In the past few years, both public and private universities and colleges have struggled to hit admissions targets when recruiting potential students. They are up against a number of challenges, including the image of higher education institutions and a fear of college debt, which can negatively impact the quality and quantity of students who apply.
While part of the issue stems from external factors, educational institutions may also be limiting themselves with ineffective recruiting and marketing campaigns that aren’t reaching or appealing to the applicants who would be valuable members of their student body. By creating a marketing strategy with the right media mix, colleges and universities can increase their ability to connect with students that possess the highest potential and, subsequently, boost student enrollment.
Colleges and universities can be as diverse as the students who attend them, which means their marketing campaigns also have to be individually tailored. When determining the right mix of media channels to utilize during the recruitment process, they should consider a number of factors, including their target demographic, the location of potential students, and the appropriate length for a marketing campaign.
The prospective students who will be entering higher education in the next couple years are primarily from Generation Z. Like all generations, they are defined by a unique set of core values, attitudes, and behaviors. Understanding what those are can help institutions create a message that will appeal to members of the generation.
A commonality shared by Gen Z is their familiarity and comfort with digital channels, particularly social media. Their lives are highly influenced by their social network and they spend ample time using online platforms, which is why successful college marketing campaigns will include a social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. Incorporating creative, short-form video ads is also an efficient strategy for targeting this demographic, as one-third of Gen Z watches video online at least one hour per day.
Influencer marketing is another effective tactic for reaching this generation of potential students. This technique allows brands to leverage influencers to reach and engage their target audience on a variety of platforms, like radio and social media. According to a recent study, more than half of adults aged 18-24 (54.8%) are more likely to trust influencer posts than those aged 25-34. By using influencers as college or university ambassadors, you can effectively increase student enrollment.
Finally, radio remains a prevalent and effective marketing tool as the audio landscape evolves. According to Nielsen, radio reaches 93 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older every week. As America’s top reach medium, AM/FM radio has mass appeal when it comes to connecting with diverse audiences, even Generation Z.
Location of Audience
Depending on the size of an institution, its programs, and other factors, various colleges and universities may aim to attract prospective students from specific areas. Based on where their target audience is located—whether locally, across the U.S., or even internationally—institutions may choose a specific media channel with greater potential to reach them.
Examples of location-based marketing solutions include radio advertisements, which can be distributed on specific local channels, and display advertising, which can be targeted toward a particular city or region. You can take it a step further with geotargeting, the method of delivering ads to users’ mobile phones based on their geographic location. And since 55% of Gen Z is on their phone for five hours or more a day, geotargeting is effective at reaching potential students where they are - on their smartphone.
Another factor for colleges and universities to consider when choosing which media channels to utilize is how long they want a particular media campaign to run. For instance, a small or relatively unknown college may require a long-term branding campaign, and social media and radio are both cost-effective solutions that pair well together for highly successful, long-term awareness campaigns.
On the other hand, if an institution is looking to spark an increase in applications before a specific deadline, then they would need to develop a short-term action campaign. In this scenario, a mixture of radio and digital advertising solutions can drive the target audience toward a specific action—i.e. submitting an application.
The Perfect Blend
Recruitment is an ongoing process that requires each college or university to create a robust, multi-faceted marketing strategy that extends across a cohesive mix of media channels. When executed properly, however, a strategy that takes into consideration multiple factors—including target audience, the best location(s) to focus on, and the length of the campaigns—can help higher education institutions overcome admissions challenges and draw in more high-quality students in the upcoming school year.