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Building a High-Performing Enrollment Marketing Team

The EvoLLLution | Building a High-Performing Enrollment Marketing Team
Divisions and institutions looking to build a modern marketing shop should aim to follow these four building blocks and, broadly, to become more data driven.
Marketing in higher education is constantly evolving. We all face changing market conditions, new technologies, and a need to connect our work to impact enrollments (or other strategic priorities).

Here are four pillars I have used to build high-performing marketing teams:

Enrollment Marketing Framework

Before building a strategy or working with academic programs, the team needs alignment on a framework that describes a prospective student’s college selection decision. The enrollment funnel is a visual representation of the stages of the student journey from awareness to enrollment. Once the team has a shared understanding of this framework, they can work with academic programs to develop an enrollment marketing plan that uses a variety of strategies, tools and tactics targeted at each stage of the student selection process.

Vision: Strategic Planning and Relationship Building

To meet the needs of each academic program, the marketing team works collaboratively with each academic program to develop a strategic marketing plan customized to that particular program. The strategic marketing plan provides both the academic program and the marketing team with a roadmap for the year that includes shared enrollment goals and planned marketing activities to meet those goals.

By developing a strategic plan, measuring the results, and being transparent with the data, we show our academic partners that:

  1. We understand the program and its goals;
  2. We provide creative marketing solutions; and,
  3. We are accountable for measuring success.

Competency Areas for an Effective Enrollment Marketing Team

Enrollment marketing plans typically rely on three pillars: earned, owned and paid media. Therefore, a well-rounded marketing team needs skills in those areas, including skills in digital marketing channels such as paid search, paid social and traditional paid advertising, and skills in search engine optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, and analytics.

Since many higher education institutions do not have large paid media budgets, the institution’s website becomes a critical communication channel and should be designed not only to push messages out but also as a “pull” strategy to bring prospective students into your website or landing pages with lead acquisition forms. This “pull” strategy is also referred to as inbound marketing. Inbound marketing results are achieved through a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that includes website architecture, keyword-driven content, conversion-centered landing pages, and a focus on prospective students and their needs.

Organic web traffic—when a user finds your website using a search engine like Google or Bing—is a critical component of your content marketing strategy. With this strategy, you are meeting the needs of a prospective student when they are looking for information, rather than when you decide to push the messages out.

For instance, when a prospective student searches for a program or course the goal is to have your content show up below the paid Google ads. Driving this inbound traffic requires a commitment to understanding the prospective student and their needs, questions, and motivations. From this research, you build a content and social media strategy that may include a variety of content—such as blogs, student stories, white papers, and infographics—that resonates with your prospective students and is optimized for search engines.

Marketing Automation and Analytics

Measurement and analytics are the foundation of any plan because they allow the marketing team to optimize campaign performance and allocate dollars to tactics that are meeting goals. With digital marketing tactics such as paid search and paid social ads, teams are able to identify the ads, images and messages that influenced a prospective student to take action. The integration of digital campaigns with a CRM and marketing automation tool allows for powerful attribution modeling. For instance, the combined data can tell us the number of leads attributed to each marketing channel and can be further refined to identify high-performing campaigns within a channel. Key metrics the team should be tracking include cost per lead, cost per lead per channel, and cost per enrolled student.

As the higher education landscape changes and becomes more competitive, marketing offices must evolve and embrace digital marketing strategies coupled with marketing analytics to create powerful results.

Conclusion: Bringing the Four Pillars Together

For marketing leaders looking to build marketing teams around these four pillars, it is critical to align behind an enrollment marketing framework and to understand the enrollment goals of the academic program, department or institution. From this foundation, you can build team competency in earned, owned and paid media. The final pillar, which is often overlooked, is a focus on marketing analytics and the integration of digital marketing, CRM, and marketing automation. The analytics from these data sources allow for just-in-time campaign optimization as well as analyzing trends over time. I have found that sharing results via dashboards or periodic reporting builds the team’s credibility and builds trust with our internal academic partners.

The transition to metrics-based marketing may be the biggest cultural shift for teams to make. The first step is to ensure the integrity of the data that will inform marketing decisions. As more institutions adopt CRMs and marketing automation tools, it is critical that marketing is involved in implementation and build decisions. Key questions to ask include: How will you code and track marketing campaign data? Are custom URLs and UTM tracking code supported? How will data be reported? Ideally, the marketing team will want to quickly and frequently assess campaign performance. This level of reporting and access to quality data requires close collaboration with the CRM implementation team as well as the marketing team.