Sending the Right Message in Higher Education Marketing

What’s the most direct route to your prospective student’s attention? What about their parents? Email, SMS, Snapchat, Whatsapp, the list goes on. Let’s take a tour of the messaging landscape, and how it applies to higher education marketing.

You’ve Got Mail

Just ask Meg and Tom, email is still the most direct way to reach your audience. 4.3 billion email accounts send 196 billion emails per day. Whether you want to reach teens (your next class of freshmen), millennials (grad school?) or their parents (who happen to hold the purse strings), email is still a solid way to connect. What should you keep in mind when spinning up your email marketing plan?

-Get their opt-in: as with any direct messaging, you need an opt-in first. Steer clear from list buying, and as much as possible, stick with organic list growth methods. How do you get them to opt-in? Offer value and engage them from the start! If you provide useful and entertaining content about your school, they’ll want to keep getting your messages. 

-Subject line and headlines: best practices apply. Subject lines: be concise, relevant, and don’t be spammy. Give a teaser but try not to be too corny. Headlines: make it easy to tell what it’s going to be about. You’ll probably keep them or lose them at the headline anyway, so be crystal clear.

-Mobile-friendly: Always, always, always mobile-friendly. Did I mention always?

 -Clear CTAs: Use friendly, action-oriented CTAs that make it obvious what action you’re looking for. And don’t say “submit”- nobody likes to submit. Think more: “send now” “let’s talk!” and “send message.” 

 -Segment and target: Nothing makes an email marketer cringe like the phrase “email blast.” Be targeted and specific, segment your lists and align your messaging to each segment.

And when targeting teens, don’t forget their parents (likely Gen-X or Boomers.) Boomers in particular are tuned in to email. 96% use email, 92% of them click through to websites in promo emails they receive, and 55% have purchased a product or service through an email. In the email marketing world, those are amazing numbers. Go get ‘em!

Just Text Me

Texting is huge for teens. 88% of teens have cell phones or smartphones, and 90% of those teens receive texts. The average teen sends 30 texts a day. So there’s an audience, that once plugged in, will be extremely attentive. Not as talked about as the newer platforms like Snapchat, SMS could be a dark horse that can provide solid value. Here’s a few things to keep in mind. 

-An interested market: especially with text message, an opt-in is a significant invitation. For better or for worse, text messages are somewhat intrusive (Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons, anyone?) so provide them value in exchange for that commitment.

-Keep them reminded of deadlines: use SMS as an opportunity to provide friendly reminders and lower your drop-off rate. “Don’t forget to finish that application! Wrap it up by January 10th for first consideration”.

-Get them involved: Use texts to encourage them to join in with fellow incoming students, and join online communities. That can help build engagement from day one.

Reach Out in A Snap

Snapchat’s momentum is growing by the day, and it looks poised to be the next Instagram for higher education marketing. With its instantaneous and “erasable” nature, it got off to a rough start, but those fears have mostly faded, and with Discover, major brands are establishing a voice on the fastest-growing social network. Higher ed marketers have started to adopt it on a more broad basis, and it looks like it’s all uphill from here.  

-Teens are tuned in: 41% of teens use Snapchat, making it the 3rd most popular network behind Facebook and Instagram.

-Millennials are too: 41% of them use either Snapchat or Wickr (a similar app.) So whether seeking out your next freshman class or promoting grad schools, your audience is listening.

-No fear: by jumping in with both feet and using an emerging platform well, you can show prospective students that you’re willing to engage with them where they live.

-Perfect for events: Snapchat is a great tool for real-time marketing of campus events, which not only boosts engagement but can show prospective students what it’ll be like to be on campus. Try creating a Story: Snapchat stories are a handy way to string together a series of snaps, and your Story will hang around for 24 hours on Snapchat.

What’s Up with Whatsapp?

Whatsapp is unproven for marketing at this point. It seems that the risk involved may not be worth the reward, especially since it hasn’t taken strong root in North America (it’s used largely overseas as a free messaging and calling service.) Whatsapp also shuns advertising, so it doesn’t look like the best medium to invest your time. Though it has potential (broadcasting, live conversations), it remains to be seen whether it’s viable for higher ed marketers. 

Rules of Thumb

Here’s a couple key things to remember on any platform:

No matter what medium you’re sending messages on, the golden rule of content applies: always be engaging. Whether you’re writing a 120-character text message or a templated HTML email, keep these three purposes in mind: to inform, to educate, or to entertain. Run your ideas and copy through those frameworks, and you’ll stay on the right track!

And always consider your audience. Your prospective student’s parents want to learn different things than your student does, and teens speak a different language than millennials. Run every message through those filters, and you’ll have a better chance of making a connection.

Tell Us What You Think

What messaging platforms work best for your student recruitment and engagement efforts? Have you tried an emerging platform and succeeded (or failed?) We’d love to hear more in the comments.

Ready to send the right message? Let’s talk. 

(Header photo credit: Tim Vacula.)

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