads on the fly and get the most marketing bang for their buck.
The University of Akron is also using videos to promote their school, along with hiring a firm to take over the task of responding to applications and scholarship offers in a timely manner.
Why? Because consumers today expect quick and effective communications from businesses—especially those that they’ll potentially be spending tens of thousands of dollars with. It only makes sense to give any prospect the personal attention they deserve.
Getting past the gatekeeper
While attracting the attention of those easily-distracted teenagers is an important goal in college marketing, be sure you’re speaking to their parents too. Parents attention spans will be longer and they’ll be asking questions their kids haven’t thought of or may not be concerned about. After all, it’s parents that are most-likely footing the bill for all or part of the expenses.
Traditional mass marketing like billboards and print ads might work for some parents, but many parents today, especially those of millennials, are just as internet savvy as their kids. So while it’s okay to use some of the same tactics to reach them, it’s important to tailor the content to them by including information about campus health and safety, school ranking and costs they will face.
The same, but different
So, what is the difference between college marketing and any other marketing? In broad terms, not a lot. Find your audience. Communicate the features and benefits of your product. Get them to take action. And follow through on your promises to keep them happy. But this is not a widget—it’s one of the most important decisions a family will ever make. The challenge of getting the right students enrolled in your school or program is great, but the reward for both of you will be even greater.