The capabilities of marketing technology (martech) have taken leaps forward in recent years. To fill the funnel, the industry has left behind mass marketing, replacing it with  personalized messaging aimed at individuals or highly defined groups. We see the funnel becoming narrower at the top and wider at the bottom than what it has traditionally been.

Some marketing tools, such as search engine optimization software, now act as extensions of users’ brains as they recognize not only matching terms, but each individual’s intention behind the search terms they’ve entered.

Because of this, successful marketers are finding that they achieve a higher return on investment when they focus on content that best meets consumers’ intent and leverage this focus in lead nurturing.

In higher ed, another way that martech is changing is in the way prospective students research programs and institutions. A mobile phone is now the starting point and it is expected that colleges will have the same flexibility and responsiveness that this population experiences with companies like Amazon.[1] Therefore, higher ed marketers must adapt as their audience has, and do what they can to meet prospective students on their now digital terms.

Below we go into how higher ed marketers can integrate three key trends into their efforts. These trends involve precision marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and shifting from a focus on lead generation to mid-funnel lead nurturing.

Precision marketing

Higher ed marketers should focus on custom, personalized messaging. Today’s martech tools allow colleges to go beyond ZIP code attribution to true micro-targeting. Using demographic and consumer data to identify the interests of individuals, or very small groups of similar individuals, is what enables prospective students to get a well-matched experience in Google searches, remarketing and social media ads.

But, do prospective students want such personalized marketing? Overwhelmingly, yes, according to[2]. The key is to support digital marketing efforts with access to live people when needed. According to a 2017 University Business article: “Prospective students want personalized web content, email messages and short text reminders, but they also crave authentic human interactions on social messaging apps.”

How to jump in:

Provide prospective students with the information they seek in the places they’re looking: internet search engines, on your website, and in your communications with them. Make sure it’s tailored to meet the needs of your college’s leading demographics, and, once the prospective student has engaged with you, personalize your interactions further to show that you’re invested in each individual prospect’s success.

SEO: Optimization of intent

A 2018 Forbes article stated: “One of the most unique SEO trends to watch for in the second half of 2018 is the optimization of intent. Google will be switching up its search algorithm so that one of the biggest driving factors for rankings will depend on the intention of the keyword.”

Because Google can analyze a user’s searches, and later, whether a critical purchase correlated with those searches, websites that are tied to the user’s final purchase should rank higher in search engine results.

Likewise, lifecycle search and purchase information will influence the results users receive among people who have similar profiles.

Colleges should pay attention to this phenomenon, because those that do not optimize their content strategies, or provide strong, seamless experiences throughout the college selection process, risk decreasing their visibility on search engine results pages. In turn, those colleges will be less likely to get in front of prospective students.

How to jump in:

Create meaningful content that speaks to the strengths of your institution and communicates how your institution is different from your competition.

Marketers shifting focus to mid-funnel lead nurturing

It used to be that if higher ed marketers could fill the top of the marketing funnel, they were on track to meet enrollment goals. No longer. Because of the advances noted above that allow marketers greater access and insight into midfunnel leads, they are able to offer more relevant information, at the right time, to the people who are most likely to be a good fit. This means that the greatest opportunity lies in lead nurturing.

For higher ed marketers to adapt, they will need to harness three key components in order to have impact. Those are:

  1. Data integration / analytics
  2. Marketing automation
  3. Admissions messaging

These three components are essential to delivering relevant messages to prospective students based on their interests. Unfortunately, this mix can be tougher to harness than many colleges realize. This is because at many colleges, there is a gap between the work done by marketing and admissions.

This becomes even more challenging when working with marketing firms that do not have specialized experience in higher ed admissions. The importance of integrating marketing with admissions simply gets overlooked.

Conversion (enrollment) is far less likely to happen if the marketing team comes to a stop once their part is done. Rather, we see that enrollment increases when admissions and marketing work hand in hand, aligned on messaging and response time. What we are seeing is that colleges that use technology to respond to mid-funnel considerations find themselves with better-fit students, and within reach of enrollment objectives.

How to jump in:

Assess integration points across marketing and admissions. Ask your agency partners how they are able to help drive integration. Assess whether you have the right partners to integrate the efforts of marketing with admissions in order to close the gaps where prospective students tend to fall off of a college’s radar.