Marketing in the Education Industry By Zach Pavol
Last month alone, more than 160,000 jobs were cut in the United States, according to Forbes magazine. What are all those people going to do? Well, many plan to enroll in undergraduate and graduate programs to increase their marketability. That is great news for universities, but a serious problem still remains. How do the universities get the students who enrolled to actually show up on campus (or online) and start paying tuition? This challenge is especially difficult for technical universities, which historically have "show rates" below 50%. There are numerous root causes behind those low numbers, but the two primary reasons are the student's financial concerns around paying for college and the need to continually sell the value of the university throughout the enroll-to-show process. This puts a lot of pressure on the university to have all the right pieces in place, which is easier said than done. Because it is so difficult, many universities simply accept the steep decline in show rate and focus their energy on just getting more students to enroll. Those universities typically put a lot of focus and investment into developing marketing materials, which can be VERY expensive and rarely produces significant return on investment. While effective marketing is critical, the real challenge is creating an ideal prospective student experience that only comes from truly understanding their point of view. To help with this challenge, below are five steps for implementing changes that have proven to significantly improve the prospective student experience and increase show rates: 1. Marketing support: Develop targeted material that the frontline (anyone who has contact with prospective students) will actually use, that is targeted to the student's needs, and that is proven to deliver results. Especially in today's economy, potential students are extremely worried about their financial situation. The number one reason we hear students say they didn't show up for the first day of class is they didn't think they could afford it. Knowing that, marketing material needs to communicate how the university will help make the student's dreams and goals come true and that the university will also help in every way they can to make college affordable. Unfortunately, many universities overwhelm prospective students with generic material that is rarely relevant to them and often confusing. This is not only an incredible waste of marketing budget, but it also turns off the prospect.
2. Student segmentation: Help the frontline to identify the major student profiles based on actual enrollment and show rate trends and align the appropriate products, services and messaging according to those profile needs. Companies typically provide the frontline with segmentation material that is simply demographics and psychographics of potential student, which does not give a clear plan for catering to the segments' needs. Instead, provide a student profile tool that is a clear and simple roadmap for tailoring the conversation to each students' needs and interests. This will allow the frontline to quickly identify the student's motivators and goals so they can show how the university will help to achieve them. 3. Contact strategy: Diligently help students at every step of their journey, from the point of signing a contract to actually showing up for class. Often times, universities react to lack of responsiveness and missed deadlines from prospective students by increasing the pressure on them. This one size fit all approach leads to communications that are generic, confusing and even threatening to the prospective student. Instead, the communications that reach the prospective students need to be tailored to their specific needs and motivate them to want to act out of excitement, not out of fear. Every single point of contact should sell the value of the school and how it will help the prospective student attain their goals. 4. Ideal process: Design the 'ideal' student experience or sales process in simple usable terms that the rest of the organization, including marketing, can easily align to. Most organizations have process documentation in place, but it is either too high level or too detailed and confusing to implement with any significant results. Instead, the process should be based on the observed best practices of your people and define each step in terms relevant to the frontline. 5. Execution: Create an environment that leaves no room for inconsistent execution. Most companies have the correct strategies in place, but fail to execute on those strategies because they leave it up to the frontline to figure out how to pull them through into their everyday activities. Instead, companies need to create a coaching culture that focuses on developing key behaviors, constantly tracks both cause and effect results, and holds EVERYONE accountable. This will also help identify who the true top and bottom performers are so the school can ensure they have the right people in place.