In the early years of our existence, we generated leads through a wide variety of tactics: websites, SEO plus engaging content, display advertising, emails to purchased names, postcards to purchased names, LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, Twitter ads, YouTube ads, retargeting ads, social media promotions, chat bots, lookalike audiences, webinars, campus visits and events, PR, branding and scholarship contests. And we observed which leads converted the best. Slowly but surely, here is what we discovered.
Purchased Names Convert Poorly
The era of buying prospect names, bombarding them with commoditized emails/direct mail, hoping some will raise their hands, and praying some will convert is over. Royall & Company, which built a successful business on this premise, cashed out when they saw the model crumbling. What happened? Students got tired of being spammed and they got smarter. They took control of their college search. They started asking their peers, families and friends for their recommendations. They started searching Google and perusing their favorite social media channels. Since they now have all the information they need at their fingertips, they only need very little, high value-added information from colleges and universities.
Paid Advertising Generates Better Quality Leads (Traditional Admissions Funnel)
Paid advertising matured. Smarter methodologies like micro-segmentation, look-alikes, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups became the new normal for generating right-fit leads.
Not all paid channels perform equally. Google generates solid leads for most professional and pre-professional undergraduate degrees. Undergraduate students convert best on Instagram and YouTube, but not on Snapchat and Tik Tok. Parents can be reached best on Facebook. LinkedIn generates quality leads for most adult and graduate students. LinkedIn is also a good channel for reaching influencers like teachers, principals, recruiters, HR and training professionals.
Avoid directing prospects to skinny, give-me-your-contact-info-first, high-pressure landing pages. Romance prospects with story landing pages and microsites which inform, persuade, engage, delight and convert prospects. You can’t bore prospects into buying from you or buy into your brand.
SEO/Content Produces Even Better Quality Leads (Inverted Admissions Funnel)
Invert the admissions funnel by capturing and sharing stories of your star students, alumni heroes, rock star faculty and consequential partnerships. Through these stories, colleges “get found” via search engines, word-of-mouth and the sharing of content. These attract more like-minded and look-alike prospects. This creates admission pipes, not funnels. Right-fit students go on to become engaged citizens, brand ambassadors, recruiters, partners and donors.
Referrals Produce Some of the Best Quality Leads
The best colleges graduate happy students who become the largest source of future students. Satisfied graduates bring trust and credibility which helps prospects cut through the clutter of choices and marketing.
Campus Visits and Events Produce The Best Quality Leads
College visits are moments of truth. Face-to-face interactions during college visits, alumni outreach, and admitted student days improve the number of high-quality leads and admissions yield. Students remember a college that reaches out to them in a caring, personal and organized manner. Successful colleges work very hard in casting and directing volunteers, tour guides, work study and junior staff — ensuring the talking points, presentations, touch points and tour details are all curated and orchestrated perfectly. God is in the details.
What about Contests, Social Media Campaigns, PR and Branding?
In our earlier work, scholarship contests produced great leads, but the contests were difficult to administer in the US because of state and federal regulations. Social media campaigns were too risky: they either worked really well or they limped along. Rebranding and PR too created a rising tide of great quality leads, but far too slowly to meet the urgent needs of higher education enrollment vice presidents. These tactics can be quite effective only if you have the patience and determination to work through the challenges.