Changes Higher Education Marketers Need to Make in Their Strategy

Your prospective students live in a rapidly changing world, and so do you. If you want to reach them, update your higher education digital marketing strategies in light of their interests and internet behavior. Changing up your tactics will help you locate prospects and tailor their user experience.

Two years of falling college enrollment rates in the U.S. make it more important than ever to hone your competitive edge. In addition to refining your approach to search and social, you need to reimagine your audience. Both student demographics and concerns have evolved. Position yourself to address tomorrow’s students instead of yesterday’s. 

Effective Strategies for Higher Education Marketers

These strategies allow you to cast a wider net while also giving each member of that audience a more relevant and holistic experience of your school. They include channel-specific techniques as well as tips for revising your message across platforms. 

Change How You Imagine Your Target Audience: Prospective Students

These days, your prospective students make up a more diverse group than ever before. Many of them have jobs, dependents, or other obligations — so if they get the sense that education providers aren’t making efforts to meet them where they’re at, they can be impatient. Tailor content to each user, and expand the pool of users you imagine. 

Create Personalized Campaigns for Your Institution

Internet users have come to expect curated content. Whether they’re shopping, reading, or catching up with friends, websites deliver personalized feeds of information, entertainment, and retail suggestions. 

Customize user experience with personalized marketing campaigns. Even if it’s their first visit to the site, you can direct them to relevant information. You can do even more for repeat visitors and known applicants or subscribers.

High-school students looking for colleges most often search for the following information (in descending order):

  • Majors/academic programs
  • Cost of attendance
  • Financial aid
  • Application process
  • Location/information on how to visit
  • Campus culture and student life

These priorities are also clues to the data you can leverage to personalize their experiences:


Are the students nearby or far away? Supply them with information about campus visits or open houses near them. 

Are they in-state, out-of-state, or international? Give them relevant details about tuition costs and financial aid. If you provide student profiles or statistics, highlight similar members of the student body, assuring them that they, too, can find their community at your institution.

Number of Visits

Is this their first visit or their fourth? Tailor messages to capitalize on accelerating interest with application reminders and grant opportunities. Higher ed marketing can nudge potential students closer and closer to conversion.

Demonstrated Interests

What departments have they checked out — either during this visit or previously? Adjust your homepage content accordingly. 

You can also apply this kind of personalization to current students and alumni, directing them toward programs likely to engage them.

Target Non-Traditional Audiences

Education marketing agencies need to expand their collection of customer personas. Develop profiles for both traditional and non-traditional students in each program, using your current student bodies as a guide. 

Then create separate campaigns to attract both types of students. Prioritize different channels and messages accordingly. For example, different social media accounts should play to known demographics for those platforms. High-school students are more likely to be on TikTok, Snapchat, or Instagram. Adults are more often on Facebook or LinkedIn.

As for the message, highlight program flexibility and credential opportunities for older prospects. Younger ones may be more interested in the traditional campus experience.

Leverage Social Media Platforms

Speaking of social platforms, they’re more than education marketing trends. They’re essential and well-established channels where students expect to engage with higher education institutions. Develop omnichannel higher education marketing strategies, and capture student attention with the right tone and content. 

Use an Omnichannel Content Strategy

The difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing has more to do with the approach than the number of channels engaged. Multichannel strategies center on singular messages, formatting them for various channels. Omnichannel strategies instead put individual users at the center, creating content that combines into a holistic experience as people jump between channels.

For example, if you want to highlight campus diversity, you might:

  • Develop a video ad for YouTube that celebrates your diverse student body
  • Write blog posts or other website content to target related keywords
  • Have a series of individual students take over your Instagram account, posting about their day
  • Use Facebook to advertise upcoming multicultural events or gatherings hosted by identity-based student groups 
  • Include articles on international-student experiences in your newsletter

And so on.

Higher education marketing professionals can also use one social channel to prompt audiences to move to another platform or your website, deepening and reinforcing messages. 

Strike a Conversational Marketing Tone

Across channels, you want to develop a conversational voice that engages prospective students rather than intimidates them. The college search and application process can be intimidating. You shouldn’t be.

Many higher education institutions —  such as Boston University and the University of Iowa — post their brand guidelines online, helping their many writers to coordinate voices and messages. As a general rule, they ask writers to speak with clarity and warmth. They don’t want important information to be lost or prospects to be alienated. 

Don’t go too far in the other direction, either. While your tone can vary somewhat across platforms, you want to project an image that is approachable but never unprofessional. Make sure your voice instills confidence in your organization.

Create High-Quality Content, Including Videos

Your content needs to be entertaining and valuable, providing perspectives and insights that distinguish you from rival schools. You should aim for a variety of formats and media. A long-form article on a department website serves a different purpose than a tweet or photo collage.

Video needs to play a central role in your content library. There are many benefits of online video advertising. Use videos to:

  • Foster trust with organic or behind-the-scenes footage
  • Encourage engagement with the type of content audiences most want to consume
  • Rank higher in social media feeds and gain more likes and comments
  • Tell succinct but powerful stories 
  • Grab viewer attention with videos that start automatically 

Length and style often depend on the platform for which you create a video. You’ll want to craft material for different ad types and channels.

Optimize for All Major Search Engines

Chances are that you could do more with your SEO. Your website is a massive, sprawling entity. Without rigorous control, it easily grows unwieldy. 

In addition to performing proper maintenance, take advantage of the sophisticated analytics available to you. Google and Meta offer you plenty of free information, and a dedicated marketing company will provide you with more sophisticated digital marketing analytics. Use this information to improve your targeting and search performance.

Optimize Every Single Web Page

Are some of your pages dragging down overall site health and search performance? Audit your website for any technical factors that could be dragging down SEO. There are free online tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights that quickly scan a page for potential problems. 

You should also revisit old content periodically. Can you refresh it with new information, keywords, or images? Are there new pages to link or statistics to reference? In addition to generating new material, make the most of what you already have.

Target Lookalike Audiences

Meta lookalike audiences allow you to build on past successes. Want to reach more people like your Facebook fans or Instagram followers? No problem. Your ad manager can target a group of people with similar demographics, interests, and internet behavior.

Better yet, use application information to build custom audiences — and then generate a lookalike audience from there. It will include others likely to apply to your institution.

The best higher education marketing strategies require you to work smarter, not harder. Meta has a reach and data-processing capabilities you can’t match. But you don’t have to. You can let the platform do the work for you.

Use the Google Analytics Platform

Google isn’t the only search engine, but it does claim more than 92% of the market share. It also comes with an impressive suite of free tools to help you optimize for all search engines. 

With Google Analytics, you can:

  • Determine the relative success of different ad campaigns
  • See which social platforms generate the most referrals
  • Track site visitors and user behavior, learning where people spend the most time and what pages have the highest bounce rates
  • Identify visitor locations and regions where your institution is popular
  • Track on-site searches

It isn’t hard to find the numbers you want. Google Analytics increasingly personalizes your homepage with the information most likely to be important to you. 

Put that data to work, using it to refine your content and campaigns. Where does it make sense to expend marketing effort? What budget items should you prioritize? 

If something isn’t working, stop. It’s time to either change up your strategy or move your resources elsewhere.

Center the Student Experience in Your Approach to Marketing

Today’s prospect expects your school to provide a multimedia journey that helps them imagine the greater journey they’d take as a student. Give them a taste of campus life, real student experiences, and real student outcomes. 

Assert yourself as the best place to attend school and the best partner to help them prepare for everything that comes after school.

Highlight Campus Community

The pandemic accelerated the growth of the online education space. Remind students why traditional institutions are still worth it.

Campus communities are one of the intangible assets that justify the price tag of higher education. Invite prospects into the world of your school. Showcase the social groups and opportunities that await incoming freshmen.

Be inclusive of identities and interests. If your school has a heavy Greek scene, spotlight it — but also give time to multicultural housing, student-run theater groups, and LGBTQ+ associations. 

Try to provide a taste of organic, day-to-day social experience as well. Do a piece on the favorite local pizza place or post pictures of students hanging out in the student union.

Discuss Current Students and Successful Alumni

Prospects need to see themselves in current school students. Education marketing teams should do more than celebrate extraordinary achievements. Just as you show students multiple communities, show multiple proxies. Do profiles on different students or invite them to produce their content related to the school.

Incorporate non-traditional students that have made their schoolwork work for them. How do they do it? Do they take some courses at night or online? Have they been able to translate work experience into course credits? Demonstrate ways that prospective students can fit your school into their budget and schedule. 

Spotlight alumni as well as current students. Encourage students to dream big and imagine their own happy stories.

Highlight University Degree Program Outcomes

In that vein, you need to give them ideas of what they can do with their education. Give them statistics on job placement and starting salaries. 

Embrace ordinary successes. Students don’t expect all alumni to start companies, invent technology, or star in hit Broadway shows. Interview recent graduates about their lives and work. What’s the most rewarding aspect of the job for a new nurse? How does someone with a sociology degree apply their education to a job in marketing?

Adult learners often go back to school with a particular career outcome in mind. Show them that it’s attainable. As for Zoomers, they tend to be a practical bunch. They grew up during the Great Recession and endured the recent upheaval generated by the pandemic. Decent wages and job security are high on their list of priorities.

Arm Your Digital Marketing Team With Powerful Marketing Tools

This scaffold will help you get in step with your students. Many of them are non- or post-traditional, and your education marketing strategy needs to be, too.

Make better use of your analytics and social channels, and produce content designed to appeal to today’s students. Just don’t let yourself become complacent. You need to stay ready for the next shift in this ever-changing world. 

We can help with that. AUDIENCEX has created a proprietary omnichannel platform that enables better content and a to-the-minute, data-driven strategy. It gives you the edge you need. 

In the end, your school is as individual as the members of its student body. Showcase all of its glory with the right digital marketing solutions. If you’d like to speak with our strategists to figure out how we can help you address your marketing needs for higher education, reach out to us now.