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higher education Archives - d.trio marketing group

Three Tips for Marketing Your Online Degree Programs

By | Higher Education | No Comments

By Gary McVey

Our January blog post focused on how online learning programs greatly expand a university’s recruitment footprint, and how this impacts college marketers. Now let’s move into tactics for effectively marketing online programs. Since all of our options won’t fit in one blog post, let’s focus on three critically important tactics for marketing online programs.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of web-based content and media to attract, engage and acquire customers. The content can be presented in many formats, including news articles, photos, video, e-publications, blogs and others. Rather than focusing on selling, content marketing communicates timely information to prospects in ways that consistently build awareness, engagement and, ultimately, loyalty.

Let’s say your university is launching a new online bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. You want to show students that you understand what’s going on in business, so they can picture the degree preparing them for the real world. Your content marketing could include: a blog on your website where business professionals and professors take turns addressing the latest business trends; a Q and A session with the dean about how the degree program keeps up with new demands affecting business leaders; and a video interview of two corporate leaders serving as program advisors discussing how the degree helps launch successful careers. You could also post photos and testimonials from students who have already enrolled in the program’s first class.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Research and past experience tell us that a large share of your online learning prospects will find you through an online search. We’re well past the days when optimizing your web site with a few meta-tags will be effective. With Google, Yahoo and other search engines frequently changing their protocols, you need highly skilled SEO expertise. Most colleges simply don’t have the in-house SEO talent needed for success in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape. If they do, that individual is often overwhelmed with other IT projects. This is an area where it pays to retain outside expertise. Effective SEO helps ensure your prospects will find your newly enhanced content.

3. Search Engine Marketing (Paid Search/Pay-per-Click)

Search engine marketing, including Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click advertising options, is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for reaching prospective online students. Unlike traditional marketing, pay-per-click advertising allows you to easily test different keywords, and to evaluate which messages are most effective. And because you can set a budget cap, and only pay when a prospect clicks your ad, it’s easy to control costs.

By using geo-targeting in your paid search campaign, you’ll ensure you’re reaching your best prospects. Keep in mind, paid search is an evolving tool that is all about flux; it requires frequent evaluation, testing and updating. As with organic search, it pays to use a Google-certified, outside expert that can launch and manage a campaign to your needs and budget.   Media costs are typically pass-through, so any consultant fees typically cover set-up and ongoing management (including weekly or bi-monthly reports).

Once you’ve driven prospects to your site, be sure you have quality, relevant content to engage them, and an easy way to request their e-mail address, so you can begin permission-based marketing.

What tactics have been the most effective for marketing your online or hybrid programs? We’ll appreciate your input.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.

Additional Resources:
“Mature Market for Online Education”
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/09/19/adult-students-interest-online-education-flat-study-finds
 “Tips for Marketing Your Online Education Program on a Budget” http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/distance-learning/tips-for-marketing-your-online-education-program-on-a-budget/

Has Online Learning Changed Your School’s Recruitment Footprint?

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Expanded Market Areas Raise New Challenges for College Marketers

By Gary McVey

The growth of online learning programs, including hybrid, low-residency and other variations, has created new opportunities and challenges for many colleges and universities, as well as higher education marketers. The part-time adult student market is now one of the largest in higher education, and much of its growth in recent years has been fueled by the untethering of students to buildings, and more and better options for online learning. Of the 20 million people enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, nearly 8 million attend part time — the majority of them adult students.

Perhaps like you, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the early days and steady growth of online learning, to participate in college cabinet meetings where the futures of such programs were decided, and to experience how they continue to change higher education marketing.

Without a doubt, one of the most significant new challenges online learning programs create is that, virtually overnight, your geographic marketplace suddenly gets much BIGGER. For many colleges, a majority of enrolled students have traditionally come from within 100 miles of their campuses. Launching a fully online program, or adding an online component to an existing program that makes remote learning possible, greatly expands and alters your school’s recruitment footprint.

What does this new and larger recruitment marketplace mean for college marketers and admissions officers? Here are some of the most critical implications, along with corresponding recommendations:

1. Your competitive set changes. No longer will prospective students be comparing your institution and its academic offerings with an established peer group within 100 miles of campus. With online learning programs, your toughest competitor may now be 1,000 miles away. And, typically, the more specialized a program is, the larger geographic market pull it will have. You need to undertake a new competitive analysis of who your competitors are, what they offer, how they go to market, and how you can effectively differentiate your school and its offering.

2. Their computer or tablet screen is now your campus. For many online learners — even those in hybrid programs that blend face-to-face and online instruction — your beautiful campus landscape and stately buildings mean little, if anything. Their campus environment, and how they perceive your institution, is based on what they see in pixels. Your online learning platform — like all of your other marketing materials — needs to effectively communicate and accurately reflect your college’s mission, vision and values, as well as its brand promise and identity. And just like your physical campus, your cyber campus should reflect a strong sense of place, be easy to navigate, and offer a successful learning environment.

3. Your marketing plan needs an overhaul. Now that your recruitment footprint has changed, so should your marketing plan. Let’s say part of your marketing mix aimed at prospective adult students has included mass media advertising within 100 miles of campus. Chances are you’re not going to have the budget necessary to conduct similar campaigns in dozens of metro markets. Likewise, campus visits and information sessions that often helped seal the deal with local prospects, aren’t likely to be compelling to more distant targets. This is where the development of first-rate customer profiles (written about in previous d.trio blog posts) can really pay dividends. The profiles, including key demographic and psychographic details of various types of prospects, can be invaluable in guiding new marketing strategies and tactics. They’ll help you determine the types of prospects most likely to enroll in online programs, where and how they live their lives, what motivates them, and how to deliver the right message, in the right way, at the right time.

In next month’s blog post, we’ll focus on strategies and tactics for effectively marketing your online learning programs.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.


Additional Resources:

“The top five differences between traditional and online student recruitment.” http://www.enrollmentbuilders.com/2012/01/22/the-top-5-differences-between-traditional-and-online-student-recruitment/

“Serving Adult Students: Five Key Areas That Can’t Be Ignored” http://www.stamats.com/resources/white-papers/serving-adult-students-five-key-areas-that-cant-be-ignored/

Revealing the big challenges in higher education marketing

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INTEGRATIING TECHNOLOGY WITH TRADITIONAL MARKETING TOOLS is the major challenge of marketers and recruiters who took d.trio’s 2013 Higher Education Survey.  Over 54% cited the merging of new with “tried and true” channels as their #1 problem AND opportunity.

Regardless of an institution’s size or student demographics, colleges and universities are grappling with how to build, market and nurture brand identity and differentiation in the user-driven social and digital domain.

MARKETING BUDGETS DON’T MEASURE UP
More than 57% of all post-secondary students today are non-traditional:  part-time students, adult learners or both.  However, 88% of our survey responders say they are spending the same amount on undergraduate vs. graduate/non-traditional recruitment.   Budgets are not clearly not aligned with the opportunity and competition for adult students OR the complexity and scope of marketing channels in use.

WHY A SURVEY???
We wanted to know how colleges and universities meet the challenges of a growing population of non-traditional students.   d.trio wanted to deepen our understanding of our college clients’ perspective.  We knew that a more cohesive view of our client’s world would help us offer the most relevant services and expertise for non-traditional recruitment marketing.

Instead of turning to published, traditional sources we went directly to college admissions and marketing professionals.  By conducting a custom survey to a highly targeted group at diverse institutions, we gained perspective and began a dialogue that we hope will continue to evolve. And by sharing peer responses, our survey participants gleaned their own perspective and useful benchmarks.

d.trio’s strategy utilized direct mail and email campaigns to engage and generate response.   We asked public and private institutions a wide range of questions about their marketing strategies – from recruitment marketing to brand positioning and the impact of online learning. Over 48 public and private colleges and universities responded, from over 21 states.

In this case, going directly to the source was the best option for revealing our client’s greatest marketing needs.

For survey results or more information on our higher education marketing services, please contact Victoria Hoshal at victoriah@dtrio.com.