The Educated Marketer


The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Higher Education Marketers

by Leah Peters | Dec 04, 2015

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


What the best higher education marketing professionals do…and how you can learn from their practices.


No doubt about it: marketing’s an art. What takes off and what doesn’t sometimes depends upon unseen and untraceable factors.

But highly effective marketers know the habits of mind, life, and work that set their feet on the path to success. Here are seven habits of highly effective higher education marketers:

#1: Develop a Positive Attitude

We know: enrollment’s down, costs are up, budget’s tight, traditional advertising’s not as effective as it used to be. It’s a lot to take in. It can be overwhelming.

It’s true: the world of higher education marketing has changed. These days it’s less about direct mailings, cold calls, and rented lists and much, much more about all things ‘inbound’—digitally-based content marketing that, with the aid of sophisticated technology, invites prospective students and their parents to ‘opt in’ to communications, thereby starting their journey through the admissions funnel on their own timeline, while allowing you to track their progress and assist as needed.

In other words, smart marketers know that while we’re on the cusp of big changes in higher education marketing, the future can be bright. In a way, that’s up to you. With that in mind…

#2: Set Meaningful Goals

Do you know what you’re aiming at? If you’re aiming at nothing, you’re pretty much guaranteed to hit it. Perhaps you want to increase applications by 20%, or increase enrollment in a particular program by a certain percentage. Maybe you’re looking to get more applicants from a certain demographic. Whatever your goals, it’s important that you set them somewhat high—not in the stratosphere of wishful thinking, but aspirational enough that you’re motivated to push yourself.

Keep these end-game goals in mind as you implement the various elements of your inbound program, evaluating each piece of content and each strategic effort in light of the question “how does this move us toward our final goal?" If the answer isn’t clear, it may be time to let that element go.

#3: Prioritize

It’s important to realize that it may be impractical to roll out an entirely new marketing program in one sweeping move. One of the things we love about inbound is that it is complementary to traditional marketing methods and campaigns can run simultaneously, with no disruptions in previous plans.

Still, getting on board with inbound marketing does mean that you’re going to make some changes. What comes first depends upon where you’ve decided it’s most strategic to focus your efforts—and that’s something you’ll find out through research. Where are the students you’re trying to reach getting their information and spending their social media time? The answers to these questions—and others that you should be asking—will help you prioritize your marketing efforts for maximum effectiveness.

#4: Be Authentic

Highly effective marketers know that today’s consumers—today’s prospective students and their parents—are savvy enough not to take anything a marketer says at face value. You have to earn your way in to their attention, rather than buying your way in—and even when you’ve got their attention, you’ve got to understand that they’re not necessarily going to want to hear an advertising pitch. Nor do they want to consume some slick piece of sales talk about your school.

Your best bet? Tell true stories that accurately reflect a cohesive institutional identity. If the truth is that ‘it’s complicated—we’re a very diverse school with an unusual history’ then tell that in the best way you can.

#5: Listen before you talk

This habit relates back to what we said earlier about doing your research. Who are your prospective students? What are they worried about? What do they love? What are their hopes and fears—and which words and channels do they use to express themselves?

In order to communicate effectively with today’s prospective students, you’ve got to speak their language. That means you begin by listening.

This is also a good habit to live by on social media. Too many people treat social media like a 24/7/365 billboard or bully pulpit, when in reality, social media, at its best, is a conversation. As in any conversation, you only turn people off by talking over them. Listen. Listen. Listen some more.

#6: Diversify your efforts

Here’s the thing about social media and marketing in the digital age: it’s always going somewhere new. The next hottest apps are already being developed, and channels that are unbelievably popular today can fade away next year. That means you can’t be putting all your eggs in one basket—nor can you be continuously reliant on what worked last year. A nimble inbound marketing strategy is constantly improving.

#7: Constantly analyze

This final habit of highly effective marketers brings us full circle—back to where we spoke about the importance of setting goals. Here’s where you take a look at those goals and figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t. Which posts garnered the most leads? Which efforts offered the greatest ROI? Why did this email campaign work—and that one flop?

Analysis is key to the habits of highly effective marketers, who know that it’s just as important to figure out when and how goals are being met as it is to know that they’re being met.

So there you have it—seven habits to set you on the road to higher education marketing success!

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