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Analyzing Effective Higher Education Marketing Strategies

Analyzing Effective Higher Education Marketing Strategies

University landscape

Grasp how marketing strategies can help higher education reach and exceed institutional goals

Marketing in higher education represents a unique challenge for academic institutions of every shape and size. Part of this reality stems from a multifaceted challenge inherent in higher education — the creation of a top-notch academic environment that attracts an outstanding group of teachers and students.

Further complicating matters, higher education institutions face an enormous amount of competition. There are more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the United States, without even accounting for similar organizations across the globe. Even the most targeted higher education institutions — such as those focusing uniquely on science, technology, or the arts — face fierce competition from academic institutions near and far.

To achieve and surpass their organizational goals, an effective marketing strategy is a key tool in the arsenal of successful higher education institutions. On top of traditional methods — like print, radio, and TV — these academic entities can lean on their research and development, sports, arts, and music programs to market effectively.

Moreover, recent advances in technology have allowed higher education institutions to benefit from countless digital marketing methods. In the digital age, higher education can utilize digital tools to have meaningful, two-way conversations with various interested parties. But at the end of the day, higher education institutions must blend traditional and digital marketing to realize their full potential.

Why is it Important to Prioritize Marketing?

Higher education institutions face a unique challenge in maximizing their enrollment and diversifying the student and faculty ranks. By employing a diverse education marketing strategy, these institutions can demonstrate their value and provide crucial perspective on the benefits of enrollment or employment.

To gain a deeper appreciation for the marketing challenges in higher education, consider that these institutions must reach a mixed bag of potential customers. Although each academic institution operates in a unique fashion, most of these organizations need effective marketing strategies to reach:

  • Students — From full-time students living in dormitories or off campus to part-time students with obligations outside the classroom, student tuition represents a significant chunk of revenue for higher education institutions.
  • Parents — In many cases, parents make the final decision on where children enroll, balancing academic value against cost and other relevant factors. Parents can also be students as well, particularly in continuing education or distance learning settings.
  • Faculty — From professors to administrators and even coaches, every academic institution needs the support of talented and dedicated faculty members. Without strong faculty contributions, it can be difficult for higher education institutions to meet their financial goals and grow effectively.
  • Donors — Higher education institutions rely on the financial support of donors to help supplement revenue and fund expensive projects. To secure contributions from these donors, marketing strategies are extremely helpful in demonstrating the potential value and benefit of investment.

Are There Common Examples of Traditional Marketing in Higher Education?

Historically, higher education institutions leveraged the same channels of marketing methods as many other commercial organizations. Namely, education marketing has leveraged the following methods to communicate their messaging:

  • Print — A print marketing strategy will usually involve a combination of newspaper or magazine advertisements, billboards and other signage, stationary, and similar methods.
  • Mail — A mail marketing strategy will generally include a blend of targeted advertisements, colorful imagery to explain features, product samples, magnets, and similar devices.
  • Radio — A radio marketing strategy will normally comprise a mix of over-the-air advertisements, catchy jingles, testimonials from hosts, customer interviews, and similar techniques.
  • Television — A television marketing strategy will normally incorporate a combination of video advertisements, customer reviews or testimonials, product demonstrations, corporate branding, and similar devices.

In addition to the vanguard methods above, education marketing has traditionally leveraged other assets in unique ways. For example, many higher education institutions are able to take advantage of:

  • Campus Tours & Visits — Once a hallmark of higher education marketing, campus tours and visits have lost some of their luster in the digital age. Even so, this marketing tool is essential in communicating campus life and culture to outsiders. Plus, virtual campus tours and visits can help interested parties learn more about organizational culture and branding from a safe distance.
  • Research & Development — Many higher education institutions are at the forefront of scientific research and development. When teachers and students work side-by-side to test theories and achieve breakthroughs, it can have a positive impact on brand and reputation management in higher education.
  • Arts, Music & Sports — Arts and music departments can enhance higher education marketing with shows and performances, significant publications, and famous faculty or alumni. Sports in higher education can be an enormously valuable marketing avenue, particularly when events are broadcast regionally or nationally.

Overall, higher education institutions have taken advantage of numerous traditional marketing methods in the past. While these strategies remain relevant and important today, digital marketing has become increasingly significant in recent times.

How Can Digital Marketing Strategies Contribute to Higher Education?

With the explosion of technological advances in the 21st century, digital marketing has largely overtaken traditional marketing methods in prominence and effectiveness. At its core, this shift reflects a fundamental difference between traditional and digital marketing strategies.

Traditional marketing techniques tend to be one-way communications. Stated otherwise, traditional marketing enables an organization to broadcast its own messaging to a particular audience. But until the digital age, it was relatively difficult for the customer to reply back to marketing efforts.

This limitation of traditional marketing faded with the ascent of digital technology. The two-way nature of digital marketing opened new doors for higher education institutions to better connect with potential customers as well as communicate their brand and messaging.

It should be noted that there are a myriad of digital marketing strategies already in existence, with new methods appearing on a regular basis. That being said, several common forms of digital marketing include but are not limited to:

  • Email Marketing — Higher education institutions can use email to deliver various marketing strategies, including branded messages, newsletters, and promotional offers. Modern email marketing also offers deep insight and analytics into the performance of marketing content.
  • Social Media Marketing (SMM) — Higher education can leverage SMM to disseminate their content and messaging in a uniform manner across numerous channels. With SMM, a prospective customer can engage with the institution on their preferred channel, instead of having to navigate elsewhere. Higher education can also engage with influencers to help broaden their SMM efforts.
  • Content Marketing — Higher education institutions can create diverse and engaging content to attract potential students, teachers, and donors. Content marketing can include the use of blogs, podcasts, videos, and other media to enhance branding and messaging.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — Higher education can employ SEO to enhance their online presence and ranking within major search engines. This is crucial in an age where most consumers perform diligent research online before making a purchasing decision.
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) — Higher education institutions can utilize SEM through paid placement and digital ads. When paired with an effective SEO strategy, SEM can help boost website ranking and visitor traffic.
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) — Higher education can benefit from PPC advertising, particularly from a budget standpoint. In the PPC context, a higher education institution will only pay when someone clicks on their ad, opening the door for smaller schools with tight budgets to engage in digital marketing as well.

What Does an Ideal Marketing Strategy Look Like for Higher Education?

Given the diverse challenges facing higher education institutions, an ideal marketing strategy will likely involve a blend of traditional and digital methods. In taking advantage of the benefits of both traditional and digital marketing, higher education organizations can maximize their reach and build instantly recognizable brands.

On the one hand, higher education can leverage their traditional and unique assets to help achieve their organizational goals. On the other hand, digital marketing offers incredibly effective methods to connect directly with many different actors, at a relatively reasonable cost. By incorporating both traditional and digital marketing strategies, higher education institutions can supercharge their branding and messaging efforts.

In order to achieve a successful marketing strategy, it is generally advisable for higher education institutions to:

  • Produce and maintain a dynamic website to showcase institutional value and benefits, student and faculty testimonials, and provide key information;
  • Engage in dedicated SEO and SEM efforts to ensure that website and other content occupy a prime position in the results of major search engines;
  • Execute a comprehensive digital advertising strategy, employing PPC, email marketing, affiliates, sponsored content, and other effective methods;
  • Conceive and execute a multifaceted SSM plan by posting regular content across several channels and engaging regularity with other users;
  • Employ content marketing strategies to produce and distribute print, audio, and video content across various media;
  • Secure valuable advertising spots in local, regional, and national media in the print, mail, radio, and television arenas;
  • Leverage research and development, campus visits, arts, music, and sports to create a compelling brand and notable messaging; and
  • Highlight notable faculty and alumni to demonstrate the value and benefits of the higher education institution in question.

It is important to note that the list above is far from exhaustive. There are countless ways that higher education institutions can leverage traditional and digital marketing channels to reach their organizational goals. Ultimately, each higher education institution must evaluate their own needs as well as potential costs and benefits. Only then is it possible to create an ideal marketing strategy for that organization.

Would You Like to Elevate Your Marketing Strategy?

Higher education institutions interested in elevating their marketing strategies and augmenting their reach should consider membership with the American Marketing Association (AMA). The AMA community provides essential resources and networking opportunities for marketers of every variety, including those working in the higher education arena. To connect with members from across North America, enjoy membership benefits, and pursue PCM certification, join AMA today!