Few verticals are as dynamic as education. While our mind's eye might picture the stoic brick buildings and grass-lined quads that personify academia, a fast-paced and incredibly competitive environment lies just below that traditional surface, vying to capture the attention of prospective students from all over the world.
Of course, with the rapid rise of online education, those old institutions are now forced to compete against a more agile and digital-savvy competitor, just now embracing marketing techniques that engage young minds and stir imaginations.
If your brand happens to compete in education marketing, then you likely already know how fierce that competition is.
Thankfully, there are a handful of education brands that are already blazing an innovative marketing trail, leveraging the many tools, channels, and platforms available within the digital landscape to distinguish a message, engage the viewer, and convert to enrollment rates.
The time for traditional advertising in education has long passed, and with the following examples, you have a head start towards reinventing your marketing for a faster environment and fickle, distracted audience.
Students Live On Social Media
Although older audience segments are going back to school at far higher rates now, mainly due to the convenience of online education, the target demographic is still overwhelmingly young.
Naturally, given the prevalence of mobile devices throughout society but with younger people in particular, a marketing campaign that embraces those devices and the platforms built for them will always have a leg up on those that don't.
Two of the more popular online channels, YouTube and Instagram, have become fertile grounds for universities – both online and traditional – to extend their message to prospective students.
With 42% of teens now using YouTube as a primary tool to research colleges, and nearly a quarter of high school seniors wishing universities embraced YouTube for their marketing and informational efforts, it only figures that the institutions that have adopted the platform are reaching students more efficiently and effectively.
NYU, for example, uses YouTube to present day-in-the-life videos for prospective students, providing them a first-person perspective on what the daily routine might be like at the prestigious university sitting in one of the most dynamic cities in the world.
Following individual students on a typical day, viewers can feel what the classroom environment is like, the rigors of public transportation in New York City, move-in day and dorm life, and campus amenities that are impossible to experience through a brochure or picture.
Stanford University showcases the many innovative research projects taking place on campus each day, marketing the cutting-edge nature of the school and the impact technology stemming from Stanford classrooms and labs has on the world.
Shifting between students, professors, and TAs to give a thorough perspective, Stanford leverages the emotional bonds that video ads are so adept at fostering, allowing the prospective student to imagine themselves being the creators rather than just a viewer.
Similarly, Instagram is another powerful tool for social media marketing in the education vertical. With 59% of people between 18 and 29 years old using the platform on a daily basis, utilizing Instagram to find and engage the target audience segment provides impact to a digital campaign that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.
Liberty University, for instance, uses Instagram to convey emotion, capturing everything from a cheerleader at a basketball game to students cramming for finals in the library, to deliver their message in context – what it's like to be a student at Liberty.
This week, our photographers will be sharing their favorite images from this past academic year. Here’s what @joelcoleman, staff photographer, had to say: "This past March, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to photograph our Women’s D1 Hockey team in the ACHA National Championship game. I chose this series of photos because these girls were not only playing for a national championship – they were playing for their former teammate, Sarah Stevenson, who passed away last year."
A post shared by Liberty University (@libertyuniversity) on
Other schools, as diverse as Ivy Leagues to junior colleges, use Instagram to similar effect, delivering feeling and inspiration through the platform rather than pictures of architecturally stunning but static buildings and football helmets.
Whether through YouTube, Instagram, or any other social media platform, impactful digital marketing in the education vertical is about enveloping the viewer into campus life, immersing them into the fun of a kickback with friends in a dorm room, cheering a team from the stands, or even stressing over pending exams. Prospective students want to feel what it's like at your school, not just read about it.
Again focusing on feeling and emotional bonds, both millennials and Generation Z – the key target segments for the education vertical – want to experience life rather than be told about, visit faraway lands instead of streaming a video about them.
For that reason, experiential marketing naturally lends itself to catering to those younger members of the audience. In the particular case of marketing in the education vertical, experiential marketing embodies the notion that everything old is new again.
To that point, the traditional college fair has become a potent tool for college brands to better connect with prospective students, particularly when coupled with another older tool, email, to personalize a message.
The fairs are beneficial in two primary ways – using experiential techniques like VR devices linked to 360° campus tours and impromptu game show-type giveaways to intensify the experience, and through surveys and polls to better understand student affinities as well.
The information from those surveys and polls can then be used to create highly segmented, customized email campaigns that maximize engagement with an individual student by speaking to their specific interests, goals, and expectations.
With email being such a powerful tool for marketers trying to increase engagement and build brand awareness, it's another cost-efficient but impactful tool that will allow your school's message to be noticed and rise above the others.
Whether your school brand is well-acquainted or novices with social media and experiential marketing – or any other form for that matter – always strive to convey emotion and experience to form lasting bonds with the audience. Your enrollment rates will thank you.