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Five Reasons You’re Not Getting Great ROI on Your Marketing and Recruiting

The EvoLLLution | Five Reasons You’re Not Getting Great ROI on Your Marketing and Recruiting
In order for institutions to be competitive in the today’s higher education marketplace, they need to maximize the value of every penny spent on marketing and recruiting.

In the 1800s, before pressurized water hoses, fire brigades created a line from a water source to a fire and passed buckets hand to hand until the water reached its destination and extinguished the flames. In the same way, student marketing and recruitment relies on a series of connected elements to move a prospective student through the decision cycle.

Below are five critical pieces that form the foundation of a marketing and recruitment plan. Without any one of these elements, the ROI of your marketing and recruitment efforts drop precipitously.

1. You Don’t Target Your Audience

Marketing’s foundation is accurate targeting. Accurate targeting means going beyond billboards and radio commercials, which are seen and heard by a lot of people—many of whom don’t care about and/or are not qualified for your program. Employ a more refined strategy that focuses dollars on people who are the right fit. It’s the difference between shouting from the rooftop about your program and approaching individuals who fit your ideal student profile to start a conversation.

Online marketing platforms provide a plethora of targeting capabilities so you can go beyond gender, age and geography down to interests groups, education level (and major), job title, industry and parental status. Get beyond awareness marketing and target those prospects!

2. Your Ads are Boring and Generic

There is a great deal of competition in the higher education market from for-profit universities and, over the past few years, non-profit universities that have grown beyond their traditional geographic constraints are turning heads as well. This means your ads must stand out. Compelling ads include effective imagery that align with your brand, copy that’s succinct and direct and, of course, clear calls to action.

Here’s one from Wheelock College, a small, private university located in Boston – a very crowded market:

It challenges the viewer to be more. The ad is for a master’s degree in education and it works because it targets teachers working in an elementary school environment. Those are people who want to inspire children and they will notice an ad that speaks to that goal.

3. You Don’t Use Landing Pages (or you’re not using them well)

Spending money on marketing, particularly online marketing, doesn’t make sense unless you also use conversion landing pages. Landing pages are stand-alone pages to which visitors are sent after they click your ad. Effective landing pages are customized to the ad with content that aligns to the interest of the visitor. They include clear offers and calls-to-action such as an opportunity to speak with a university representative or to download a free brochure on your program. Finally—and this is where many universities undercut their ROI—it includes an inquiry form with minimal required fields (we recommend no more than five). This makes it easy for prospective students to begin connecting with you, particularly on mobile devices where completing longer forms can be difficult and frustrating.

4. You Play Hard-To-Get with Your Leads

When a prospective student completes an inquiry form for most for-profit universities, they get a phone call in less than 10 minutes. You may not be staffed to call within 10 minutes, but are you following up the same day, within 24 hours, or at all?

Many universities are getting leads, but are not effectively following up with prospective students. In other words, there is a marketing plan, but not a recruiting plan. Your approach to recruitment shouldn’t keep people at an arm’s length; it should be assertive. This means following up the same business day and trying several times over several days until you reach the person. It also means combining email with phone calls to give people more than one way to engage with you. Create a plan to create a conversation—make the most of your marketing efforts by helping prospective students complete the enrollment process.

5. You are Using Your Gut to Make Decisions

Returning quickly to our fire brigade metaphor, if you had one person in your brigade who dropped every fourth bucket you might train him, give him special gloves, or just replace him. Measurement and optimization is how you know where things are going well and what needs to be improved. For example, if you reach your leads goal, but not your enrollment goal then the problem is in converting leads to students; in other words, your recruitment efforts. If the conversion rate for your website visitor to lead is strong, but you’re not meeting your lead goal, you may need to expand the target audience for your marketing. Data democratizes decisions, but only if you use it. Measure each stage of your efforts and let the data, not your gut, drive decisions.


In today’s higher education environment, each dollar you spend needs to have an impact. When it comes to marketing and recruiting, this means creating a holistic system that helps attract, guide, and enroll more of the right students. Each phase is critical. Each phase needs to be measured and optimized. Each phase, when done well, will ensure a high return on your investment.