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Making the Most of Your Higher Education Marketing Strategy

Making the Most of Your Higher Education Marketing Strategy

Education marketing budgets are rising. The effort to attract students in the most competitive environment we've seen in decades has led to billions spent on digital and traditional marketing campaigns specifically designed to recruit students. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend and moved it into a predominantly digital arena. 

It's tempting to spend big and fast on recruiting your next incoming class. But at the same time, the best higher education marketing plans are not based on speed alone. They are careful, collaborative, and strategic.

Rushing into an advertising or recruitment campaign without a clear plan or goals is a disaster waiting to happen. An overall strategy can prevent disaster, aligning both marketing and admissions to specific goals. In other words, a higher education marketing strategy turns a major spend into a deliberate effort to recruit the right college students. 

And, of course, a comprehensive plan also permits you to test your efforts, allowing data to drive marketing decision-making, thus ensuring all of your messaging and channel mixes resonate with your audience.

Let's take a look at seven actionable steps that should go into every marketing plan your school or institution creates:

1) Build a marketing plan

A strategy is, at its core, an abstract process. A plan allows you to write it down in a way that you can easily share internally within your marketing department to maximize alignment.

Your marketing plan needs to include a few core components:

  • An overview of your target audience.
  • Your campaign goals, and how they tie to your university's strategic plan or larger goals.
  • Your anticipated budget.
  • The channels you look to leverage.
  • The timeline for the campaign.

2) Craft your audience personas

Most universities have a good idea about the demographics and geographic locations of the students they want to target. However, this type of data-based profile is only partially actionable when building a successful marketing strategy.

The next step is turning that data into a persona, which is a snapshot of who your ideal target audience might be. It's a hypothetical profile of your audience, outlining not just their demographics but also their needs, desires, and channel preferences. Build three to four personas that represent the core audiences you look to reach.

For example:

  • One persona might be Laura, a 17-year-old high school senior with a 4.0 GPA who has applied to multiple schools and will make her decision based on the most scholarship money. 
  • Another might be Frank, a college father of a high school student looking for great engineering schools so his daughter can follow in his footsteps. 
  • A third might be DJ, a first-generation student generally confused about the complexities of the college search and looking for more information.

3) Define your goals and budget

What core goals is your university looking to accomplish? Do they want to increase recruitment, retention, or raise the quality of students attending? Are there new programs in attractive fields that the school wants to become known for?

These types of goals allow you to build a more specific marketing campaign for your strategy. As a result, you can optimize your budget to reach goals that are relevant not just to you, but to the entire university.

Speaking of budget: you'll also need to define exactly how much money your campaign can spend. Depending on your university's budget structure, that might mean simply plugging in the fixed amount approved for marketing each year or defining an ideal amount for reaching the campaign goals that you can present at a budget committee meeting for approval.

4) Build your media channel mix

The next step includes outlining exactly what channels you need to leverage to reach your audience and accomplish your goals. The possibilities are almost endless, but it's important to distinguish between the three basic channel types:

  • Owned media includes anything you can create and manage internally, like your website, social media accounts, and email.
  • Paid media includes any potential advertising channel, both traditional (like TV, direct mail, or magazine ads) and digital (social media, search engines, and display ads).
  • Earned media is any attention you can get for free, but not managed by you. That includes PR, user-generated content on social media, or school rankings and reviews on sites like U.S. News and World Report and Niche.

Ideally, all of them work together to optimize your campaign for your audience and goals.

5) Put the right tools in place

Based on your goals and channels, it's time to look at the tools you need for execution. 

For example, a digital-heavy strategy will likely require a strong emphasis on Analytics tools like Google Analytics to track performance. An emphasis on social media might require a scheduling software tool. You can also include the tools you need for daily campaign projects and task management. 

The key here is finding the right tools to help you make the campaign launch and management more effective, without overcomplicating the issue for the people involved in campaign execution.

6) Create a launch and review timeline

Next, it's time to think through the exact timeline of your campaign. Here, in higher education with its complex recruitment timelines, it helps to think backward: what class are you looking to recruit, and how early do they need to hear from you as they begin their college and university search and make their decisions?

A close partnership with Admissions can be vital to succeeding in this step. They will likely have data about peak inquiry and application months, and individual tactics could be focused around open houses or major college fairs in your area.

Building a campaign timeline also allows you to plan your content development and review process. It ensures that everything is in place before launch, and you know exactly when to follow up and benchmark your efforts once the campaign launches.

7) Launch your marketing campaign

Finally, the big day arrives - the campaign launches to your prospective students. It's the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and reward the marketing team that's been working hard on it, but it's also important to remember that the work isn't yet over.

Now comes the time for content optimizations and analytics. You might also need a regular reporting schedule to keep university stakeholders abreast of its progress. Over time, you can use this data to improve your audience insights and optimize your marketing efforts to recruit new students.

Working With a Reliable Partner to Build Your Marketing Strategy

Creating a comprehensive marketing strategy is complex. Fortunately, you don't have to be alone in this process.

The right higher education marketing firm might be the perfect partner to help you succeed. Their experience in building strategic campaigns, from: 

  • defining ideal budgets,
  • to setting goals and building user personas,
  • all the way to creating timelines and recommending the right tools, 

can be invaluable. Of course, you have to find a higher-ed marketing agency. That's where Sonority Group comes in. We're here to help you navigate the complexities of the education marketing sector.

Ready to start building your comprehensive marketing strategy? Let's chat! 

let's chat >



FAQ Recap:


Why is having a marketing strategy important for higher education institutions?

A marketing strategy for higher education institutions is essential for attracting students in today's competitive environment. It provides a structured approach to reaching and engaging with prospective students, aligning marketing efforts with institutional goals, and maximizing resources to achieve desired outcomes.


How can building audience personas benefit a higher education marketing strategy?

Crafting audience personas allows institutions to create targeted and personalized marketing campaigns that resonate with specific segments of their target audience. By understanding the needs, desires, and preferences of different student groups, institutions can tailor their messaging and channel mix to effectively attract and retain students.


What role does defining goals and budget play in a higher education marketing strategy?

Defining clear goals, such as increasing recruitment, retention, or promoting specific programs, helps institutions focus their marketing efforts and allocate resources effectively. Establishing a budget ensures that resources are allocated efficiently to achieve campaign objectives while considering the institution's financial constraints.


How can institutions determine the right media channel mix for their marketing strategy?

Institutions should consider leveraging owned, paid, and earned media channels to reach their target audience and achieve their goals. The selection of media channels depends on factors such as audience demographics, campaign objectives, and budgetary constraints. A balanced media channel mix ensures comprehensive coverage and maximizes the impact of marketing efforts.


How can institutions create an effective launch and review timeline for their marketing campaign?

Creating a launch and review timeline involves setting clear milestones, aligning with recruitment timelines, and coordinating with admissions departments. By planning backward from enrollment deadlines and peak inquiry periods, institutions can ensure timely execution of campaign activities and establish benchmarks for monitoring progress.


What role does ongoing optimization and analytics play in a higher education marketing strategy?

Ongoing optimization and analytics allow institutions to evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions to optimize campaign performance. Regular monitoring of key metrics helps institutions refine audience insights, adjust messaging strategies, and enhance the overall impact of their marketing initiatives.


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