Align higher education marketing campaigns with recruitment and programs to present a clear and consistent message to prospective students.
Successful enrollment marketing strategies are not built in a vacuum. The most effective marketing campaigns align with recruitment and programs to present a clear and consistent message to prospective students. To achieve alignment, marketers must work with recruitment and programs to understand offerings and student outcomes.
Misalignment has serious consequences. When marketing is not fully aligned with programs and recruitment, prospects can feel like the victims of a bait and switch. Taken to the extreme, your marketing campaigns promise one thing, application coaches and advising describe something different, and while the program delivers an experience that is misaligned with both messages. Even if the differences are small, students may lose trust in your institution or wonder if you have their best interests at heart.
How does misalignment happen?
Your institution isn’t trying to mislead students. You want to give them the information they need to make informed choices about their education. There’s just one problem, your marketing and enrollment teams aren’t effectively communicating with each other. Meanwhile, neither one is talking to subject matter experts (i.e. professors, curriculum developers, alumni, and students). Without communication, silos can develop in which each function happens independently of the others. When functions like marketing, recruitment, and instruction become siloed, it’s easy for the marketing message to drift away from the program reality.
As prospective students travel from the first marketing message that catches their eye, through the recruitment process, and into the program, they are confronted by a slightly (or sometimes widely) different message in each silo. The result is confusion and distrust. If misalignment is too great, some prospects may even drop out late in the funnel.
To avoid melt, marketing must strive for consistency not just between marketing platforms, but across marketing, advising, and student experience.
Creating alignment with recruitment and programs
Communication is the key to creating alignment throughout the marketing funnel. As marketers, you should understand the goals and motivations of students, the advising experience, and the actual student experience within the program for which you are marketing.
Such understanding requires an intentional effort to reach out to and collaborate with all stakeholders in the recruitment process. Who are these stakeholders? Efforts to create alignment should include: subject matter experts, advising staff, a project manager or account manager, a senior strategist responsible for overseeing the big picture, a content strategist to craft messaging and content, and a web and design strategist. While one person may be responsible for more than one of the above roles, it is important to understand and identify the team members that is taking on the responsibility to ensure alignment and coverage.
When all of these stakeholders work together, marketing creates more relevant campaigns, enrollment teams meet their goals, and programs gain students who are a good fit for their offerings.
Follow this process to enable alignment between marketing, recruitment, and programs:
- Draft a list of questions for the recruitment team and SMEs. These questions should help you understand the audience, the program, expected student outcomes, and anything that sets the program apart.
- Interview stakeholders to gather answers to your questions.
- Using their answers as a foundation, craft marketing strategies that align with program offerings.
- Present your findings to subject matter experts. This is a vital step that many marketing departments skip, which can lead to misalignment as marketing teams interpret programs.
- Apply the feedback and changes suggested by SMEs.
- Share your strategy one more time so everyone understands the goals and strategies.
- Put your new marketing plan into practice.
Your questions, strategies, and messaging should all center on the student. It’s easy to focus on internal features of the program, but that’s not what ultimately drives enrollments. Most students of online programs are working adults with professional goals in mind and 98% of undergraduate adult college students enroll to fulfill career aspirations. Focusing on student outcomes will help you align all elements of the funnel with student expectations.
You know you’ve achieved alignment when the marketing message matches the advising message and both match the actual student experience.
Tools for success
As with any marketing initiative, you should continuously adjust and improve your efforts based on data to enhance your results. Track your performance over time. Metrics like lead-to-enrollment can help you see if and when prospects are dropping out of the funnel. High melt may indicate a continued disconnect between marketing, recruitment, and programs. Keep adjusting, and most importantly, keep communicating to achieve your marketing and enrollment goals.