Higher Education Enrollment Marketing: 5 Essentials for Successful Lead Generation

Higher education enrollment marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Continual monitoring, measuring, analyzing, and optimizing are necessary ingredients for successful higher education enrollment campaigns. They are critical in building a qualified prospect list that is responsive to nurturing — from lead to application, and ultimately, to enrollment.

As a higher education leader, you’ll want to know which key factors will provide your marketing team with the guidance and clarity they need. While there is an array of technical details, metrics, and data points every month, focusing on these five factors will help keep your marketing team on track.

1) Prioritize your most important performance metrics.

To keep the most impactful measures as a top priority, be clear about your north star metric and communicate that often and consistently to your marketing team. For most colleges and universities, the goal of digital marketing is lead generation. While metrics such as impressions, clicks, click through rates, and bounce rates are informative and directional, they rarely drive meaningful paid media strategy.

Spotlight the number of leads, conversion rate, and cost per conversion. Any conversation, report, or analysis should start with metrics and trends related to those specific measures – everything else plays a supporting role.

2) Determine a clear and concise definition of a lead.

How do you define a lead? A “lead” can simply be someone who has submitted their first name, last name, and an email address using an online form. Or a lead can be something more. For example, a lead may not be considered “complete” without a working phone number, valid email, program of interest, or lead source. At a minimum, for a lead to be counted, it’s best to have a first name or initial, full last name, and a valid means of communicating like a working email address, phone number, or mailing address.

Basing campaign performance, and your marketing decisions, on clearly defined and standardized lead data will allow for more accurate performance assessment, improve the quality of your prospective student pipeline, and ensure your marketing team is effectively distributing time and budget resources.

3) Recognize that different degree programs have unique performance metrics.

Prospective students for different degree programs have a wide range of demographics, motivations, and expectations, so it follows that the key metrics (cost per lead, conversion rate, etc.) for each are very different. For example, the cost per lead for an on-campus EMBA program may be 4-6X the cost per lead for an online undergraduate cybersecurity program. Differences in costs per lead between programs simply reflect each unique degree path at your school.

For this reason, comparing or benchmarking dissimilar programs can set unrealistic expectations. Stating a goal of “generating leads for all programs with a cost per lead of $100” may sound bold but ignores the interplay between audience and media as well as acceptance rates, yield, revenue, matriculation – even the influence of the market and competitive programs. Concentrate on continuous improvement in lead quality and quantity and positive performance trending by program.

4) Keep a running record of events that affect strategy and performance.

As leadership, staff, and agencies come and go over time, it’s risky to count on organizational memory to keep track of internal and external factors that had significant ramifications on your marketing performance. Inflection points such as a new website launch, changes in program deadline dates, migration to a new database, a rebrand, or new leadership all have the potential to create uncertainty when looking back at results over time. Not having a simple “impact map” sets you up to make less than optimal decisions based on incomplete information.

When did your organization first feel the effects of COVID? When did that new website launch? How many times have student loan payments deferred? When did the new Provost start? There’s an easy solution: Start a simple shared Google document with columns for Date, Influencing Event, and Potential Impact. Make the document available across departments and staff so as many organization stakeholders as possible are sharing critical information — and working even more collaboratively.

5) Build and follow a paid media testing plan.

Testing different elements and aspects of your paid media plan is a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox. A testing plan, much like an editorial calendar for content creation, maps testing priorities and timelines. Testing can include ad copy and images, audience targeting, or landing page variations.

Testing plans do not need to be overly complex. In fact, they can be simple and straightforward, especially if they align implementation requirements with the capabilities of your team. Incremental wins are your goal. In baseball terms, you’re looking for singles and doubles – home runs are few and far between. An annual plan with six 8-week tests where each test provides a modest 5% performance lift, will generate 20% more leads at the end of the year — from the same budget!

Testing Tip: Try to keep personal preferences out of the planning process. It’s impossible to predict what an audience will respond to. It is not unusual for the “least popular” test option to outperform the “favorite” option, so developing a testing plan by committee can be problematic. Just make sure any test is on-brand and tests a hypothesis. The test plan will evolve, but without one in place, any testing that is implemented is likely to be disorganized if it happens at all. 

Trust your team and let the results guide the evolution of the plan over time.

If you are a college or university looking to increase the quantity and quality of new leads for your undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, certificate, or professional – executive programs, view our work with many higher ed clients and consider partnering with us.

About Elliance
Elliance, a Pittsburgh-based marketing agency, has helped grow enrollment, endowment, and reputation for more than 100 colleges and universities including 20 professional schools, 12 faith-based universities, and 20 liberal arts colleges. Click to see all of our blog posts for higher education.