New rules of engagement in higher ed

3 steps to finding new students

If your marketing teams are not taking advantage of the multitude of ways to personalize digital content to increase lead capture, enrollment and retention, you may be seeing the impact in your acceptance and yield figures. In this piece, we open up the new playbook for finding the right student prospects.

Who’s calling the shots?

One of the critical factors that is inadvertently sapping performance of enrollment campaigns is the dispersed responsibility of marketing and admissions teams to manage parts of the enrollment process which are increasingly more connected.

The traditional model is shattered—prospects no longer respond to direct mailers. They do research, bite off what they want to consume and engage on their own time and terms. This happens at the top of the funnel (where marketing interacts) or in the middle of the funnel (when admissions responds).

The issue we’ve found in our work with higher ed is most schools don’t have an integrated marketing “quarterback” guiding the effort and dismantling silos between admissions and marketing. Integrated collaboration allows schools to leverage a free-flow of information across departments.

Admissions and marketing work together as true partners in the enrollment marketing process.

One way to do this is to create an integrated enrollment marketing leadership role within the organization—but this approach truly works only if they are equals with the admissions and marketing department heads so they can influence process improvements.

Once the internal teams are aligned, a school can transform its marketing approach using storytelling that supports enrollment goals and integrates paid, owned and earned media.

How to reinvigorate the old playbook

Twenty years ago, a college might have spent a significant portion of its marketing budget on brand-building in traditional media and the dissemination of printed materials. Evolved institutions are now infusing new strategies and tactics into their repertoire under the direction of integrated marketing and enrollment leadership.

This starts with defining and creating personas. By incorporating the treasure trove of data collected by ad networks and social platforms—including marital status, income, hyperlocal geography, interests, hobbies, company, specialty area, level of education, industry, job title and cause affiliation—a complete picture of your target personas emerges.

Once you build detailed personas, you can leverage digital and social channels to their fullest potential. Building personas lets you target your channel mix for more efficient results.

How to use data to change the game

Every college, department and program faces budget constraints. Digital and social campaigns allow you to analyze performance data and optimize your approach to generate yield at every phase of the campaign, thereby maximizing the impact of every dollar you spend.

Awareness, traffic, lead capture, nurturing, application start and completion, and deposit are all key phases to monitor. You can also evaluate data points tied to each phase.

Data allows for testing messages and creative for resonance with various personas.

One recent campaign we conducted for adult learning programs tested 20 different creative iterations selectively applied to eight student personas. Testing allowed us to tailor the top creative and messaging campaigns for each persona to drive the most program interest.

This college was experiencing a multiyear decline in fall enrollment, but within six months, we stemmed the decline. Within eight months, the college was on an upward enrollment trajectory even though most campaigns don’t see significant results for at least a year.

There were other factors that made this performance possible, including strong admissions leadership, a proactive recruiting team and strong nurturing content campaigns—but that’s a topic for another day.

The next time your leadership team meets, think about how you can start implementing the new rules of engagement in enrollment marketing.

Tom Ryan is vice-president of brand integration at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston.

Tom Ryan
Tom Ryan
Tom Ryan is an enrollment consultant with Schneider PR. He can be reached at

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