Each fiscal year it’s the same drill: you’re handed a marketing budget from finance, walk back to your office, and try to figure out how you’re going to meet your lead goals with a less-than-ideal budget. With often a fraction of the budget you really need, you also get the unsurprising news that lead and enrollment goals have increased 10% over the last year. Considering how much cash-strapped colleges and universities depend on revenue from online programs you can’t blame them for being aggressive with enrollment goals, but as a result marketing managers and directors must shoulder the responsibility of sourcing quality prospects and meet enrollment goals despite their lack of budget and/or resources. So, as a higher ed marketer, what should you do?
1. Focus on your student-generating channels
I know this sounds painfully obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this is missed. At Circa Interactive this is the first place we look when we begin working with new clients, especially those with limited budgets. Despite the lackluster results, many marketing managers and directors revert back to the overpriced banner ad or inefficient paid search campaigns they’ve been accustomed to using. I can’t blame them, most are stretched thin and don’t have the time to dig their teeth into more fruitful opportunities. Unfortunately, we see this quite a bit at Circa Interactive. Just recently we had a client who, prior to working with Circa Interactive, was investing roughly $10,000 per month on digital media placements with very little yield. As we looked through their data we realized that they were generating a lead or two at best at an insanely high cost-per-lead, and worst of all they continued funding these media placements for years, wasting thousands of dollars on initiatives that weren’t producing leads, let alone students. Shocking, I know, but not unheard of in the world of higher education.
It’s essential to audit past efforts and allocate your budget to the digital channels that have produced the most students at the lowest cost. If you haven’t been exposed to the various lead-generating digital channels available to higher ed marketers, don’t be afraid to reallocate those funds to test the waters in more effective channels like Google Adwords (be sure to check estimated CPCs first, not ideal for all degree programs), LinkedIn or Facebook. Not only do these channels allow you to target very specific segments or individuals explicitly searching for your degree program, they also offer a great amount of flexibility and control over your valuable budget dollars. If you don’t have the internal resources to do so, there are a few dependable higher education marketing agencies that can help.
*Pro tip: keyword-based searches for program-level search queries are on the rise, so be sure to target these terms and phrases.
2. Revisit Your Content Strategy
Content marketing is powerful and effective, but with the amount of noise online and the popularity of content as a driving factor in marketing efforts in today’s world, it’s more important than ever to approach this tactic with a great amount of precision and strategy. Gone are the days of simply producing content, publishing it, and watching the traffic and shares roll in. Sans a well thought out content strategy, it can be difficult to realize any return on your investment, and in most cases, this leads many to question the value of content marketing entirely. If you happen to fall into this category, it may be time to reevaluate your organizational goals, revisit your content strategy, and take a new approach to this highly important effort that will only continue to grow in importance for your student lead generation efforts. In doing so, you’ll at least give yourself a fighting chance to increase your return-on-investment and make better use of the limited budget you have to work with.
So where do you start?
- First, you’ll want to define and understand your departmental strategic goals and objectives. Think one to three years ahead and discuss the goals with as many key stakeholders as possible. This is key to help you and your team determine what type of content you should be producing and why.
- Armed with this information, you’ll next want to research and define who your target audience is and what is important to them. The more effectively you can carve out individual segments of prospective student audiences and deliver content they’ll learn or feel more empowered from, the more effective and attention-grabbing your content will be. If done correctly, your content should be magnetic, drawing in your audience, and capturing their attention.
- When the time comes to begin the content creation process, it’s important to ensure your content is story driven, useful, engaging and sharable. All of these factors are necessary and important to create the content capable of capturing your audience’s attention and keeping it. Also, don’t forget about mobile. Mobile currently makes up about 25% of all web traffic and is increasing exponentially each year so ensure your content (and website, as of April 21) is mobile friendly.
Despite a limited budget, there’s still hope if you’re scrambling to figure out how to meet lead and enrollment goals for the upcoming fiscal year. Taking a step back to analyze and optimize your existing marketing efforts is a great place to start and it’s important to incorporate as much research and strategy into the process as possible, no matter what tactics you’re currently leveraging. You’ll be surprised how much opportunity you’ve been missing.
About the Author:
Clayton Dean is the Co-Founder, President & COO of Circa Interactive, a leader in the higher education digital marketing space. Connect with Clayton on Twitter @circaclayton.