Marketing Automation for Higher Education

By Deborah Gibbs 6 min read

A college education presents major financial challenges — both to the students and to the schools themselves. Tuition costs are outpacing inflation; it now costs a four-year college or university nearly $25,000 per year to educate a single student.

If you’re in the marketing department at a college or university, you’ve probably become accustomed to hearing that you need to accomplish more with your budget. You may also have been told that you shouldn’t expect your budget to increase anytime soon.  (Curious to learn more? Read Marketo’s discussion on tighter budgets.)

Marketing automation makes it possible for your institution to set up digital marketing interactions with students and prospects on a nearly one-to-one basis — without the large marketing team that such communication would usually require. By writing relevant messages in advance and targeting the correct people with those messages at the right times, your institution can increase new student enrollment. You can also help your existing students achieve better educational outcomes.

Here are some of the ways in which colleges and universities are using marketing automation to achieve their goals for student enrollment and retention.

Use Innovative Segmentation Strategies to Engage Potential Students

Research suggests that by the time a potential student visits a school’s website or interacts with the school in another way, that student has already narrowed his or her list of potential schools to about three choices.

Before researching schools in earnest, students conduct casual research by searching online for information about the degrees they’d like to earn or the careers they’d like to have. At this stage, when a potential student does land on your institution’s website, you’ve got to make that interaction count by capturing the student’s email address if you can.

Once you have an email address, you can move the student through your automated marketing flows to keep that person engaged and guide him or her toward enrollment. Relevance is the key to success here. Segmentation of your database is the key to offering the personalized experiences prospective students need.

Here are a few of the ways in which an educational institution can use segmentation to achieve the best possible results:

Examples of segmentation for higher education

Interest-based segmentation – If a student signs up for your mailing list after viewing the website for your school of engineering, it isn’t likely that he or she wants to receive announcements from your school of music. Use what you can deduce from a student’s digital behavior to set up automated campaigns that speak directly to his or her interests.

Engagement-based segmentation – Once you know the identity of a prospective student, you should begin tracking that person’s interactions with your institution to determine his or her level of engagement. If a student has visited your website several times, interacted with your school on social media and arranged a campus tour, your targeted nurture should account for the student’s high level of engagement. If a student hasn’t interacted with your institution since visiting your website several months ago, your content should reflect his loss of interest.

Research phase-based segmentation – You can adjust the messages in your automated marketing campaigns based on how close prospective students are to picking their future schools. A student who reads an article about the average salaries in different engineering fields, for example, is might still be in early stages of research, while a student reading about on-campus housing is most likely making his final decision.

By combining the three segmentation types above, you can achieve targeting that’s likely to produce exceptional results. If you take all of those groups into account when creating your engagement programs, the student will feel as though you’re speaking directly to him or her — even if you’re actually speaking to a segment containing dozens of potential students.

Interested in this topic? Learn more from Marketo: Engage Students as the Individuals They Are, Throughout Their Lifecycle

Integrate Other Data Sources to Create Comprehensive Student Profiles

Modern businesses go to great lengths to track every customer interaction that occurs through both online and offline channels. To attract and keep as many students as possible while remaining financially healthy, your institution should behave like a business and track students as if they were customers.

The student profiles in your marketing automation database should track online interactions such as website visits, ad clicks and social media interactions. Through integrations with other data sources, it should also track academic performance, hobbies, date of graduation, degrees sought and possibly attendance of official events.

How to leverage MA capabilities once you have complete student profiles

Improve your segmentation – You already know the ways in which potential students interact with your website. Now look at the broader spectrum of touch points: How would you change your message to a potential student if you knew that he found your school through social media, as opposed to Google Adwords or an alumni program? The more the fields in your database reflect information about a potential student, the more you can fine-tune the segmented content used for personalization in your MA system.

Add context to your communication with prospects – With marketing automation, you can change the next message in a campaign based on how a student responded to the previous message. You can even use offline events to add context to your messages. Suppose, for example, that you host a campus event for potential engineering students. Adding the event attendance to your student profiles can help you add context to future messages to those who came.

Help disengaged or unhappy students – For example, if your marketing automation system can identify a student who hasn’t signed up for an intramural sports team, doesn’t play in a musical group and hasn’t attended any major events within his or her course of study, you could target that student with special offers to increase their interest in campus activities.

Interested in learning about aggregating data to target future students more effectively? Learn more – Oracle Marketing Cloud for Student Engagement

Communicate With Millennials in Their Language

Millennials have grown accustomed to interacting with companies over multiple channels and on different devices. Your marketing automation platform can support multi-channel marketing in a variety of ways:

Use postal mail as a touch point – With a many marketing automation platforms, you don’t have to limit yourself to email communication. You can automatically send something by postal mail, for example, in response to an online form submission, and see a record of that offline activity in the student’s profile later on.

Use the automatic mailing feature to send items such as course catalogs, welcome packets and calendars. With hundreds of items routinely competing to appear in the typical millennial’s social media feed, direct mail can provide a rare opportunity to capture a prospective student’s undivided attention for a few minutes.

Design a user experience for mobile device users – Although the traditional desktop computer isn’t dead, smartphones and tables are the devices that millennials will often use to interact with your institution.

A properly implemented marketing automation solution supports a mobile-friendly user experience through seamless integrations with your content management system (CMS), easy to use forms, responsive emails and possibly SMS integration.

TA Digital Makes Your Marketing Efforts Shine

We believe in configuring your marketing automation instance to fit the unique technical requirements of your martech stack. And we’ll focus on what matters most: leveraging your technology investment to increase enrollment and improve your institution’s educational outcomes.

At TA Digital, our preferred marketing automation platforms include Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Campaign, IBM Watson Marketing (Silverpop) and Pardot. The links below provide insights into each of these marketing automation platforms and their vision for higher education.

Learn More About Marketing Automation for Higher Education

2016 Trends In Higher Education Marketing, Enrollment, and Technology (Marketo)
Enrollment, Engagement, Donation: How Higher Education Can Improve Its Grades with Marketing Automation (Marketo)
Oracle Marketing Cloud for Student Engagement
Pardot for Higher Ed Recruiting & Admissions – Demo

Explore Additional Resources

We have a team of experts to help you select the right Digital Marketing platform for your business.

Our team specializes in Marketo audits that help our clients identify performance problems with their integrated Marketo platforms.

We help our clients leverage Adobe Campaign to simplify cross-channel campaign management, deliver intelligently contextualized real-time email message to the right audience.


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Contact us to learn how Marketing Automation improves enrollment and educational outcomes for higher learning.

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