How Well Do You Know Your Prospective Student?

January 13, 2016

How Well Do You Know Your Prospective Student?

tag digital marketing | digital media | digital strategy for higher ed | higher education
How Well Do You Know Your Prospective Student?

How many times has this happened to you? Armed with unsubstantiated assumptions, you jump into “marketing mode” and start blasting out messages to an audience that you know practically nothing about. It’s an common mistake, one that’s easy to make. How can you avoid it in higher ed marketing?

You have an awesome opportunity. You have the privilege of helping your school grow so it can train the next generation of leaders. You’re not just selling widgets, you’re building lives. So anchoring your marketing efforts on sound research is more than just good business, it can be life-changing. Here’s a few examples of ways you can get to know your prospective student. And I mean really know them, as more than just teens or millennials or Generation whatever-letter-they’re-currently-called.

Borrow brains

“Think tanks” exist to provide insightful data, so take advantage of them- both paid and unpaid. Pew Research puts out a huge amount of valuable research. TargetX (which recently acquired the well-known Uversity) has a solid Knowledge section to draw from. You may also want to try Hanover Research and the NCES.

If you have some budget for research and want to dig deeper, look into a paid research service like MRI Research. It’s not cheap, and I’ll admit, the first time you look at an MRI Cross-Tab report, you may blow a few brain fuses, but it’s like flying a jumbo jet. Once you get used to all the buttons and knobs, it’s incredibly powerful. You can draw some extremely insightful conclusions once you program your mind to interpret it. Don’t hesitate to dig deep!

Get face-to-face

Remember when “face time” meant something other than staring at a cell phone? In-person time is invaluable, especially with an age group that highly values authenticity. Consider hosting focus groups to find out what’s important to your next class of freshmen. Make them informal, and focus on their needs. Many teens just want someone to listen—so give them a voice! And don’t forget their parents. They most likely hold the proverbial purse-strings, and they’re key players in the decision-making process, so don’t leave them out!

Talk to them on the interwebs

Equip your marketing and admissions team to seek out social media interactions with prospective students. Don’t be afraid to jump right in and interact. Talk to them about their goals, their college search, what they want to gain from college. Don’t be salesy, just ask questions. A cornerstone principle for working with people: Be genuinely interested in what they care about (just ask Dale Carnegie.) Show sincere interest, and I think you’ll be amazed by what you learn. Speak their language. (Just pace yourself on the emojis. And don’t say “bae.” Just don’t.)

Build a persona

With this valuable info in hand, you can build a persona of your prospective student. These hypothetical students that you create will help keep your marketing efforts centered. How do you build a persona? Glad you asked—we just happen to have a guide to that process right here.  

Keep applying your new knowledge

What are some other practical ways that solid research can affect your marketing? Through a fact-based knowledge of your target, you can effectively tailor your marketing efforts to them. A recent study stated 91% of high schoolers would love to get tailored content from a university. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope a bit, take some risks, and see what happens! By applying your knowledge of what they’re passionate about, what social networks they value, and what emerging platforms they’re trying, you can go to them where they are and connect with them about issues they’re thinking about. That’s a win-win.

Tell us what you think!

How have research efforts affected your higher ed marketing strategies? What research tools do you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Not sure where to start to reach your next class of freshmen? We’d love to help.