Does your community college have the right promotional mix?
Promoting your campus will increase enrollment, but not every marketing strategy provides a good return on your investment. With tight budgets and falling enrollment, it’s especially important for community colleges to consider whether their promotional strategy is an effective one. Complicating matters, community colleges are trying to reach two essentially different kinds of student, who respond to very different sorts of marketing.
The first target student is an eighteen to twenty-year-old incoming freshman, who has yet to settle on a career path. Many of these students intend to complete a four-year degree (often at a different institution). For them, the transferability of coursework and programs will be a major consideration. The second is an individual in his or her mid-twenties to mid-thirties. This prospective student tends to be underemployed, or in some cases unemployed, and will almost always be looking for short-term career programs that can enhance their economic viability.
These are obviously quite different market niches, forcing community colleges to diversify their college marketing strategy. However, the promotional mix will include five basic elements in some combination:
- Advertising is any form of non-personal promotional materials distributed via mass media. For example, radio ads, billboards, and television spots are all different kinds of advertising. Advertising has some advantages. It can reach a large audience quickly and can instantly raise an institution’s profile. However, using advertising is often expensive, difficult to determine ROI, and not a great way to communicate detailed information.
- When representatives from your college go an make some kind of connection or presentation in hopes of attracting students, they are doing personal sales. When an admissions officer visits a local high school or college fair with a bucket of brochures, she is personally selling your school. When a student leads a campus tour, he is personally selling your school. Campus visits in particular are an extremely important part of the college decision making process, so personal sales is a critical piece of strategic enrollment management.
- Does your institution have a positive reputation in your community? While large public schools may be more invested in creating a national reputation, community colleges mainly need to focus on how they are perceived locally. Leaving a positive impression over time takes planning and commitment. However, developing partners in your local community, including politicians, business leaders, and educators, puts you on the path to success.
- Short-term incentives are marketing pitches designed to get people to take a specific action in the immediate future in return for some perceived good. You may want a potential student to do something like register for a campus tour, fill out an online request for information, or submit an application. In return you could offer branded gear, like a t-shirt, or a small flash drive. These sorts of efforts can only ever be a small part of a larger marketing strategy.
- Reaching students directly, either with targeted ads, email campaigns, a phone call, or a direct mailing is highly effective. Communicating with students and prospective students on social media is also becoming a big part of this. Getting a return on your investment with direct marketing requires good market research, so that you’re reaching the right target audience. Otherwise your campaign won’t interest or engage the customer.
Reaching the non-traditional learner through content marketing
A community college is likely to use each of these kinds of marketing tools (as they should). The traditional age students are relatively easy to reach using traditional methods such as advertisements, email campaigns, and personal connections developed in conjunction with the local high schools. They also respond well to short-term incentives and spend a great deal of time on social media, where they like to engage directly with college representatives.
However, we think that content marketing is most likely to attract adult learners and non-traditional students. These individuals are, for the most part, not looking for an educational solution to their current situation. Many have had a less than positive educational experience in their past and may have lost confidence in their ability to succeed in a new educational experience. A content marketing campaign can change that narrative.
Why content marketing works
If a prospective student has never imagined himself in a classroom, he’s unlikely to respond to a billboard showing a smiling college student. Slogans and branding phrases have a null or negative impact on these students. On the other hand, presented with a story about relatable people in community college, he may see education as a real option for the first time in his life.
The kind of content that attracts these prospects includes realistic examples of nontraditional students who have succeeded, and also information about career programs. They are particularly interested in job market and salary data. Especially because many non-traditional learners are digitally disadvantaged, the gold-standard for reaching them is still direct mail. Still, a multi-faceted approach that combines digital and print marketing is the best comprehensive strategy.
Interested in seeing how this kind of marketing strategy might help your community college? Trusted by over two hundred community colleges, we can handle every step of your content marketing campaign, or play a supporting role to your staff. Contact us today for a demonstration of our services. It’s time to start meeting your enrollment goals.