The Educated Marketer


The Most Effective Lead Generation Strategies in Higher Education Marketing

by Leah Peters | Jan 13, 2016

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


The college recruitment funnel has changed. Here’s how your marketing team needs to change with it.


Perhaps you know by now that lead generation strategies in higher education marketing have changed—a lot. Gone are the days of the direct mail—44% of direct mail is never opened anyway, and just 1 out of 4 students actually respond to college direct mail—the cold calls, the glossy viewbooks, the college fairs.

Well—that’s not quite true. These time-honored lead generation strategies still have their place. It’s still true that word-of-mouth generates leads like crazy. It’s still true that a meaningful face-to-face encounter with an admissions professional makes a big difference.

But it’s also true that prospective students these days are much more likely to be found searching for colleges on their smartphones than they are to be rifling through a paper viewbook. (Nearly 75% of teenagers have smartphones.) They’re much more likely to want to spend some time watching a campus tour on YouTube than to talk to an admissions counselor on the phone—just 1 in 5 students want colleges to call them on the phone!

In short: the admissions funnel has changed. Lead generation strategies that worked a generation ago are likely to be perceived as irrelevant, annoying, and intrusive by rising juniors and seniors today.

That’s the bad news in higher education marketing. The good news is that there are fresh lead generation strategies that can deliver high-quality leads at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing techniques. Needless to say, the most effective lead generation strategies today are digital—and most of them are student-led: an astonishing 97% of prospective students initiate contact with a school if they’re interested. That means you need to be prepared when they go looking.

Not just ads

By that we don’t just mean that you should transfer your marketing efforts to the web and leave it at that. (84% of millennials have clicked away from a website because of annoying ads.) Yes, it’s easy and cheap to create a digital viewbook, to buy or rent email lists, and to pay for sidebar ads—but it’s not the strategy that’s most effective in an age where prospective students and their parents are likely to distrust advertising—and where they’re much more likely to poll their social networks when it comes time to make decisions.

Create great content

The most effective lead generation strategies out there operate from a philosophy we call inbound marketing—inbound, as opposed to outbound, because this lead generation strategy works on the principle of drawing interested parties in with great content instead of pushing your message out at them and hoping it sticks.

In higher education, the possibilities for compelling content creation are virtually limitless: guides to taking the SATs or ACTs, to navigating the college search process, to writing stand-out admissions essays; videos offering virtual campus tours or amusing interviews or songified speeches (nearly ½ of students said they viewed online videos to learn more about a college); photostreams showing the beauty and vibrancy of life at your institution.

Don’t just let them look—convert them into leads!

Obviously, you’ve got to get their attention first—without that, not much else happens—but while inbound marketing begins with great content, it doesn’t end there.

Once you’ve earned the attention of your prospective students and their parents, it’s time to invite them to opt-in to receiving ongoing communications from your marketing department. Again, the possibilities are endless: webinars, ebooks, resource guides, music—anything that your prospective students will find attractive and worth exchanging an email address for. Don’t limit yourself to one or two opt-in offers; create a lot of them. And don’t relegate the opt-in box to the sidebar—make it a pop up. Don’t make it hard for visitors to opt out—but do make it easy for them to opt in!

Your college or university can’t afford not to go inbound. Check out our helpful infographic.

Download Our Helpful Infographic

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