How Institutions are Competing and Winning in a Multi-Channel Market

How Institutions are Competing and Winning in a Multi-Channel Market
As higher education becomes increasingly competitive, leaders must understand what they need to do to help their institution rise about the crowd.

Growing — or even maintaining — enrollments in this hypercompetitive market is a top-of-mind challenge for many continuing and online education (COE) leaders. Over the last several months, we’ve examined how progressive institutions are allocating scarce marketing dollars across channels most effectively.

First, to get a sense of the landscape, one COE leader encouraged me to keep a count of the continuing and professional education ads I encountered during an average day in DC. She was right, it was staggering. I awoke to a radio ad in the morning, saw multiple placements in the train station and bus during my morning commute. There was a sponsored coffee sleeve on my morning latte, and multiple banner ads on social media and search engine sites as I went about my day.

Very few industries come face-to-face with competition as often as higher education.  We wanted to know how a unit can stand out in a market where competitors are — almost literally — everywhere you turn?

Capturing the attention of hyperconnected prospects is, however, only half the battle. Today’s prospective students are increasingly comparing institutions based on the likelihood of success and the availability of personalized career services and outcomes data. We heard time and again in our research conversations about the importance of communicating career benefits to prospective students. The importance of explaining how the course, certificate or degree program they are considering will help them advance in their careers, land the promotion or successfully switch fields.

In this maturing market, securing your share requires staying ahead of the competition at every stage in the student life cycle; from incorporating private-sector lessons in online brand management, to developing new payment and pricing models that appeal to value-conscious students, to making more deliberate investments to ensure that once students enroll, they succeed.

Our research sought replicable, proven approaches to capture the attention of prospective students; approaches that were relatively low-cost and yielded conversions. One example comes from the MOOC.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many marketing directors had thought the MOOC would prove to be an effective “try before you buy” free content push. The MOOC, however, was ineffective on nearly every front at increasing enrollments.  It was far too expansive — casting a net to appeal to thousands rather than targeted to a specific segment. The duration of a MOOC (a full multi-week course) was more time and content than most prospective students require when deciding whether or not to enroll. Far more effective than launching a MOOC turns out to be the tried-and-true webinar. A 45-minute webinar on a hot industry topic — crafted to ensure a compelling takeaway to “impress the boss” or “Impress the boardroom” within the first 20-30 minutes — was far more effective at generating interest in an institution’s courses and programs.

There are a lot of new and innovative approaches to marketing appearing on the scene, and as this industry becomes more competitive, it’s going to be critical for leaders to select the right ones.

The EAB will be sharing more insights on Winning in a Multichannel World and Charting a Path to Persistence at an upcoming session in Miami on Tuesday, March 25 in advance of the annual UPCEA conference with a networking reception that evening. To learn more, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Ellen D 2014/03/17 at 5:10 am

I’m really glad this kind of research is being done across institutions rather than being specific to one university.

Higher ed is more competitive than most people think, and the only people who will lose out when institutions start closing are students. We need to stop this from happening by providing all higher ed leaders with the most information possible on how to compete to allow them to adequately serve their present and future target student markets.

After all, the diversity of the American postsecondary environment is what helps to create a strong and intellectually and economically advanced society.

    RF 2014/03/17 at 4:15 pm

    Honestly, I completely disagree with this. It’s a marketplace. The best institutions will win. The worst institutions will lose.

    This competitive environment should be pushing institutions to become better, to improve outcomes and to put into practice the theories and concepts they are teaching their students.

    It always amazes me that universities have robust business, marketing and economics staff on hand, but always seem behind the gun when it comes to evolving to meet the demands of new marketplaces.

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