Skip to the main content.

5 min read

Does Your Higher Education Marketing Account for Hidden Decision Makers?

Does Your Higher Education Marketing Account for Hidden Decision Makers?

The world of higher education marketing is complex. You have to account for multiple audiences while speaking in many voices that range from admissions to alumni to individual academic departments.

You'd think that once you narrow down the goals in your digital marketing strategy, it gets simpler - some of it does. But increasingly, even as you focus on a single goal like recruitment, you have to account for new complexities.

Yes, you're marketing to students you hope to enroll at your institution. At the same time, and almost inevitably, that means you're marketing to their parents as well. Let's examine the increasing importance parents play in helping their students select a college, and how your higher ed marketing strategy can account for these hidden decision-makers from the start.

The Increasing Role of Parents in the College Search

Make no mistake: almost every potential college student now has a parent behind them that advises, guides, and sometimes pushes them in their college search. According to the 2018 E-Expectations report, 80% of high school sophomore parents are involved in the process, a number that rises to 98% for high school seniors.

Some of them become more involved than just giving advice: the same survey found that 62% of parents of high school seniors have filled out at least one college app on their student's behalf. 

That tracks with other surveys, which have shown that parents are the #1 influencer in the college search for high school students today. And here's the kicker: 74% of them expect to be contacted directly by the schools their students are looking into.

5 Strategies to Speak to Parents as You Recruit New Students

Parents matter as decision drivers, and they want to hear from you. That leads to a simple truth: how you communicate with them can make or break your enrollment marketing goals. These five tactics help you expand your marketing strategy to account for this audience.

1) Build Parent-Specific Digital Campaigns

Digital media provides an invaluable opportunity to connect with parents. Networks like Facebook and Instagram, both increasingly popular among this demographic, allow for in-depth targeting specifically to parents of high school parents to get your message out.

Speaking of messaging: go beyond simply running the same ads you would show to students while adjusting only the target audience. Instead, focus on ads based on the content your students' parents care most about. We'll get into that in the next suggestion.

2) Create Value-Add Content on Topics Your Parents Want to Know About

Research consistently shows that students want to know whether your school has their intended major, what the campus atmosphere is like, and what they can expect in terms of outcomes after graduation. Parents care about other topics, including:

  • The safety of your campus and surrounding town.
  • Cost factors, including tuition, financial aid, and housing costs.
  • The quality of academics and return on investment for the tuition.

Your content needs to reflect those priorities. From parent-specific social media ads to blog posts and print materials, build a communication flow specifically for parents that drives the conversation instead of waiting for the question. Rather than simply focusing on promotion, look to add value by being honest and straightforward about the opportunities your institution can provide.


3) Build a Parent Angle Into Your Visit Events

Ideally, your strategy of parent engagement should go beyond digital marketing. It's crucial but far from the only way that parents will engage with higher education institutions. They'll also come to visit events. When they do, will their experience meet and exceed their expectations?

Most events, from open houses to admitted student days, will naturally be built around your students. But don't ignore the opportunities you have for their parents. Make your financial aid teams available for consultations, and offer info sessions on how your campus prioritizes student safety. 

4) Align Your Parent and Student-Focused Outreach Efforts

So far, we've discussed parents as a separate audience compared to the students you're recruiting. Based on their different priorities, that makes sense. At the same time, be careful not to separate the two marketing efforts too much. 

At the end of the day, parents and students will talk about the student's journey. They'll come to your events together, receive the same viewbook and postcards, and visit the same core pages on your website. That means you have to line up your student and parent recruitment strategies as much as possible.

At its core, that means speaking in a consistent brand voice throughout. Even as you dial up various types of content for your audience, always bring it back to your core value proposition and institutional values. Make sure that, as your potential student and their parent discuss your college, they both have the same perspective.

5) Follow Parents Through the Enrollment Journey

Finally, be sure to build a strategy that accounts for parent involvement from the first time your audiences encounter your institution to the time their student enrolls and beyond. It's not just about garnering interest or driving toward that deposit. Make sure that parents remain engaged with you throughout the entire process.

That means adding parent components wherever possible to your search, inquiry, application, yield, melt, and even retention efforts. It also allows you to start guiding them through the entire process, building up your credibility as a resource they'll turn to as they guide their student through this crucial journey.


Building Your Digital Marketing Strategy With Parents in Mind

Marketing your institution is about far more than simply reaching out to students and hoping for the best. Without accounting for parents throughout the process, you are missing a crucial opportunity to engage the hidden decision-makers in the enrollment decision.

That means you have to build your digital marketing strategy with parents in mind. It allows for a more comprehensive effort that reaches out to families of prospective students from multiple angles and places your institution firmly in their minds as they make a college decision. Through the above five strategies, you can maximize that opportunity and drive towards better enrollment numbers.

If your college or university is looking to boost enrollment through digital marketing - our marketing agency here at Sonority Group can provide everything you need to get started. Let’s chat!

let's chat >




FAQ Recap:


Why are parents considered hidden decision-makers in the college enrollment process?

Parents play a significant role in guiding and influencing their children's decisions when it comes to choosing a college or university. While students may be the primary focus of higher education marketing efforts, parents often exert considerable influence behind the scenes, making them hidden decision-makers in the enrollment process.


How involved are parents in the college search process?

Research indicates that a vast majority of high school students' parents are involved in the college search process. According to the 2018 E-Expectations report, 80% of high school sophomore parents and 98% of high school senior parents are involved in some capacity. Additionally, many parents fill out college applications on behalf of their children, highlighting their active role in the process.


What strategies can higher education institutions use to engage parents in the enrollment process?

Higher education institutions can employ several strategies to engage parents effectively:

  • Creating parent-specific digital campaigns targeting platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
  • Developing content that addresses topics of interest to parents, such as campus safety, costs, and academic quality.
  • Incorporating parent-focused elements into visit events, providing opportunities for consultations and information sessions.
  • Aligning parent and student-focused outreach efforts to ensure consistency in messaging and branding.
  • Following parents through the entire enrollment journey, from initial interest to enrollment and beyond, to maintain engagement and support.


How can institutions ensure consistency in their messaging when targeting both parents and students?

Maintaining consistency in messaging involves aligning all marketing efforts with the institution's core values and value proposition. While content may be tailored to address specific concerns of parents and students, the overarching brand voice should remain consistent across all communication channels. This ensures that both parents and students receive a cohesive and unified impression of the institution.


How can a marketing agency like Sonority Group assist colleges and universities in engaging parents in the enrollment process?

Sonority Group can provide comprehensive support in developing and implementing strategies to engage parents effectively. From creating parent-specific digital campaigns to crafting relevant content and optimizing outreach efforts, our agency can leverage its expertise to ensure that institutions effectively connect with parents throughout the enrollment journey. Additionally, we can offer guidance on aligning messaging and branding to maintain consistency and maximize impact.


3 Email Newsletters for Higher Education Digital Marketing

3 Email Newsletters for Higher Education Digital Marketing

Building a connection with potential students is the cornerstone of any successful enrollment marketing funnel. Email marketing continues to be one...

Read More
Education Marketing Plan: Is it Time to Hire Help?

Education Marketing Plan: Is it Time to Hire Help?

Education marketing requires a different calculus – and when you're primarily targeting Gen Zers and Millennials, they are 'technology-savvy and know...

Read More
What to Look for When Hiring a Higher Education Marketing Agency

What to Look for When Hiring a Higher Education Marketing Agency

The way we market continues to evolve, so do the platforms we use and the audiences you try to reach with a message that evokes trust in your...

Read More