For years, it was known that universities were getting it wrong. They were marketing and selling their courses in a very arrogant manner, where they expected to drive enrollments based on reputation alone. Yet increasingly, the student-university relationship was starting to look more like a retail relationship. Students were practically shopping for their future education online, looking not only at departments and professors but also “shopping” for campus experiences, dormitories nearby and international exchange programs.
Then came 2017, when an entirely new generation entered colleges worldwide. This was the tech-savvy Generation Z, the true digital natives. They made up 40% of all US consumers in 2020. Over 66% of them used more than one internet connected device at a time. While we keep harping on such statistics, rarely do the lesser known aspects of this generation get highlighted. For instance, 48% of Gen Zers support same-sex marriage and 54% of them are worried about climate change.
So, when this generation goes college hunting, they also look at campus cultures and conduct extensive research and deliberation online before making a decision. Yet, college websites continue to offer dry calls to action like “Register Now” and “Apply Now;” a bottom-of-the-funnel call-to-action. Not only do they lack top and middle of the funnel content, they lack the omni-channel approach as well.
Education Marketing in the Post-COVID Era
Cut to 2020 and universities worldwide went online. Priorities for marketing departments across sectors shifted drastically to cater to the rapidly changing consumer behavior. This held true for educational institutions as well. The major aspect that needed to be addressed was the fears of parents and students. We are unlikely to return to our pre-COVID lives anytime soon. While the future is always unpredictable, a few things are expected for colleges:
- The era of online education has begun.
- There have been major cuts in marketing budgets and funding for colleges.
- International students are relying increasingly on online channels solely to gain access to universities worldwide.
- Academic conferences and physical annual events stand cancelled.
In the face of such challenges, academic marketers will have to adopt new strategies to remain in the spotlight. Let’s talk about how an omni-channel sales funnel strategy will be relevant at such times.
Lack of Information will Impact Enrollment
A website or landing page dedicated to COVID-19 resources is critical now. The pandemic is rapidly evolving and its impact on academic institutions will also continuously change. There has to be timely information on the current situation. For instance,
- How is the institution dealing with the pandemic? What are steps taken to protect teachers, staff members, research assistants and students (when they go back to the campus)?
- What is the strategy for lectures? Which departments are shifting completely online?
- What will be the admission process for the new session? Will the college arrange virtual tours of the campus?
- What is the future plan for international students? Any new developments related to student visa should also be posted.
Moreover, it is necessary to re-check every email, blog post and social media post now to ensure that the messaging reflects the current situation. Emails have especially been important tools to promote exclusivity and personalization. In this context, they can be used to share various types of content, important information, calls-to-action and more.
The Omni-Channel Approach
The pandemic has disrupted traditional classrooms, while technology has become an enabler. It is now time to leverage these tools to connect with the target audience.
- Focus on brand identity by recording lectures of eminent professors and academicians and promoting them on online study portals.
- Host webinars and create videos on how students and teachers are tackling this sudden shift to online teaching. Leverage the brand’s social media channels like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to showcase student and teacher stories. It could be about how the institution helped them transition to online learning with ease or how professors belonging to the boomer generation had to learn new ways of teaching overnight.
Such “day in the life” videos, student profiles and guide videos can offer an omni-channel approach to engage with prospective students. Brainstorm new ways to keep in touch with students, teachers, industry experts and partners. High value content like eBooks, whitepapers, quizzes and anything that makes students’ lives easier can help generate leads in a non-sales focused way.
- Organize annual events like quizzes, cultural events and graduation ceremonies “live” online. Create a buzz around them through various social media channels.
The Enrollment Power Stays with the Student
It is the students who will research before choosing their future pathways. Knowing the demands and habits of future students is crucial for planning any sales strategy.
- Try to replicate the face-to-face interaction as much as possible on different media channels. Virtual campus tours and promotional videos remain important.
- Address the vital shifts in the student market. For instance, many students will have lower financial means now. Their information needs will also change during the enrollment process.
- Content strategies will depend on audience segmentation. Colleges can personalize messaging based on country of origin and home language.
Now is the time for educational institutions to ramp up their omni-channel efforts. Uncertain times can lead to some brilliant sales strategies. This will help you remain relevant in this era of “education shopping.”