Enrollment marketing has transformed in recent years, driven by changing demographics, shifting student preferences and the increasing need for accountability. Educational institutions now face the challenge of attracting the right students for their programs while achieving their enrollment objectives.
The following six proven strategies and best practices in performance marketing, from defining target audiences and measuring outcomes to optimizing campaigns and leveraging emerging media channels, can help education marketers navigate the dynamic world of enrollment marketing and achieve their objectives.
Digital Media Solutions (DMS) works with a long roster of higher education institutions, and we’ve learned the ins and outs of enrollment marketing success throughout the years. Read on to learn campaign optimizations that can help you achieve your enrollment marketing objectives.
1. Determine What Success Looks Like
Identify your campaign objectives and the KPIs (key performance indicators) that will be tracked and measured throughout the campaign. Core KPIs in many higher education campaigns include application rates, enrollment rates and start rates. Contact rates and transfer rates can be used as early indicators to assess lead quality, as inquiries generated from third-party partners can take up to 90 days to convert into enrollments.
It’s also increasingly important to consider outcomes. Of course, schools strive to attract a diverse range of students, but their primary objective is to identify the right students for their programs — those who are likely to succeed. Targeting plays a crucial role in directing these students to the appropriate educational institutions. The Department of Education emphasizes the importance of accountability, requiring enrollment marketers to adopt an outcome-focused approach to student recruitment. By partnering with schools and obtaining valuable information from the outset, enrollment marketers can tailor their KPIs and campaign goals to factor in outcomes and overall success rates for students, whether that’s an initial enrollment, acquiring a degree, or successful completion of a program.
2. Define Your Target Audience
When considering target audiences, look at demographic, behavioral, and psychographic information. As much as possible, try to understand what your target audience wants and needs from a higher education program. Of course, one of the major evolutions in education is the shifting demographics of students and the shifting interests of enrollees.
“Who a school is targeting is obviously going to vary from school to school, but overall we’re seeing more of that non-traditional student becoming more ‘traditional.’ This has certainly been a target area for us in the world of performance marketing and at DMS. Also, I think expectations have shifted of what the typical student body looks like, and the younger generation isn’t necessarily seeing the same value in a 4-year degree, so they might be seeking shorter program offerings like bootcamps or certificate programs,” explained Lindsay Monack, VP of Client Services at DMS. Understanding the shifting tides in enrollment is essential for successful targeting.
Segment Your Target Audience
Mine your data to create ideal profiles based on your most successful student segments. Focus on areas of differentiation to highlight unique offerings. Seeking a strategic partnership with an advertising provider can help enrollment marketers better target high-intent prospective students where they spend their time and when they are ready to take action. At DMS, our investment of billions of dollars in media spend results in our first-party data asset of consented and known consumers.
Developing a well-thought-out plan designed to achieve enrollment marketing objectives is the pathway to success, typically resulting in a growing, engaged pool of prospective students.
DMS is ready to help you find new digital performance advertising solutions to scale success. DMS creates people-based advertising campaigns, leveraging our first-party data asset, proprietary technology, and expansive media reach to define and engage highly targeted audiences, attracting the consumers with the greatest likelihood to convert.
3. Prioritize Planning, Testing & Optimization For Enhanced Campaign Performance
Effective enrollment marketing campaigns require continuous monitoring, adjustment, and optimization to drive growth and profitability. A well-defined plan is essential to facilitate modifications as needed, with clear communication serving as the cornerstone for successful partnerships and campaigns.
The initial step in an enrollment marketing campaign entails a client onboarding call, during which an account manager collaborates with the school to understand their goals, needs, and the programs they aim to highlight. This lays the groundwork for identifying the products and services that best align with these objectives. Technical aspects, including campaign buildout and testing phases, are then overseen by an operations manager before the campaign goes live. Ongoing communication, testing, and collaboration allow for optimization using both school and existing portfolio data from DMS, with compliance addressed from the start to ensure adherence to all necessary requirements.
4. Identify The Media Channels That Will Help You Achieve Your Enrollment Objectives
Seek out channels that can produce motivated prospective students. Pay-per-lead (PPL) campaigns, warm transfers, paid search, email, push marketing, social media advertising and click campaigns can be key components of successful higher education lead generation campaigns. At DMS, our expansive digital media reach touches the majority of U.S. adults, with campaigns based on targeted audience profiles and client objectives. This is also the time to prepare your infrastructure, ensuring your call center is appropriately staffed to handle increased capacity as volume picks up.
5. Don’t Downplay Compliance Or The Benefits Of Brand Building
In addition to higher education-specific regulations, ensure your campaigns comply with regulations like TCPA by obtaining express written consent on inquiry forms to contact consumers by phone or text. Consider using a third party to help track and produce proof of compliance if needed. Because DMS understands the importance of upholding brand standards, we invest heavily in proprietary and third-party monitoring tools. Our industry-leading compliance processes are supported by in-house legal and compliance teams.
Leverage Performance Marketing Strategies To Highlight Existing Brand Campaigns From Higher Ed Clients
Once your compliance and brand standards are met, performance marketing offers the opportunity to complement and supplement existing, branded campaigns higher ed institutions may already be running. This is particularly useful for schools that have a limited ability to scale on their own. “It’s very difficult [for some schools] to buy media on a mass scale and get reach in a cost-effective way. However, with performance marketing, you’re actually going to de-risk media spend and gain targeting and data-informed campaigns. Also, performance marketing – even when there isn’t necessarily a one-to-one lead fill or conversion – is going to drive impressions for schools, it’s free exposure, and it offers SEO value and brand building,” explained Monack.
6. Use Milestones & Mindsets To Your Advantage
Interest in higher education often spikes in January and August, but that doesn’t mean these are the only times people are thinking about going back to school. Consider the milestones and mindsets that could encourage your target audience to seek higher education. Marriage, kids entering kindergarten and economic/working conditions are all reasons people start researching higher education programs, and messaging that speaks to these reasons can resonate and encourage action. It’s also important to understand what kinds of programs potential students are looking for, particularly post-Covid, with many prospective students preferring virtual or online programs and an increased interest in shorter, more efficient certificate or bootcamp programs.
Higher education enrollment marketers who work with Digital Media Solutions can gain peace of mind, cost-efficient results, and prioritized operational compliance. To boost your higher education enrollment marketing efforts, contact DMS to learn more about how to maximize performance marketing campaigns with preferred publisher partners and technology-enabled digital performance advertising solutions.
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Carrie Burton, Senior Vice President of Education at Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS), brings over 15 years of expertise in education inquiry generation to her role. Throughout her career, she has consistently excelled in optimizing education marketing strategies to adapt to the evolving industry landscape. With her diverse experience spanning media, remarketing, monetization, lead arbitrage, multichannel prospecting, and customer retention marketing, Carrie has demonstrated a strong track record of success in driving results.
As SVP of Education at DMS, Carrie oversees the development and management of our DMS Education product offerings and solutions. This includes the supervision of our web properties and advanced technology stack. In addition, Carrie oversees our DMS Education strategic partnerships and media planning. Outside of her professional responsibilities, Carrie volunteers her time with the Utah Special Education Advisory Panel.