The Educated Marketer


When Does the Admissions Funnel Really Begin?

by Leah Peters | Oct 26, 2016

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


There’s way more to inbound marketing for higher education than a blog and a Twitter account.


The First Moment of Truth

In Brian Solis’ book The End of Business as Usual, he discusses the fact that prior to the dawn of the digital age, marketers had a great deal of control over when and how potential customers -- for our purposes, prospective students -- first encountered your brand. It might have been when they walked past your product in a brick-and-mortar store. It might have been when you sent out direct mailings -- like that glossy viewbook.

For colleges and universities, the situation has always been a little different -- for many schools, reputations precede the moment of first encounter. Even then, though, prior to the digital age, higher education marketers had much more control over what prospective students and their parents heard about your institution, and from where, and when.

They’re making the first move

These days, it’s much more likely that prospective students and their parents are thinking about you long before you’re thinking about them. You no longer have much control over what the Procter & Gamble corporation has called the “First Moment of Truth.” The admissions funnel no longer starts when a prospective student picks up your glossy viewbook or talks to an admissions representative at a college fair.

When the admissions funnel really begins

It begins when she starts searching for colleges on Google, or asking her friends on Facebook or Twitter what they think about your institution.

First impressions are lasting -- and that means that you have to be really proactive in shaping the prospective students’ experiences so that every step through the admissions funnel is helpful, timely, pleasant, and, ultimately, leads to enrollment.

Anticipating their needs

In order to have a successful digital marketing strategy, institutions must be thinking like their prospective students and those students’ parents: what are they concerned about? What are their needs at this point? What are they going to be searching for online when they’ve got college on the brain?

Then you’ve got to design content that’s delightful, helpful, shareable, and what the British call “more-ish” -- something they’ll want more of. By designing your site to offer great content that’s fully optimized for mobile and optimized for a high organic search ranking, you’ll be positioning yourself to respond when they come looking. You’ll be putting yourself in place so that their First Moment of Truth with your organization happens on your terms -- and theirs.

Staying in touch

Obviously offering helpful resources online isn’t enough to get students to apply to your institution. What puts an inbound marketing strategy head and shoulders above your run of the mill content marketing campaign is that it’s all about staying in touch, strategically.

It works like this: students find your resources online, read them, like them. Then they see that you’ve got a call-to-action -- if they enter their contact information, you’ll be happy to send them a book, a webinar, or other free resource. At that point, the marketing automation technology supporting your strategy begins tracking all their activity related to your institutional website and supporting pages, giving you detailed insight into their decision-making journey and allowing your team to communicate effectively and ‘individually’ in a highly efficient way.

Doing it Right

Too many higher education marketers treat social media as if it is an end in itself, or as if it’s a 24/7/365 billboard, or as damage control when their institution has received bad word-of-mouth or bad press. These are all essentially reactive uses of social media: either you’re using social media “because that’s what everyone else is doing,” or you’re essentially transferring old models of advertising into new digital formats, or you’re using your own soapbox to shout down the other folks’ opinions of you.

None of that is good enough, and none of that’s going to help you meet your student recruitment goals. Instead, you need to be focusing on that First Moment of Truth -- or what Solis calls the “Zero Moment of Truth” -- so that your institution is poised to shape your prospective students’ first encounter with you in the best possible way.

Summing it up:

Too many colleges and universities think they’ve got digital marketing down just because they’ve transferred the same sorts of messages and efforts from their traditional campaigns to their social media accounts. That’s just not good enough. Higher education marketers need to take a proactive approach to shaping the moment students first encounter the institution, using the tools and strategies of inbound marketing to craft the ideal admissions funnel journey for students in the digital age.

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