The Educated Marketer


The Greatest New Disruption in Higher Education Marketing

by Leah Peters | Nov 09, 2016

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


Inbound marketing is changing the way higher education marketing is done. Here’s what you need to know about it.


Disruption, inbound!

Inbound marketing has been called the most significant innovation in higher education marketing since colleges and universities set up their first websites. So what is it, and why is it so important?

College: a monumental decision

You already know that colleges and universities are always working to maintain optimal student enrollment.

You also know that college is an enormous investment, and involves extensive decision-making that takes time and a great deal of information. Especially in an uncertain economy, where prospective students and their parents may be anxious about whether or not their investment is going to pay off, the college research process has become highly significant.

A new way of gathering information

Those information-hungry prospective students and their parents now have unprecedented access to the kind of resources they need to get informed and make decisions -- before even contacting an admissions professional. When today’s rising juniors and seniors begin thinking about colleges, they reach for their nearest device, inquire on their social networks, and perform Google searches.

What that means for you? They’re not waiting for your glossy viewbook. They’re not waiting for the college fair to grab a brochure and talk to your representative. And their not into your cold-calls and generic emails, either.

How inbound is different

You’re probably already a fan of inbound marketing -- even if you don’t know it.

Let’s say you’re planning to start a raised-bed garden, so you go online to look for some how-to materials on building raised beds yourself. One website that’s friendly, professional, and accessible offers you free downloadable plans for building raised beds. You enter your contact information, download the plans, and tell yourself you’ll start the project later. A few weeks go by, and the same company that gave you the email followed up with a friendly email, asking how your project is coming along and offering you 20% off your first order of seeds, fertilizer, and other gardening needs.

That’s inbound marketing. It works organically and is based around what you need and what you’re searching for. It offers something of value that you’re willing to exchange contact information to receive. And it follows up in a timely, personalized, and helpful way.

Advertisements are easy to tune out. Inbound makes you want to tune in.

We began by noting that prospective students and their parents are on the cusp of a major decision, and that they’re looking for as much information as possible as they sift through their options.

What that means for higher education marketing is this: you need to be attracting the attention of prospective students and their parents throughout the stages of the decision making process, offering the kinds of resources they’re going to find most relevant, helpful, and actionable.

It’s simply not enough to buy some digital ad space and hope for the best. You’ve got to be creating the kind of content that a rising junior or senior (and their parents) is likely to be searching for.

More than a blog. More than Twitter and Facebook.

Inbound marketing doesn’t just mean having a blog and a couple of social media accounts, although those are crucial. Content marketing -- marketing that earns its way into the attention of customers, rather than buying its way in -- is an important aspect of inbound. Content is key; without it, you’ll never generate the kind of organic traffic that drives the all-important higher education marketing lead-generation effort.

What makes inbound different is that it relies on marketing automation tools that track prospect engagement and does the next right thing to move that prospect through the admissions funnel. New tools emerge each day, continually honing the technique and making it ever more painless. The best part? Inbound works well right alongside existing higher education marketing strategies with no disruption. And a well-tuned inbound machine generates leads while you sleep.

Summing it up:

Cold calls, paid advertisements, glossy brochures and viewbooks are going the way of the rotary phone. Higher education marketing is no longer about advertising as we once understood it -- it’s all about offering timely and valuable information, generating organic traffic, converting visitors into leads by allowing them to opt into compelling offers, and staying in touch with strategically timed and personalized emails. And the results speak for themselves!

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