Building a Digital Marketing Strategy to Attract Post-Traditional Students


By: Bruce Douglas Apr 09, 2018

This post was originally published on September 26th, 2017. When you picture today’s quintessential college student, what do you see? Is it someone straight out of high school, lounging around on an idyllic college campus lawn? If so, think again. Such “traditional” students still represent the majority of college students… But there’s another group gaining ground and increasingly demanding attention. Post-traditional students — people who come to education later in life — represent a staggering 40 percent of college students! That number continues to grow. Post-traditional students arrive at universities later in life; often after they’ve started working. Reaching this older group requires a unique strategy, and a different way of thinking about the student population in general. To build this strategy, you’ll need to do a few key things:

  • Understand who post-traditional students are, and what they need
  • Identify what you can offer them in response to those needs
  • Connect with them through their preferred channel, when they’re ready to connect with you

Want to connect with and embrace post-traditional students? Combining these keys will help you develop a cohesive marketing strategy to do just that.

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Know Your Audience (Post-Traditional Students) and What You Can Offer Them

Successful marketing is about communicating the right message to the right audience at the right time. To do this with post-traditional students, you’ve got to learn who they are. So, getting to know your audience is the first step. Only then can you put together your specific digital marketing strategy. So who are post-traditional students?

Define the Audience

Post-traditional students are usually older than traditional students. While the group spans anywhere from 19 to 52 years of age, within that range, we can identify a few important trends.

  • The average post-traditional undergraduate is 29
  • The average post-traditional grad student is 33
  • Almost 70% of them are women
  • Post-traditional students tend to be single and have fewer children
  • While of many races, most of them tend to be non-minorities
  • Most of them work either full-time or part-time
  • They tend to be financially independent from their parents

Understand the Audience

Now that you know who post-traditional students are, the next step is to identify what they want. This usually aligns with their overall lifestyle and needs. For example, post-traditional students increasingly prefer online learning to studying on campus. They also have an overall preference for convenience. This aligns with the fact that most post-traditional students work full or part time. Convenient online study allows them to balance their education with their current careers. Post-traditional students also tend to be motivated by their employment in other ways. Many of them want to pursue higher education to improve or change their career prospects. That’s why they look for a high job placement rate after graduation. For post-traditional students, tuition and financial aid are major priorities. Remember: Most of them are financially independent from their parents! Online versus campus learning. A preference for convenience. Employment / career motivation. Tuition and financial aid. The post-traditional student lifestyle has different needs… Needs that you can fulfill. Needs that can become opportunities.

Identify What You Have to Offer

You’ve identified your audience. You know what they’re looking for. But what can your institution offer to students that nobody else can? What value will YOUR program add to potential post-traditional students? To identify what you can offer and put it into context, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which of their needs can my program address?
  • What exactly am I offering to fulfill those needs?
  • Is our program unique from our competition from the perspective of my audience? If so, how?
  • How can I communicate all this, most clearly, to potential students?

Once you have the answers to each of these questions, you’ll have a clear picture of what message you want to send your audience.

Building a Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Strategy

Once you’ve figured out your message, the next step is to deliver it to your audience. This is where your multi-channel digital marketing strategy comes in. You will want to use a variety of platforms and formats to deliver a consistent message to your audience. Multi-channel digital marketing is a valuable strategy for several reasons:

  • It casts a wide net. Delivering your message across a variety of platforms gives you additional opportunities. You can reach people you might have missed using only one channel.
  • You gain the opportunity to build a cohesive brand identity. Meanwhile, your audience can become familiar with it, over time, in different settings.
  • It provides multiple touch points. That gives your audience more chances to interact with you whenever they’re ready.
  • It generates more data that you can use to understand your audience.

Your Digital Marketing Tool Kit: Search Engine Marketing

Multi-channel marketers have more tools available than ever before! It’s up to you which to use. But diversifying options will give you the best opportunity to connect with the broadest audience possible. Those include prospects both from Search Engines and other marketing channels.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO focuses on your website’s position in organic search results. While time consuming to develop, its inquiries tend to be high quality. These students are actively searching for schools or programs on their own. “Show up” where they’re already looking, and you’ll be perceived as an authority in your space.
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Search Engine Marketers buy the ad listings surrounding organic search results. While SEM can be competitive and expensive to manage, it has many benefits. You can see high volumes of targeted traffic, lots of data, and fast results.
  • Display and Social Media: These are the graphical ads you might encounter on blogs, websites, and in social media applications. Display is great for building brand awareness. It’s easy to target specific demographics in Social Media, plus easy to measure. Tends to be higher risk than Search, while generating lower quality traffic.

Digital Marketing Tool Kit: Additional Channels

  • Affiliate Marketing: Outsourcing some of your digital marketing to Affiliates can be easy and convenient. It can also increase brand exposure. You often only pay for the results you want (i.e. clicks, leads, calls), which reduces your media risk. Just make sure you track Affiliate activity closely to make sure their marketing aligns with your standards.
  • Television and Video Marketing: Today, this can also include digital video like Hulu and Netflix. TV is the most effective channel for driving brand awareness. Plus, it can lift the effectiveness of other channels by almost 90%! That said, testing and measurement will be challenging, and it can be expensive to produce and run. You’ll also have to be patient: TV will take some time to start producing results.
  • Mobile Marketing: More than half of all your website visits probably come from mobile devices already! Therefore, if your web pages and forms are not optimized for mobile accessibility… You could be throwing away half your traffic.
  • Email Marketing: 75% of marketers believe that email is the most effective channel for brand awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention. It has a high average ROI, low cost, and it’s easy to test and track. That said, it’s also easy for you to get buried in inbox clutter.
  • Other Opportunities: Don’t forget about your non-digital marketing efforts! Radio and print ads can be great complements to digital efforts. Meanwhile, sponsorships and event marketing can help build your presence in your community.

Putting it all together

Understand who post-traditional students are, what they want, and why. Create an effective message that hits your target. Embrace multi-channel digital marketing. This will make sure your message gets delivered in a variety of ways. Of course, picking the right mix of channels, and allocating the right resources to them, will depend on your institution’s size and goals. Need help developing your strategy? Contact us to schedule a free, no obligation marketing consultation here.