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Outside, Looking In: How Marketing & Recruitment Are Changing in Continuing Education - Guest Blog by Mickey Baines

March 09, 2018 4:16 PM | ACHE Home Office (Administrator)
As a consultant, I have the benefit of seeing many institutions’ successes and challenges – both in their marketing efforts, and in their recruitment as they search to attract and convert prospective students into enrolled students. As I consider how the trends have shifted over the past 12 or so months, the scary realization is that the strategies used to accomplish these tasks vary less among these institutions than the results of their efforts do.

Let me state this again: The strategies institutions employ to attract and convert new students aren’t that different, and haven’t changed significantly over the past year. But the results among those institutions vary widely.

I can share, however how several small, tactical adjustments in marketing and recruitment seem to have the most impact.

1. Search: Students don’t search for you; they search for programs. Collegis Education reports prospective students are increasingly searching for preferred academic programs first, then the brand names of the colleges and universities offering the programs. 
What does this mean for you? As you optimize both your web content and digital ads, the focus has moved toward the programs you offer. Your online ad and web content must follow suit. While the challenge to optimize and remain atop the search results continues to be great, those who don’t address the issue may fall dramatically in the results. If you aren’t among the top four to six search results, consider yourself ignored.

Institutions with strong marketing agency partners tend to excel more in accomplishing this simply because those partners know how to customize and optimize the ads and web content necessary to get to the top.

2. Web and Ad Content: Now that we know how students are searching, we need to think about content we deliver so that it is relevant to them. Companies like Hubspot do a lot of research into what types of content help convert prospects on a web page. And while the answer may seem simple enough to do, it is much more challenging than most consider it to be.
Most of the content I review on program web pages is focused on the program and not the prospective student. If you want to improve the effectiveness of the content, be sure that it answers the prospective student’s questions.
What are the top three initial questions a prospective student asks when they express interest in your programs? This is a simple but very important question to help you engage your prospective student. These questions and answers should drive your content.
If your site doesn’t provide the answers to those questions, what information does it provide, and is that more important than the answers to the prospect’s questions?
Remember if they can’t find what they are looking for on your site, they won’t necessarily search for it on your site – they may search for it on your competitor’s site.

3. Recruitment: After more than three years of stressing this point, I now find more programs and institutional leaders listening. Recruitment is a focal point that can typically provide a more significant opportunity to impact enrollment.

Most colleagues with whom I discuss this topic seem to understand the concept that not all prospects are equal, but few think of those differences among prospects, applying that to their recruitment strategies.
For example, there is a dramatic difference in how a prospect converts based on the source through which she connected with you. A prospective student that clicked on an online ad to submit a Request For Information (RFI) form on your site will convert at a significantly lower rate than a prospective student that was referred by another student or alumna.

The source type is just a single data point that can help you better engage prospects. Other points include where in your enrollment funnel, or enrollment process a prospective student is, or any special audience segment you particularly serve well, such as veterans.

If you build your recruitment strategy with a significantly more detailed level of personalization, you will should find a deeper, more enriched level of engagement with prospects in return.

If you read through each of these three points, you will find a common theme. That is the customization of content around each individual prospect.

Over the past five years, I have become equally focused on technology as well as enrollment strategy. That’s not because technology drives the prospective student’s experience, but because it enables you and your team to customize the experience. It is your team, the people involved in making the connection and engaging with prospects that drives your enrollment.

If you design your content and ads to engage prospects with the information they need and strategically build your recruitment around your team’s ability to engage and connect with prospects, you will have a more meaningful connection with your new students and a higher satisfaction with those responsible for making the connection.

Mickey Baines
Kennedy & Company

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