Higher Education Marketing Strategies In The Era Of COVID-19
November 1, 2020 | Dmitry Bondarenko

Higher Education Marketing Strategies In The Era Of COVID-19

Higher education marketing is the process of marketing any kind of degree beyond a high school diploma. The audience for higher education institutions is diverse and can include everyone from those who are soon to graduate high school, seeking a graduate level degree, and even some vocational degrees and certifications. Because of this diverse audience, this means that higher education institutions need an equally diverse range of marketing techniques to reach the highest number of prospective students. The right marketing strategy has become increasingly important in this highly competitive field.

higher education marketing strategies for 2021

2020 introduced another challenge to higher education institutions in the form of COVID-19. This global pandemic will likely continue to be a part of our lives through 2021, and the marketing strategy of any college or university should take this into account. There is opportunity to be found in any challenge for those who seek it, and this one is no exception. As an example, distance learning can allow a school access to a wider range of students. At the same time, travel and campus restrictions may have more students looking at getting their education closer to home. The ability to seize this moment can be key to an institution’s success.

Why Do Higher Education Institutions Need Marketing?

Every year, new students are graduating from high school and are looking for the place they will be continuing their education. They are bombarded with brochures, speakers, ads, and suggestions from those around them, all trying to steer them to one higher education institution or another. These are all forms of higher education marketing in some way and all are pieces of the puzzle that prospective students use to decide where they will go. The right marketing strategy can help a school to stand out above the rest.

Students are not the only ones who can be drawn in by a good marketing strategy. Parents and others who help students make decisions are also important to market to, as their influence can be an important factor. A great marketing plan can also be vital for attracting high quality teachers and faculty. All of this can synergize together to increase a school’s enrollment and reputation.

In this article we are going to look at 10 useful techniques to use as part of an effective higher education marketing strategy:

  1. Branding
  2. Search Engine Optimization
  3. A Great Website Experience
  4. Social Media Marketing
  5. Livestreaming
  6. Email Marketing
  7. Interactive Advertising
  8. Leveraging Alumni and Students
  9. Distance Learning
  10. Pay Per Click Advertising

These techniques will help you lay the foundation for a great marketing strategy, and partnering with a higher ed marketing agency such as ComboApp can help you put it all together successfully.

10 Higher Education Marketing Strategies For 2021

Having the right marketing techniques is a vital part to achieving success for any higher education institution, but in 2021 the stakes are even higher. These 10 tips are ingredients that can be put together to cook up a recipe for triumph over the competition. These are especially important in a world where the usual routes for getting information into potential students’ hands have changed or become unavailable.

1. Branding

Let’s face it, in 2021 and beyond branding is important no matter what your business sector. For schools, branding is going to help define who you are to potential students. Defining who you are means letting them know what makes your school unique. A 2015 Gallup study showed that students had trouble differentiating between different school brands and mission statements. This is an institution’s opportunity to stand above the crowd.

Higher education branding means crafting an identity that represents both the school and it’s student body. While many schools have things in common, every institution has its own unique attributes. Your programs, history, campus, community, alumni, and faculty are all unique and are able to be highlighted as part of your brand. Think about the students you want to attract and what will bring them to your institution. Above all, make sure it is authentic. You don’t want to craft an image that students will find to be untrue once they step on campus. Retention is as important as acquisition, and bad word of mouth can undo all of the work that good marketing has done.

2021 Higher Education Marketing Trends: COVID-19 Safety

In the era of COVID-19, student safety has become incredibly important to students, parents, and potential faculty. How an institution chooses to handle the pandemic is as much a part of its brand as its campus life would be in a normal year. Not every institution or every program is going to have the same protocols, and different students will have different expectations. Leaning into the ways an institution deals with these issues will help to define their higher education branding in this era. Laying out a school’s plans and protocols including remote learning, distanced classes, sanitization, and protective equipment will let students know what to expect and help them decide what institution fits their requirements and expectations.

2. Search Engine Optimization

A higher education institution needs to be able to be found online easily. Unless they are one of the lucky institutions who has Ivy League levels of word of mouth, they must ensure that they show up in a potential students search. Higher education institutions tend to get a lot of organic traffic from students who are searching, so great search engine optimization (SEO) practices and optimization are vital. A higher education website design and the content it features needs to be carefully crafted to take advantage of Google’s algorithm and get high rankings, including on the local stack.

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High ranking is so important because 75% of users never click beyond the first page of a Google search. If you are not on the first page then 3/4ths of people searching will never see you. Some of the most important SEO techniques in 2020 include:

  • Mobile page speed optimization and Accelerated Mobile Page HTML code options.
  • Solid technical SEO to ensure sites are crawled properly.
  • Target keyword research and use.
  • Creating optimized content.
  • SEO-friendly meta tags.
  • Site optimized for voice search.
  • Link-building to establish, maintain, and increase authority.
  • Press releases and other forms of outreach to media outlets.
  • Proper schema markup for education institutions.

When developing a higher education website, these tips will help ensure that the site gets the organic traffic it needs. A full cycle marketing agency such as ComboApp can build a site that fits these needs as part of a strong higher education digital marketing plan.

3. A Great Website Experience

Higher education website design needs more than just solid code and information about the school. School websites have gained a reputation for being labyrinthine affairs that are difficult to navigate. Breaking away from this trend to create a great user experience will make for more engaged visitors as well as better search engine rankings.

A great mobile site is one place to start. The importance of mobile-first design in 2021 and beyond cannot be stressed enough. Mobile friendly is not enough anymore, as Google has moved to a mobile-first approach to ranking and users are increasingly using phones as their main web browsing device. Millions of Gen Z students have grown up with mobile devices and have become used to using them for day to day tasks.

Speed and ease of use are just as important as being mobile-first, as a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load will lose visitors fast. A fast loading site that is easy to navigate and find information on will make for happy, engaged, and informed potential students. A higher education marketing agency such as ComboApp can help an institution by building a site that will meet these goals.

4. Social Media Marketing

A higher education institution will find that most of its marketing will be geared towards Gen Z as well as some millennials who are going back to school or getting a later start. More than any other demographic, these will have the most engagement with social media on a day to day basis. 9 in 10 potential students in this demographic use social media, and 70% have used social media to research higher education institutions. This means that higher education social media marketing is an opportunity to connect with these potential students that would be a mistake to ignore.

higher education social media marketing

Simply having a social media presence is not enough though. You need to have content that is engaging and informative, as well as authentic. Today’s students are savvy to marketing techniques, especially in the digital space, and they want to see what a school really has to offer and not just a crafted image. We can give them this authenticity by being responsive to their inquiries, as well as presenting the school through the eyes of students. Get students from digital media departments to craft some content, encourage students to use a hashtag to post about the school, or have student leaders do account takeovers in order to give your social media a voice that speaks to potential students on their own terms.

Social media is a chance to show off your school’s brand to the world, and communicate to potential students why they want to come there. A great enrollment marketing plan will take advantage of these outlets as much as possible and make your institution into a place that students want to go.

5. Livestreaming

Livestreaming is another up and coming tool in your higher education digital marketing tool belt. Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube, Twitch, and more all provide outlets for getting live video content straight into the hands of potential students. This can be used in a variety of ways, such as streaming events, Q&A sessions with students and faculty, sports, and of course classes and lectures. These livestreams can be used to enhance your brand, as well as give students an authentic look at what an institution has to offer.

Of course, in 2021 livestreaming gains even more importance as a way to communicate with potential students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use live streaming to conduct campus tours, talk with groups of interested students, and conduct classes over distance. Getting on board with this technology is essential to any 2021 higher education marketing strategy.

6. Email Marketing

It might be an old stalwart at this point, but a strong email marketing strategy is still an important higher education marketing tool. In fact, when it comes to higher education communications and marketing materials, 3 out of 4 students would prefer to be contacted by email. This makes it a crucial tool for a school to use, but they have to be able to use it right.

Unfortunately, college emails are more likely to be filtered as spam due to many institutions not understanding how to properly manage their email marketing. This means you have to ensure that your institution is using email marketing in ways that will avoid those filters and end up in front of the eyes of potential students.

Personalization and segmentation will help you avoid sending out mass emails with general information. This is done by using an email automation tool and setting up emails that go to individuals with specific interests, and at relevant times. Giving prospective students personalized emails will help keep them engaged. Emails should also be able to be replied to and receive a prompt response from a real person. AI tools can take this even further by crafting these emails using data that has been collected about the recipient or segment being targeted.

Setting up these tools and managing them might seem daunting. But, a full cycle agency that offers higher education marketing services like ComboApp can make sure you get the most out of them by putting their skills and experience to use for you.

7. Interactive Advertising

Interactive advertising offers a form of higher education advertising that has many possibilities to explore. You can use interactive ads to not just reach and engage with potential students, but also get them to let you know exactly what they care about. This is another field that is just starting to really blossom, and taking advantage of it now will be an excellent addition to all strategies for increasing student enrollment.

Imagine a student sees an ad from a school on a social media platform, and that ad comes in the form of a game that they can play. They enter in an email and name, or just use the credentials from their social account, and soon they are interacting and having fun with a quiz or other type of game that gives the school an insight into the things they value.

Another possibility is a video ad that follows a student beginning their journey at a school. As they make decisions, the viewer gets to choose what the student does and how the story plays out.

For a different type of interactive ad, an increasing number of schools have E-Sports teams. These teams can work as a form of advertising themselves, and can also provide avenues for items such as school branded in-game content for the games they compete in. If a potential student becomes a fan of a school’s team, and are willing to wear their uniform in a game, then they are more likely to attend that school.

Higher education marketing firms like ComboApp are there to help you create the perfect interactive advertising campaign for your higher education institution.

8. Leveraging Alumni and Students

There are few more powerful forms of marketing higher education than word of mouth. No matter what an institution says about itself, the words of those who went there themselves is far more valuable in the minds of many prospective students. If a school is looking for marketing strategies to increase student enrollment, they need look no further than their current and former students.

One of the simplest ways to get this type of word of mouth advertising is by encouraging students and alumni to review the school on various review sites. They can also be featured in videos or profiles on websites or social media, letting them put into their own words their experience at the school and how it benefited them.

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9. Distance Learning

When approaching marketing for higher education in 2021, a focus on distance learning will help attract prospective students. With COVID-19 a part of our daily lives for the time being, there will be a large number of students who will be looking at options that will keep them from having to go to a campus. While having a plan for dealing with the pandemic on campus is important, having a plan for students to learn from home is a way to create opportunity. Schools can now have access to new students who would have never been in their reach before.

Showing that a school cares about student and faculty safety by offering distance classes helps on its own, by giving the school a positive reputation in most people’s minds. It also means that students who will be seeking distance learning are more likely to choose your school over another that does not offer distance learning or offers a less robust distance learning offering. Distance learning also can make your school accessible to prospective students who are unable to leave their areas due to family or other reasons. During this pandemic and after, distance learning helps a school’s enrollment marketing plan by increasing the potential pool of prospective students.

10. Pay Per Click Advertising

When it comes to higher education digital marketing, pay-per-click advertising still remains an essential tool. It can be used to micro-target prospective students and offer them ads that are personalized to them based on their searches.

A PPC campaign for marketing higher education can be used across multiple ad platforms including Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, Google Ads and others. With mobile devices you can also target ads based on location or locations the person frequents. You can tailor these campaigns to best fit your institution’s budget in the most efficient way.

PPC as higher education digital marketing strategy

Digital marketing for higher education in 2021 means using a diverse ad strategy that targets the prospective students the school is most trying to reach. Google search provides excellent ROI, while interactive ads will have students more engaged with the ad.

There are 5 main types of digital ads that can be used as part of a higher education marketing strategy:

  1. Display Ads – These are the standard banner and image ads that appear on websites.
  2. Social Media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites offer many options for paid ads. From boosted posts to interactive content, there is something that will be suitable marketing for higher education institutions
  3. Native Ads – Ads that are targeted based on interests and behavior that show up in feeds, on sites, and in apps.
  4. Search – Search result ads on Google, Bing and other search engines. Based on the keywords a user searches.
  5. Video Ads – A content rich form of advertising. Lots of opportunities for making an emotional connection.

Higher education marketing strategies that use PPC ads should be an indispensable part of any marketing campaign. A higher education marketing agency like ComboApp can help you determine which type of ad is best for your institution’s needs and craft a campaign for your success.

Conclusion

In 2021 marketing for higher education is incredibly important to help schools meet the moment and rise to the challenges they face. COVID-19 has changed the landscape of how schools can market along with how their classes will operate. It is our hope that this article helps to serve as a guide to success.

ComboApp is a full cycle higher education marketing agency that can help you in crafting a strategy that involves building a brand, designing a fast website with a great user experience, and marketing in diverse and personal ways to prospective students.

Contact us today to get your school on track for success in 2021 and beyond.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is higher education digital marketing necessary for 2021?

With COVID-19 limiting in person marketing opportunities, digital marketing is the best way to ensure prospective students learn about a school. Digital marketing also provides a chance to reach a wider range of students than ever before.

2. How do you market higher education?

Higher education marketing needs to be personalized to the needs and expectations of prospective students. Creating great content and easy to navigate websites are key aspects of every higher education marketing strategy.

3. Does ComboApp provide higher education marketing services?

Yes! ComboApp is a full cycle digital marketing agency and we will create a marketing strategy for your higher education institution. Contact us and we can begin crafting your marketing plan and setting you on a path to success.

4. What are the main higher education marketing trends in 2021?

In 2021, higher education marketing trends include having a fast and mobile focused website that provides a great user experience. Distance learning will be a leading trend too as COVID-19 continues to have an impact on campuses. Creating great content including livestreams, interactive ads, and personalized emails are areas to focus on as well.

5. How do you encourage students to pursue higher education?

The best way to encourage students to pursue a higher education is to do so on a personal level. Find out what the student enjoys and what they want for their future. From there, you have the information needed to encourage them down higher education paths that will help them reach their goals.
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