Promoting Your Online Programs. You Offer Them – Now What?

It wasn’t too long ago that online & distance learning was stigmatized. There was a certain illegitimacy attached to any degree that was not earned by a student in the traditional sense – on-campus, at a brick and mortar school, physically among their peer set, sitting through lectures and residing on or near campus. But where does this leave the student who has a career? A family? Those who simply juggle busy lives with packed schedules?

Today, one in every four students is enrolled in at least one online class – that’s over six million online learners. With more institutions offering hybrid and fully online courses, the number of traditional students studying solely on-campus dropped by 6.4%, or by roughly one million students from 2012 to 2016. Colleges & Universities have already recognized the need to offer comprehensive Online degree options, but the landscape is competitive and extremely concentrated. 50% of online students are enrolled in 5% of the schools that make up the current higher education space. For the majority of schools, the question becomes – how can I stand out in a sea of competition? How can I position my brand, our value proposition, and our offerings?

How can I garner the most student interest, engagement and ultimately enrollments?

1. Know Your Audience.
Where does your ideal audience hang out? What are they searching for on the internet/ What do they read & watch? Knowing your target audience is critical. If your Online programs best serve the first-time freshman market, you need to make sure you are advertising in the right places. When marketing to a younger demographic, consider new strategies. Partner with social media influencers to help promote your program offerings. Utilize user-generated content that mimics your audience’s peer set. On the flip side, if you’re targeting the adult re-entry learner, consider their motivation. What are their goals? Are they looking for a new job field, or looking to boost their current career? Push the value of the flexibility of Online learning versus the physical and time-intensive commitment that On-Campus learning requires. Remember – the more your audience can identify with the delivery of & your message itself, the stronger they’ll align with your brand.

2. Mind the Gap.
As with any industry, there is a lot of crossover & grey area. Historically, there has been a huge distinction between the Online learner and the traditional On-Campus student. These days, however, there is a vast audience that is interested in both learning scenarios. With the growing popularity of hybrid programs – programs that utilize a blend of both Online and On-Campus learning environments – the lines here have become a little blurred. How can you properly convey the value & convenience of your Online programs to a student who could really go either way? Knowing your ideal target student audience is key, but the ability to engage & capture the audience in between coupled with the right advertising efforts will really set your institution apart & allow you to garner student enrollments from an audience that didn’t necessarily set out to learn Online.

3. Mobile = King.
What do you carry around with you more – your laptop, or your smartphone? The numbers don’t lie – roughly 50% of smartphone users engage with advertisements delivered to their devices, and of that audience, a whopping 75% are actually either making a purchase or requesting information about something. But tapping into this audience goes way beyond the simple notion of mobile-optimizing your websites & information captures. For example: nearly 20% of mobile users will actually complete a web form that has five or fewer fields. That number drops to less than 9% when forms are longer than 20 fields. 80% of students are researching programs Online, and the bulk of this audience is searching via their smartphone. It’s worth piloting mobile-specific ad campaigns that utilize user-friendly, clean interfaces with a distinct call-to-action. Delivering the right message about your Online program offerings at the right time – whether it be via native ads, etc – can be crucial when capturing the mobile school-seeking audience. Consider calls to action that make life easy on your student audience like including a phone number that allows them to immediately contact your admissions team with one tap.

4. Email Marketing… It Lives!
Contrary to popular belief, email marketing isn’t dead – it’s just older, more mature, and knows what it wants. Targeted, personalized email marketing has evolved, and the results are higher engagement and ultimately more new students for you. For example, artificial familiarity is no-longer relevant. Ever received an email that addresses you by your first name, but you have no idea who the sender is? Forced-familiarity feels, well, forced. Learn to personalize your email outreach without using the prospective student’s name. But how do you get to the point where a student is even opening your email? Take a look at your subject line. Don’t write your memoirs here; Adestra has reported that subect lines of 10 characters or less actually have an open rate of over 58%. And don’t forget about mobile – nearly half of all email opens are via – you guessed it – mobile users. Re-thinking tired email strategies can have a huge impact on your Online program enrollments.

5. Hire an Agency.
Establishing and promoting the value of your Online programs versus all the rest is hard. Maybe you are handling all of your student acquisition marketing efforts in-house; maybe you have a few third-party companies that handle the many moving parts for you. One strategy to consider is choosing and hiring an agency of record, or AOR, to centralize and streamline your marketing efforts. Why? For starters, working with multiple teams internally or multiple agencies can quickly become difficult to manage. All of a sudden, one initiative can mean multiple emails, meetings, calls, and memos to ensure that all brand messages are consistent across all parties involved. With an AOR, your communication is streamlined. A by-product of this can also be cost reduction. When you’re concentrating all marketing efforts through one centralized agency, the economies of scale come into play which will allow your agency to push out more work for less money. But communication and cost-effectiveness aren’t the only benefits here; working with an AOR means that you’re able to tap into extensive industry expertise & knowledge based on your agency’s experience. A seasoned higher education agency will act as a direct marketing arm and will have the tools, team, and historic analytics to put a campaign together that will yield results for your school.

Curious about the any of the above? Want to know how the Banner Edge team can put over a decade of higher education experience to work for your school? We’d love to chat.

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