The first survey, in March, showed significant disruption to admissions activities, resistance to online learning, and the early but significant financial fallout (download survey report one here). A second survey in late April showed that prospects expected transparent and empathetic communications, but many schools left their CRMs on autopilot (download survey report two here). Our third round of surveys, at the end 2020, surveyed prospective students and marketing and admissions administrators across the country with the goal of looking at the state of higher education from both sides of the fence; to see if schools’ activities were matching the needs of their paying customers. The survey report begins to answer that question. It’s broken down into four main areas: Admissions, Cost & Financial Aid, Online Learning, and Marketing & Communications. Based on what we learned, we think there are five things you can do today to help your institution thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Invest in your brand
Now more than ever, having a clear brand position – and a comprehensive marketing and communications strategy to support it – is critical. The schools that can define a clear place for themselves in the market and attract prospects to that vision will succeed in the coming years. Those that don’t risk hastening their demise. One first step you can take: Do a competitive analysis of your institution compared to your top three competitors and your top three aspirants to see where you stand and where you need to go.
Build a comprehensive, compelling digital ecosystem
From landing pages and emails to virtual tours and learning management systems, the experience of your brand is increasingly digital. Invest in smart, long-term solutions that deliver a consistent brand experience from the first time a prospect clicks on one of your ads to the moment they give a transformational gift as an alum. One first step you can take: Do a comprehensive evaluation of your digital experience to see what it looks like from the outside – or better yet, ask prospects and other key audiences to do it for you since their perspective on the journey is the only one that matters.
Build a firewall against prospect melt
Knowing that prospects are planning to choose among multiple offers of admission means colleges and universities will need to plan aggressive anti-melt campaigns. To be a prospect’s first choice, focus on making personal connections with them based on their interests and needs. Then build a communication strategy that combines digital and human interactions to keep the personal connection strong throughout their decision-making process, not just during the melt phase when they’re most vulnerable to last-minute messaging. One first step you can take: Identify the qualities of the ideal prospects for your specific institution so you can most effectively target individuals for personalized outreach. Understanding who is most successful at your institution and why is a critical part of this effort.
Know your prospects and communicate how they want to hear from you
With a changed higher ed landscape, it’s time to update your personas to reflect who your new prospects are and what they need from you. Then, communicate with them in ways that meet their needs, not yours. One first step you can take: Evaluate your prospect personas – or create them if you don’t already have them – to identify new challenges they face in their educational search, new opportunities they’re seeking and new ways you can make your institution shine compared to your competitors.
Help your institution see online learning as an extension of the in-person brand
The pandemic forced many schools into online learning without the time to consider the impact of that experience on the overall university experience. Now that online learning is here to stay – and student expectations are higher – marketing and enrollment professionals can help their institutions build digital education experiences that reflect the brand and in-person experience. One first step you can take: Get involved in university-wide efforts that are determining the future of online learning at your institution and show how a compelling and consistent experience will drive ongoing value for prospects, students, and alumni. If you’d like to learn more about our surveys or have questions about next steps you want to take at your institution, education [at] theprimacy.com (please get in touch). And if you’re looking to help your institution thrive in 2021, Primacy has created a series of high-impact, low-cost engagements called Primers that can help you get started. Our Brand Primers can help you:
- Define Your Brand Strategy
- Bring Your Brand to Life
- Fast-Track a Strategic Creative Campaign
Our Enrollment Marketing Primers can help you:
- Fine Tune Your Enrollment Marketing Strategy
- Maximize Your CRM
- Update Your Personas & Journey Maps
Our Digital Experience Primers can help you:
- Develop a Digital Experience
- Supercharge Your SEO
- Evaluate Your Accessibility Compliance
- Measure What Matters