The evolving role of digital marketing in the education industry

The evolving role of digital marketing in the education industry

Strange as it may sound, marketing has always played a crucial role in the education sector.

Granted, part of the reason that sounds odd is that we’re used to thinking of marketing in terms of the loud, flashy video ads or huge billboards that have dominated advertising for the past who-knows-how-long. But, to quote a phrase I promised myself I wouldn’t use in this blog, ‘the times, they are a-changin’.

While traditional outbound marketing relies on shouting your message as loud as you can into the void and hoping something comes back, the new school of inbound marketing is about speaking to people in their language and offering content that provides real value. So, when you think about it, educational institutions have been using this kind of marketing for a long time – long before we had access to today’s digital marketing techniques.

In this blog, I take a look at the evolving role of digital marketing in the education sector, and how it’s changing the way schools and universities engage with their audiences.

Digital media isn’t just changing marketing in education – it’s changing education as a whole.

Before we look at the impact of digital marketing on the education industry, it’s worth considering how digital media has influenced education in general. It’s borderline impossible to find a school or college without a website at the very least, and an increasing number of universities are offering registration through their websites only.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses – first from sites like EdX and Coursera, but colleges and universities are increasingly offering similar courses themselves or through partnerships with third-party sites. And we take it for granted at this point that distance learning institutions offer all or most of their course content and assessments online.

The point is, digital media is changing virtually everything about education, and marketing is no exception.

Inbound digital marketing is a logical progression from traditional education marketing.

Historically, educational institutions relied on word of mouth and the tangible evidence of their output (their alumni, the content of their curricula, the reputation of their instructors, their culture and so forth) for marketing purposes.

Market segmentation was a natural byproduct of this system. The ‘brand image’ of a college or university was clearly defined by the content it produced and the way people spoke about it. (Like it or not, even educational institutions are brands – if you disagree, I invite you to compare the messaging on Damelin and Harvard’s websites and reconsider.)

As a result, educational institutions have never had much of a problem identifying and attracting the right students. But the digital consumer thinks a little differently to their forebears. Most college applicants today are Generation Z digital natives, and interact as much if not more online than they do offline.

So it follows that educational institutions should be doing what they can to craft digital marketing strategies that match the effectiveness of their offline ones. Quick sidebar – you can read more about aligning your online and offline strategies in another blog we wrote here.

Think of social media as the digital age’s answer to word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s inevitable while talking about digital marketing that I’d touch on social media at some point, but it’s particularly important for our purposes. Social media operates on essentially the same rules as word-of-mouth marketing: people talk about brand experiences that genuinely meant something to them, and friends who hear them take this information to heart far more so than they would a branded message.

So when it comes to social media and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s different clothes on the same monkey for the most part. But there’s one crucial difference: social media gives your brand - your school, in this case - the ability to talk to and with your audience rather than just at them. This means you can have one-on-one conversations with students and prospective students and address their needs on an individual level.

Social media is becoming a big deal for educational institutions. You don’t need to take my word for it either - a survey by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth revealed that nearly 100% of higher educational institutions have some form of social media presence. Social media isn’t just a great way to keep in touch with existing and prospective students, it’s an excellent way to share your culture and develop a clear brand identity. This means you’ll have an even easier time attracting the right kind of students and making your digital marketing efforts more lucrative.

Great Customer Journeys are an invaluable weapon in the education marketer’s arsenal.

I’ve already mentioned the importance of speaking to the right prospective students, in their language, and in their native digital habitats. But the goal of any good marketing strategy is to turn prospects into leads, and then into paying customers. To do this, you’ll need to create compelling, personalised customer journeys.

A customer journey is a series of communications – usually emails – that is designed to convert leads into paying customers. Here, everything comes down to the way you talk to your customer, and the value you’re able to offer them. Let’s look at these two aspects individually:

• Personalisation goes a long way towards deactivating your reader’s anti-marketing defense system, but using their name in the subject line or greeting just doesn’t cut it anymore. Truly personalised communication journeys involve setting up buyer personas and tailoring your communication to their unique needs. I won’t delve any more into the specifics of crafting the perfect personalised communication journey here – Devin does a much better job of that in his blog on the importance of hyper-personalised emails.

• Offering value is crucial for today’s marketing-resistant consumers. Luckily for education institutions, providing value comes much easier than it does for many other businesses. Discounts on short courses, invitations to open days or even offers for registration can all be provided in the course of a customer journey, and, if used in the right place and at the right time, can be a powerful conversion tool. If you provide consistently valuable content at the right stages in your customer’s buying process, you’re pretty much guaranteed to win them over.

If you’re looking for answers about how to create compelling digital marketing and marketing automation strategies that generate real results for your school, college or university, you’re in the right place. Download our free Guide to Creating Successful Customer Journeys at the link below, or get in touch with us through our contact page to speak to us directly.



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