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How to Rethink Your University Marketing Campaigns

Yvonne Hall
February 21, 2020

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Higher education has pivoted, or at least created additional peripheral degree offerings, based on the digitally advanced mindset of today's students. Just like the publishing industry or marketing industry has seen in the past decade, students are demanding new, advanced options in both course and delivery options. What we are really talking about is user experience. But not only does higher education need to rethink their offerings, they also need to rethink how they market those offerings. Gone are the days of an educational institution only needing to offer a well-rounded degree catalog and allowing that to be what drives student interest. Location is no longer a primary driving factor as well. Students are looking for specific attributes in their education, especially with the rising costs associated. Marketing professionals will need to dig deeper to identify those attributes as well as rethinking who to market those attributes to and how to best reach those potential students. 

Recapping the WWF Real Life Example

In my last blog post I shared a real life example of the WWF Gifts campaign and website that was a reposition of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF)  that I grew up with. They had the same delivery (mailed me a catalog) but had revamped and repositioned their offerings. Be clear -- I DID NOT say they revamped their offerings or product line. that all remained the same! They seemed to just take a new stance on how they delivered those offerings.

It was a brilliant repositioning in my opinion, that I can only imagine was built on feedback of what was working, and what their supporters - and non-supporters - were saying. Answers to questions like:

  • Why didn't you give?
  • Why did you give?
  • Why did you only give that amount?
  • What would have prompted you to give more?

Ok, so I don't know what really prompted this reposition and I have no idea if it was customer survey based or not because I do not know anyone at WWF or anyone that works in their organization. However, as a marketer trained in inbound methods, who reviews data and works with clients daily on analyzing user experience, it all suddenly played out in my head. 

So I'm sure you are now saying, "Great story, Yvonne, but how the hell does that help me market my "xyz'?"

How to Rethink and Determine a Renewed Market Position

There are many industries that need a rethink positioning or how their customers view and consume their product or brand. Higher Education is one of those industries that has seen dramatic opportunities to rethink how they are finding and attracting customers in the dawn of the digital age. And if you've worked in higher education you know that the long standing institutions aren't typically known for their agility and ability to reposition quickly. Let's dig in on how to rethink education marketing in a way that will open you up to potential students that weren't aware of or considering your organization for their educational pursuits. 

Step 1: Research

Higher education has the benefit of longevity that other organizations do not have and most college and universities have been working at staying connected to Alumni. This will come in handy for this first step. Research current as well as past students to determine how, where and why you need a reposition. In order to get rich data to benefit your process you need to deeply consider the questions you want answered by this group who knows your organization so well. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Why did you select our school?
  • What benefit did you expect attending our school? 
  • Were there hidden benefits that you were not aware of before you started attending?
  • What, if any, negative scenarios occurred that deterred from your education?

Don't forget to include the valuable information of those who were accepted but did not enroll:

  • What reason kept you from enrolling?
  • What school did you enroll at and why?

And what about those who wanted to attend but were not accepted? Did they have a misinformed idea about your institution that needs to be corrected in your marketing?

Even after you have determined the questions you'll still need to determine how you will deliver the questions and collect the answers and how to entice these groups of people to participate (yes, prizes/rewards always help):  

  • Focus groups
  • Online Survey
  • Town Hall Forum

Step 2: Analyze

Now that you've collected the answers you need to review them and find commonalities in those answers. The great thing about data (as well as the curse) is that it can be viewed and sliced in so many ways! I prefer spreadsheets that allow me to sort and resort at will. I typically then copy any similar or enlightening data into a new sheet. 

Keep in mind the goal is to reposition. In the WWF example, they changed the focus to the gifts and away from the devastation and the need for support. So clear your mind of the current position or benefits that you've been sharing and truly dig into the responses and create categories of responses PER ANSWER to find the GEMS.

Step 3: Create Personas

In order to properly roll out this repositioning, you'll need to create a data-based, fictional persona that you'll use to answer many marketing questions in Step 4. It is highly probable that you'll need more than one persona and better to create one per degree or discipline category. However, I recommend that you focus on one area/goal and fully complete it to show progress and get things working. So pick the highest priority and create a persona for that one goal. 

Use the data that your organization has been building for years, decades (maybe eve centuries!). What does your student body looks like - age, ethnicity, home state/city - but dig deeper and determine what social media they use, what interests do they have, and remember to include attributes of why they are there at your school. 

Here's a great persona wizard tool from HubSpot that can help you complete a full and rich persona. 

Step 4: Targeted Persona Tactics

Now that you know who you are targeting, where they spend their time, and what they are interested in you can determine the best tactics to use. 

Are they performing all of their research on their own prior to applying? You'll need a strong content strategy that includes review marketing and several pieces of high value content like white papers, infographics and maybe a testimonial video. 

Are they always on the go and need to get info fast and in short bursts? A strong paid search and paid social campaign with benefit-oriented statements and lead generation forms for more info to be emailed will serve them well. 

Are they slow to make decisions and need to explore all options? A re-marketing pay-per-click campaign on both search and social could help you stay top of mind as they ponder your High Value Content pieces to make their decision. 

Step 5: Put it Together

You've done the work, you found the GEM to reposition, you know who you need to target and what formats will work well for them, now you just have to create the assets and share it!

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