With global competition and rising acquisition costs, there’s no question that the digital age has made student enrollment a Sisyphean task for higher education brands. Up against local, regional, and even international rivals for the same leads, it’s more difficult than ever to cut through the noise and make meaningful connections with potential students.
So when one of the world’s leading university networks came to us with a challenge—increase student intake while reducing cost per enrollment—we knew we would have to dig deeper into the field (much, much deeper) to consider exactly how to win against the odds.
(Spoiler alert: it’s all neatly summarised in our infographic, which you can also download as a PDF.)
This is what we learned:
Ground your strategy in research
Start by defining the online opportunity space for your school. What are other schools doing? What will make you unique in what you say? How, exactly, will you say it? (Get a head start with our handy research into higher education digital marketing.)
For our client, we distilled concise, unique reasons to believe (RTB)—why someone should apply to a school—and used them as the jumping-off points to generate detailed Strategic Platforms for each individual university brand, including 30+ country-specific platforms for one institution in particular.
A Strategic Platform, you say?
- It starts with the data. We’re a data-driven agency and we prefer hard facts to assumptions or speculation. We did our homework, researching each audience, the competition, the industry, and the education space in depth. Our unique methodology and approach allowed us to extract some key insights—those “aha!” moments that drive significant business decisions.
- Opportunity knocks. We used our insights to find those hot opportunities in digital for our client. It’s the golden intersection between what the market wants, what the competition isn’t doing well, and what our schools were best at.
- A springboard for success. We then united it all together as a platform—the branding, messaging, digital behaviour, and rules of engagement for each brand to use in digital spaces with their audience. People typically interact with a school or a brand over many touchpoints, so our platforms focused on customer journeys to deliver not only a compelling message but a cohesive experience.
Design a content strategy to drive engagement
Every content strategy worth its salt is informed by in-depth market research and data-driven personas. Once you’ve defined your target audiences—including their behaviours online and offline through various stages of the enrollment process—you have to prepare your content for amplification down to a local, personalised level. Tailor your tone and visual elements to account for the subtleties of different geos, demographics, and even degree types.
At this stage, we took the opportunity to prioritise content creation for markets with high (or potentially high) student enrollment. As a result, we were able to capitalise on competitive gaps in each space, opening up new possibilities for media testing and optimisation in the most lucrative areas.
Execute, optimise, repeat
In such a crowded, competitive market, you have to carefully define your media spend to minimise clicks that are less likely to convert. Do you want to target a market or demographic with a known affinity for a particular type of program, like MBAs? Then weight your budget for customised targeting and messaging. We did just that for a particular member of our client’s network—a leading American university—layering in custom landing pages to almost double leads in the space of a year while reducing CPL by 23%.
It’s also important to iterate. For a prominent European university, we refined ad copy over several phases to achieve a 174% increase in click-through rate (CTR). Iterate your media spend too. We reorganised budgets to fit shifting enrollment goals after recognising that although some geos were attractively inexpensive, they simply weren’t driving leads or enrollments. The result? A 93% increase in leads year-over-year in this particular university’s home market.
So… Where to start?
Like a student stocking up on Pot Noodle, higher education brands have to make every penny count. The margin of error between enrollment and abandonment is fine—and the competition so fierce—that it’s crucial to get your research right at the outset, build a robust (and possibly global) content strategy, and regularly reappraise as you engage leads at every step of the journey from Thinking to Planning to Doing.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have all the answers yourself: our data-obsessed researchers, planners, and strategists have earned their doctorates in higher education lead gen (not literally) and are ready to help. It all starts with a friendly chat, so fill out the form below to get in touch and download your exclusive PDF.