Approaching Enrollment Marketing: How universities can confidently meet yield goals

October 16, 2019  |  Beth Blume


Beth Blume, Director, BVK Insights & Planning
Vince Kalt, BVK Account Director

If we told you that the future of higher education is uncertain, you might laugh at us. No kidding, right? With the number of high school graduates declining regionally in the US, limited funding and the public questioning the value of higher education, this is certainly no joke.

While all of these challenges need to be addressed, it’s critical that universities are filling the proverbial coffers as big picture visions like innovative tuition models, revenue-generating program development, shifting admissions criteria and more are created.

So now, more than ever, it’s important for universities to evaluate their approach to smart, efficient enrollment marketing strategies. As we look to the next generation of students, we must understand what is important to them and develop insightful strategies that align to their needs and desires.

Unlike their Millennial predecessors, Centennials’ parents are instilling in their children a sense of self-direction and self-empowerment. As a result, even the youngest Centennials worry about how the future will unfold for them. It is essential as marketers that we understand the causes and issues that resonate most with Centennials. For this generation, education is front and center, as they know they are going to need it to get ahead in life. However, we can no longer rely on the equity of brand awareness and reputation to do the heavy lifting with this generation. We need to build strategies that speak to the experiences we can provide to prepare them for their future on a very real and meaningful level.

While we’d love to tell you that creating a differentiated enrollment marketing strategy is easy… it’s not. It’s layered and complex, and even once you have your strategy in place, there’s a significant amount of management involved. New markets, new priorities and new programs are constantly popping up, forcing institutions to re-evaluate how to go to market.

Consider the following four steps when developing your university’s approach.

1. Start off by level-setting. Where does your brand stand at the moment—what does your university stand for? How is it differentiated from your competitors? How have your current needs changed from the last time you evaluated your enrollment marketing strategy? A key component that will require analysis at this stage is a review of messaging and media from the past two to three years. Connecting the data to real results will be an important aspect to your level-setting. And if you’re not able to make those connections based on past performance, that’s ok too. You may need to determine the necessary structural resources to create an enrollment campaign that can generate and be directly connected to positive results.

2. Create a connection strategy. Whether primary or secondary, your team needs direct access to data about your target audience. Locating research that digs into not only consumption, but mindset will prove to be invaluable. How can you overlay these findings with an understanding of your unique student journey? For unique markets such as military, transfer or non-traditional students, how do their paths differ and what new opportunities do they create? Developing a detailed and linear map, specific to your university, will help identify logical and compelling connection points. Once these pieces are in place, begin considering messaging. If you are promoting online courses, are you leaning into price per credit? Quality faculty? Blended on/off campus experience? An important factor in this connection strategy is the consideration of owned properties. Be sure to connect your website, campus experience and experiential/events development teams in the process.

3. Dive into detailed planning. When you have a rock-solid strategy in place, you’ll begin linking media partners into the process. Consider creating a media brief that accounts for the nuances of your buy. Additionally, consider partnering with outside companies that may be able to supplement your work with additional media research. At BVK, we utilize tools such as Kantar, comScore, Nielsen and many others. Your university should then dive into some of the nitty gritty, determining spend allocations, forecasts and a roadmap for finessing plans based on past learnings.

4. Follow through takes lots and lots of time. You may see an immediate lift from the work you’re doing, which is exhilarating and indicates early success. But don’t stop there! Be sure you are considering pacing reports and constantly optimizing with your creative team. Evaluate items such as the media mix, attention to SEM, response rates by creative asset, and more.

In times of challenge and marketplace dissonance, it’s important to continue creating new ways to market your university’s unique, differentiated position. Compelling the right student, at the right time, in the right place is now more important than ever.

Want to know more? We’re happy to share our approach with you. We have a variety of case studies and sample frameworks. Just give us a shout or email [email protected] to request more information.


is Director, Insights & Planning at BVK

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