How To Build A Successful Higher Education Lead Generation Strategy
When building a successful lead generation strategy, an important question to ask is “What result am I aiming for?” Great question! But what do real results mean? It's different for every school however one thing translates across all the higher education institutions we've encountered. A big part of the answer lies with their successful graduates. Successful graduates are the real test of the entire school's ecosystem, and it starts with the marketing efforts and reaching the right future graduates.
So how do you reach those future graduates? Simple. With a higher education lead generation strategy that works. The key to connecting with your prospective students is reaching them when and where they want you to. There are numerous options, be it Google, social channels, through lead generation companies, or traditional media like TV and radio. Maybe your students attend college fairs or school Open Houses. There are many different channels, and each has its strengths. How you use them depends on who your students are
Before they were successful graduates, they were students. To understand your successful graduates, you must know who they were as students. As such, the first step in building a fruitful lead generation campaign is understanding who your successful students are. One great way to gain insight into your student's characteristics is to survey them. Keep it short and to the point, but be sure to include the information you need.
Do you want to know where they are from and their age range? Maybe it’s valuable for you to find which state produces the most successful graduates? What is their prior education experience? Extracting data from your CRM (Customer Relations Management) or Student Administration system can be an excellent source of demographic information.
Once you establish the info, cross-reference the data with those students that have been the most successful. Just don’t forget, extracting data on the students who have not been the most successful is also a necessary piece of the puzzle. It may become apparent specific channels are producing enrollments but not successful students.
Now that you have a clear picture of who your students are, it's time to tell your story!
Define Your Message
We have become accustomed to people selling us something all of the time. Once saturation occurs, we revert to the “In one ear, out the other” state. Think about walking through the mall, and someone runs you down to try their revolutionary skin care product. Are you in the mindset to buy skincare? Probably not, yet they stay on you until you try it or you duck around the corner to escape their hard sell of making you younger.
Students are no different. Schools all too often over-promote their brand on Social Media or are hard selling students to get enrollments. Any enrollment! Rather than inundate them with the information they aren’t looking for, you should deliver original, relevant content that will help them decide on their education and likely your school. And if not, that’s okay too. Especially in education, the best outcome for both the school AND the student lies with being the right fit.
Once students see that you are interested in this being a mutually good deal, they’ll feel comfortable deciding that your school is the one. Promote the things that are awesome about your school, and also let them know that you understand the importance of the student experience. Don’t sell to them. Help them.
Now It's Time To Deliver Your Message
Prospective students need to see and digest your brand. They need to get to know it before being asked to sign the enrollment agreement. (Don’t forget, it’s not only about enrollments; it’s about the RIGHT enrollments!) They will get there, and it may not be during the initial interaction. Remember, they are in the awareness stage of the funnel and likely finding the school that they can most relate to.
Your institution has a story to tell, take the time to position that story in a way prospective students will want to learn more. Tactics like “Buy Now,” “Class Are Filling Up,” or having a fire sale on tuition are all methods used by schools for decades. Do they paint the right picture of how attending your institution will impact their lives? Likely not.
We are fortunate to have the ability for more touch points with prospective students than ever before to convey the message of your institution. Understanding which of those channels resonates with your students is next in creating your strategy.
The beauty of digital search is prospective students are looking for something at that moment. That is, they are seeking the answer to a question that you can provide. “Where can I learn Advanced Fidget Spinner Mechanics?” Connecting with them on a platform they are using during that micro-moment can be very successful. That’s why building a substantial organic presence on search engines is also critical.
Using an SEO optimized and engaging website with compelling content positions your school as the “Thought Leader” on the programs you offer. Many schools don't leverage blogs or content relevant to their school's offerings, but they should! Content creation takes time, however, is a fantastic way to build organic rankings. Most schools have so much intellectual knowledge to share. It’s about leveraging this knowledge, organizing the information and putting out helpful, relevant content on the subject matter of your expertise.
Additionally, you can augment organic presence by utilizing paid search ads for a more immediate response from digital search. Creating relatable ads that lead to an engaging experience once they land on your website is a huge component. Keep your keyword strategy to relevant terms for your institution, and its programs. Doing so will not only save cost but show your ads to more qualified students.
A quality over quantity approach is especially important for small admission teams. A big mistake we have seen schools make is to generate ads around any possible keyword(s) that might relate, even distantly, to their programs. This technique can produce a large volume of leads with little return on investment. Your Admissions team spends more time contacting low to mediocre leads rather than nurturing the students who will likely, complete your program successfully. This trap usually creates fewer quality leads and less effective admissions teams which equals fewer students. Understanding how your digital search leads are converting must drive the lead generation strategy.
The most successful uses of social media in higher education marketing tell their institution's story authentically and add real value to their followers. Social Media provides a different experience and result than digital search. You are placing your brand in front of users that are likely not necessarily looking to answer a question about going to school at that moment. They may want to know what kind of events you throw for your students, what is it like to be on campus, and how you support and showcase your graduates. They want to know that it’s incredible to be on campus and part of your culture!
- For prospective students, they may follow your feed to develop an understanding of your school's culture.
- For current students, they may be trying to keep up-to-date on events or student life at your college.
- For Alumni, they may be engaging with your channel to help build their brand and keep in touch with fellow graduates.
There are different reasons each user is there, and by leveraging content that balances those needs, your institution can build a robust online social community.
Like digital search, a comprehensive social strategy can combine organic and paid post (sponsored). Seamlessly tying these two delivery methods together can build your community while providing experiences that add value to each user.
Lead Generation Vendors
Lead Generation vendors are another way to increase leads. Like search, they are typically contacts coming from someone who is actively looking at their school options. They can provide an aggregate view of institutions that are offering the prospective student's program of interest and work to match contacts to schools. The caveat, though, is that the schools that are showing for prospective students are the schools paying the vendor for leads. These don’t always equal the best schools, students or fit. They are the schools that paid to be listed.
There has been plenty of controversy about education lead vendors and how credible they are. If you plan on adding them to your marketing mix, we suggest diligently shopping vendors and focus on transparency.
Traditional TV and Radio Advertising
For years TV and Radio have been a staple of education marketing. Depending on the type of institution, we have seen various levels of success. Schools ad placements can be quite targeted and reach a specific demographic in volume. Like social media, your advertisement is competing for the user's attention. There is no search intent at the moment your ad runs, so a clear message is of the utmost importance. The best Higher Edu TV spots running today are those telling a very compelling and authentic story about a person looking to accomplish their goals through education.
It is no secret US TV ad spend has been declining. We are watching closely as over-the-top (OTT) viewing continues to grow. By providing a targeting ability more like paid search and social, as this platform continues to evolve, it has the potential of becoming a powerful tool in the education marketers took-kit.
Tying It All Together
Building a winning lead generation strategy for your school is now about creating your marketing mix. By understanding your students, messaging and distribution channels you can find the correct balance of each. Emphasizing the channels and messages that you know are driving successful students and graduates while pulling back on those that are not, will help you develop a recipe for Lead Generation Success.
Creating a sustainable, predictable and a highly qualified lead generation pipeline takes time but can be done. If you would like to improve your institution's lead generation, build your competitive advantage and grow your school, we'd love to talk to you.