Higher Ed Lead Generation

How to Leverage the Marketing Funnel to Generate More Students

By February 16, 2016 No Comments

In this post, you will learn:

1) Why the marketing funnel is important in higher education
2) How the marketing funnel is changing
3) How to leverage the marketing funnel to generate and nurture prospective students
4) Solutions for content creation if you have a small team

It’s no secret that the higher education market is saturated and highly competitive. Prospective students have more choices than ever when it comes to where they get their degree, and for many, making the decision to pursue a degree, let alone which one, takes a significant amount of time and research. More and more prospects are delaying the process as they gather information, seek questions to their answers, and decide if a degree is still worth it or not.
As this trend continues, program and admissions directors are facing a dilemma. Many are held to quarterly enrollment goals, so they need leads to convert into applicants today, not tomorrow. As a result, top-of-funnel prospects are overlooked and never enter the funnel, especially those who are undecided, despite the fact that they’re equally as qualified to convert. I’ve seen this many times while working in admissions, and it’s a critical marketing juncture that many higher education professionals are failing to take advantage of in the name of meeting short-term enrollment goals.
Here’s the reality: paid search efforts are still effective in driving quick transactional conversion, but you must pay to play, and generating worthwhile rankings in Google for some degree programs is an uphill battle that takes serious time and money. If you’re short on budget and looking for an effective solution for driving sustainable lead flow, content marketing and effective use of the marketing funnel could be the solution you’re looking for. Here is our guide to working prospective students through the marketing funnel and to an application.

How the Marketing Funnel is Changing

The idea of a marketing funnel is nothing new, but it’s certainly changing. Consider the fact that the traditional marketing funnel has quickly evolved into a non-linear “journey,” rather than an actual funnel. As you may have guessed, the digital landscape is quickly changing and in order to remain competitive, most institutions and organizations must create massive digital footprints to cut through the enormous amounts of noise we experience on a daily basis. With so many touch points (social, blogging, digital public relations, SEO, pay-per-click) for a prospect to find you, it’s no wonder why the funnel continues to change shape.
The transition from a focused conversion path to one that is less predictable isn’t a bad thing. We just need to adjust our strategies a bit to ensure we’re offering all prospects with the conversion path they’re most comfortable with, whether they’re ready to sign-up or want to be nurtured a bit more before they take the next step.

How to leverage the marketing funnel to generate and nurture prospective students

To effectively leverage the marketing funnel, it’s important to first understand your buyer personas. Who is your audience? What are their pain points and what type of content do they find valuable? What search terms do they leverage and where do they consume their information? It’s important to answer each of these question as it will provide insight into the topics you should cover, where you should distribute your content and what type of content you will need to produce, no matter what stage the prospect may be in.
Once you have a complete understanding of your audience personas, you’re ready to begin crafting your strategy. Let’s take a deeper look at each stage of the sales funnel/buyer journey and if you should be rethinking your marketing funnel.

Stage 1: Top-of-Funnel [Awareness]

Step back for a moment and take a look at your target audience. How many are ready to make a purchase decision immediately after the thought crosses their mind that they have a need? If you’re selling a degree program or big ticket item, a large portion of your prospects will most likely fall into this category. The top of the funnel is focused on awareness and providing value to prospects. These individuals may not know who you are or why they need you, so it’s your job to educate and provide solutions to their problems. These problems may not always be clear, so consider leveraging keyword research and interviewing current students or customers to gain insight into what topics you should be covering.
The key to successful top-of-funnel marketing is to create content that not only helps to educate prospects but also provides value to help them solve a problem.

What to Remember:

Goals of the Awareness Stage

  • Build trust
  • Educate
  • Provide solutions
  • Entertain [show some character!]
  • Move prospects from limited knowledge to a better understanding, all the while leaving them wanting more.
  • Capture the information of prospects

Top-of-Funnel Content

  • Whitepapers (really useful, capture their email)
  • Infographics
  • Blog posts
  • Webinars
  • Top 10 lists – “Top 10 Reasons to Get an Accounting Degree”
  • Checklists – “Checklist for Masters Degree Prospects”
  • How-to and explainer videos

What terms and phrases do top-of-funnel prospects use?

  • Which master’s degree programs offer the best career opportunities?
  • How do you become a diagnostic medical sonographer?

 At this point, you may be thinking: “I have a small team, how can I possibly create all of this content?”

Don’t worry, we get this question quite often and have experienced this ourselves!

Content creation is always challenging, especially for those who lack the resources to do so. Here’s how we overcome our resource challenges to build quality content (these concepts apply to all stages of the funnel):

  • Outsource your content creation – For a small fee, leverage Upwork.com to tap into a network of talented and hungry designers to help build infographics, whitepapers, and videos. Better yet, are there any students on campus looking for an internship that could help write blog posts or run webinars for prospective students?
  • REPURPOSE, REPURPOSE, REPURPOSE – Repurpose blog posts into whitepapers, whitepapers into infographics, infographics into videos. The opportunities are endless.

Stage 2: Middle-of-funnel [Interest]

Once top-of-funnel prospects are in the funnel, you must begin the nurturing process. In this stage, it’s important to continue educating the prospect and building their trust. The key to success with middle-of-funnel prospects is delivering content that helps them solve a problem or answer a question. Put yourself in their shoes: What type of content would be most helpful to you if you’re not sure when to start your masters? Use soft call-to-actions (CTAs) and other metrics to gain insight into the prospect’s level of interest and to determine if they’re a good fit for your degree program

What to Remember

Goals of the Interest Stage

  • Align the prospects needs with specific solutions
  • Gauge level of interest and determine if prospect is a good fit
  • Continue to educate
  • Build trust
  • Move prospects closer to making a decision

Middle-of-Funnel Content

  • Case studies
  • eBooks
  • Email marketing
  • Newsletters
  • Tools

What terms and phrases do mid-funnel prospects use?

  • Best diagnostic medical sonographer programs
  • Job opportunities with an accounting master’s degree
  • What can I do with a computer science degree?

Stage 3: Bottom-of-Funnel [Purchase]

You’ve educated, built trust, and qualified prospects…now what? You turn them into leads. It may take a few weeks or a few months, but once your funnel of prospects is full and healthy, then you’ll benefit for many semesters to come. Solidify your relationship with prospect and make it easy for them to make a decision and take the next step. Provide a direct link to the application, use a bit of urgency in your messaging (application deadline is March 31st), and offer them the ability to speak directly to the Director of Admissions who can help them move forward.

Goals of the Purchase Stage

  • Reinforce relationship and value provided
  • Overcome final objections
  • Empower prospect to make a decision

Bottom-of-Funnel Content

  • Email marketing
  • Special offer or incentive – Example, waived application fee
  • Testimonials from current students and alumni
  • Offer phone call with Director of Admissions

What terms and phrases do mid-funnel prospects use?

  • What is the cost of a diagnostic medical sonographer degree program in Orlando?
  • Accounting Master’s degree program in Detroit

Often overlooked, the marketing funnel is the key to successful marketing in higher education. Effective use of the funnel requires time and effort, but if managed effectively it can be a cost-effective solution for degree programs looking for sustainable lead flow.

How do you use the funnel in your marketing efforts? Share with us below!

About the Author:
DSC_0048 reduced 2Clayton Dean is an enrollment management, digital marketing, and business operations expert, leading Circa Interactive’s growth, development, and day-to-day operations. Clayton has successfully assisted dozens of institutions in developing, marketing, and launching degree programs from the ground up. Connect with Clayton on Twitter @circaclayton.

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