Leveraging Big Brand Without a Big Budget in Higher Education and Beyond

Marketing Automation


Like many of you out there working on big initiatives with a small budget, marketers in the higher education industry are facing challenges right up your alley. Think back to the 2008 financial crisis when most organizations started to cut marketing spend, and imagine living in a world where that is very much still the reality. Add to this the fact that you have one of the most distinct customers: young kids and teenagers.

When we talk to marketers from most universities, the common theme amongst them is all too consistent: students have high expectations, but universities have limited budgets. We hear everything from “We get what we need to be doing to reach our students, but we don’t have the funds to do it.” to “We have a little money to get things going, but there are so many options for technology. We don’t even know where to begin.” And the list goes on and on. These grievances might sound familar, as many growing organizations from different industries are looking for ways to do more with less.

Speaking with folks at AMA’s 2016 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Orlando last week gave us insight into a world that most of us take for granted. In this blog, we’ll share how marketers in higher education, as well as other industries, can overcome resource-limited challenges with the right strategy and technology:

When Your Brand Is Coca-Cola, but Your Budget Is Shasta

In a world where big brands are everywhere, marketers are faced with having to recreate brand experiences that used to be able to speak for themselves. And if they don’t, it could cost them. According to a 2015 Inside Higher Ed and Gallup survey, 58% indicated that they had not filled their fall classes by the traditional May 1 deadline. Whether you’re a Badger, Longhorn, or anywhere in between, you need to provide your audience with optimal experiences across the customer lifecycle to improve recruiting, increase enrollment, and engage alumni. However, most universities, along with marketers in other industries, have limited budget to do this.

This is where the idea of needing the brand recognition of Coca Cola, for example, one of the most well-known brands in the world, but only having the resources of a smaller company like Shasta, per say, comes into play. Without the right resources, opportunities to provide the personalization, consistency, longevity, or any other ways to improve the customer experience can feel scarce. But resources don’t necessarily need to come in the form of more budget.

Breaking Down Silos for Better Customer Experiences

How do marketers from government-regulated universities do so much, with so little? The fact that marketers recognize the value of dynamic content across mobile, web, and social media is a huge step forward.

But after speaking with a few organizations at the conference using these methods, it became very clear that each channel was working independently of the other. This creates a tremendous amount of manual work and limits the organization’s ability to work cohesively in driving consistent, effective messages for each channel.

Another caveat of working in a siloed organization is not having the ability to obtain a comprehensive understanding of what your marketing results truly mean. To become a world-class marketing organization, you must ask yourself these critical questions:

  • What program or channel is the most effective?
  • Which one is driving the most engagement?
  • Which is the most cost-effective?
  • What are the key milestones in a prospect’s journey that translate into a new conversion?

Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to speak with 50 or so different schools about their strategies in 2017. The common theme, by far, was building brand awareness with potential students to increase enrollment. How could they get their brand on billboards, commercials, websites, mobile, print, etc.? But we’d argue that it’s not just about the channels or tactics, and it’s certainly not just about acquisition.

Many of these organizations are blasting their prospective students with monologues, when in reality, they should aim to have dialogues with their prospective students and truly engage them not only during acquisition, but throughout the lifecycle. While acquisition always feels like an urgent endeavor when you’re trying to fill seats in classrooms, being lifecycle-minded offers longevity when it comes to building a brand. It means asking yourself: How do we ekep students engaged to reduce drop-out rates? How do we build our alumni network?

The Way Forward

Today, students and alumni are seeing thousands of competing marketing messages every day. More importantly, just like the typical buyer’s journey, a student’s journey is self-directed and they are looking for answers on their timeline, and on the channel and device of their choice.

According to the 2015 Inside Higher Ed and Gallup survey of college-bound high school juniors and seniors, 77-78% of respondents indicated that college websites make a difference in their perception of the institution. On top of this, 60% of seniors and 55% of juniors said they were more likely to consider institutions that use digital strategies to communicate. That’s not surprising when you consider that buyers jump from channel to channel as they do research and make decisions—many of which are online.

With a sophisticated marketing automation platform, you can coordinate your messaging across channels and throughout the entire student journey—from building awareness with prospective students to staying connected with alumni. Because of this, it’s critical to adopt a marketing solution that empowers you to do the following:

  • Listen: Your prospects are doing research on your brand long before they reach out to you. In fact, 72% of students develop their shortlist prior to contacting a school and only three schools make a prospect’s shortlist, according to LinkedIn. What if your organization could capture those engagements and understand what the prospective students or alumni are truly looking for? Like we hear often from the executives here at Marketo, it’s great to know who your customer base is, but true success is knowing what they’re doing and how their behaviors define their actions. An advanced marketing automation platform will allow you to track digital body language to get a good grasp on important indicators of interest.
  • Think: What content should you deliver to your audience? A meaningful experience that resonates will differentiate your organization from others. As the saying goes, content is king. A defining message, keyword, or visual could be the link between binding your brand with your audience. People, especially young students, want to be understood and known. Marketing automation really brings this home and gives you insight into whether your campaigns are relevant to the right personas and how impactful each program and channel is in achieving your objectives.
  • Respond: While it’s important to segment your audience, each person within the segment will interact in different ways with your brand. It’s critical to speak to your audience as individuals by understanding their unique interests and pain points, and responding to them with relevant messages. Like we mentioned above, the concept of going from monologues to dialogues is a key factor in being a successful marketer. Like any good relationship, we want someone to engage with us on a personal level, not just talk at us—and your prospects and customers want the same thing.

In the world of higher education, a new age of student engagement and intelligence is here. Fortunately, with state-of-the-art digital technology, marketers can now do more with less and understand how to reach and engage our audience base with the right message, at the right time, on the channel.

Are you marketing in an organization with limited marketing resources? We’d love to hear how you’re overcoming your challenges with technology. Share your insights the comments below!