The field of continuing education is a burgeoning market. MindMax partners with universities to capitalize on that opportunity with technology-enabled services designed to help schools reach their specific enrollment goals.
In today’s professional education landscape, competition for student enrollments is stronger than ever and institutions are bringing in help to achieve their enrollment goals. In the latest UPCEA Marketing Survey, most respondents (79%) in the professional, continuing and online education market outsource at least some of their marketing needs, and 3% outsource everything.
If your organization is investing marketing budget towards filling the top of its enrollment funnel with qualified prospective students, it’s important to maximize that investment by providing prospects with an exceptional user experience once they enter your pipeline, or you could lose out to your competition.
While attracting prospective students is a challenge in and of itself, building an effective lead nurturing strategy is paramount towards achieving the greatest return on your marketing investment. To be successful, you need to be a full-funnel marketer—that means considering the student’s entire decision-making process when implementing your marketing strategy.
Top reasons why your institution should be nurturing its leads
You will convert inbound traffic to enrollments at far greater percentages
You will strengthen the relationship between your prospective students
It will allow you to deploy your media spend more efficiently
You will gain valuable insights into the decision-making process and timelines of your prospect pool
How long does lead nurturing take?
The student decision-making process varies greatly based on the program type, modality, and strength of the institution’s brand, so take these factors into account when building your lead nurturing strategy. Programs that require a larger financial and time investment are likely to take a great deal more nurturing before the student is ready to take the next step. Your content strategy should be tailored to your individual programs. Here are some examples of how long lead nurturing may take.
Typical decision-making timelines across program types:
Because prospective students’ needs are different at each stage in the funnel and for each program type, nurturing prospective students along their entire journey to give them what they need is ideal. The goal is to increase conversion rates at each stage of the process by providing timely, relevant communications that increase engagement.
Models for enrollment funnels vary a great deal from organization to organization and are greatly dependent upon which steps your prospective students are required to take throughout their enrollment journey. Regardless of the number of stages, the process of funneling the decision-making behavior of your prospects from awareness to consideration to enrollment remains the same.
Here is the MindMax enrollment funnel:
MindMax Enrollment Funnel
Top of the Funnel (TOFU) – Awareness Stage
This includes multi-channel demand generation.
Prospective students have identified a problem and are looking for answers, but they aren’t ready to become a student just yet. Content should be educational making people aware of your solution. Create content that will drive more qualified prospects to your website so you can collect more information to start having conversations.
Social media advertising (direct sponsored content)
Content marketing (gated content strategies)
The goals are to create awareness and drive website traffic.
Middle of the Funnel Stage (MOFU) – Consideration Stage
This stage includes website traffic to leads.
Prospects at this stage have moved from thinking they want to “return to school,” to “I am considering enrolling in a particular program.” Content here should be comparative; differentiating. Why is your institution and/or program the best choice?
Focus on digital marketing services that support lead nurture and convert students to become applicants.
The goals are to gain actionable lead population intelligence data that will inform conversion, predictability, and forecasting.
Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) – Decision Stage
This stage includes qualified leads to enrollments.
Prospective students at this stage have signaled their intent by submitting their application, but your work isn’t done yet. Most prospects at this stage are still considering multiple programs and institutions. Content that promotes your most important value propositions is key here. Share student and alumni testimonials, faculty stories, and professional outcomes (job placement opportunities).
At this stage, focus on multi-channel tactics that will support application through to enrollment.
Automated email campaigns
Outbound call campaigns
Digital remarketing strategies
The goals are to create prospect engagement, and an optimized enrollment strategy including an optimized CRM that can help manage your enrollment funnel.
By expanding your lead nurturing efforts to the full funnel, you’ll increase enrollment potential and elevate the prospective student’s experience. The goal is to increase conversion rates at each stage of the process by providing timely, relevant communications to increase engagement with prospective students.
Do you have any lead nurturing best practices to share? We’d love to hear them. Comment below.
There are many components of a successful institution and one of the most critical is the success of its enrollment program. Take into account that adult learner enrollment has slowed down significantly in recent years (by 1.5 million since 2011), and the challenge to enroll this particular group is at an all-time high.
Institutions of all sizes and marketing maturity levels can benefit from re-evaluating their enrollment and marketing strategy. We’ve found that by focusing on key components with small, realistic changes in mind, institutions can see a big benefit.
Here’s an example of how making a small adjustment of just two percent in the lead-to-app conversion rate resulted in six additional enrollments:
What we’ve gained from our experience in bridging the gap between universities and adult learners, is that there are certain parts of the enrollment process that can be adjusted to produce better results. Here are 5 key ways to improve your enrollment process:
Make sure your lead forms are concise
Use live chat to improve user experience and generate leads
Optimize your lead nurturing email campaigns
Streamline your application process
Develop a coordinated outreach communication plan for admits
1. Make sure your lead forms are concise
The average website-visitor-to-form-fill conversion rate is 3%-5%. If your numbers are lower than that, start by assessing the number of questions you’re asking on your lead forms.
One of the biggest considerations to reflect on is why you’re asking website visitors for specific information. Just because you can ask the question doesn’t mean you should. The more questions you ask, the more likely you’ll push respondents away.
Make the process easy and enticing by asking for minimal information such as a first name and email address. In later touch points (e.g., email and retargeting), you can gather more information.
Lead form best practices:
Limit fields to essential information – first name and email (only) are ideal
Place forms above the scroll
Use directional cues calling attention to the submission button
Write compelling copy and calls to actions (CTAs)
Integrate forms to your marketing automation tool – this should not be manual
2. Use Live Chat to improve user experience and generate leads
Live chat is a great way to help move prospective students along the enrollment funnel and generate leads. We’ve found it to be incredibly powerful because people who engage in live chat do so at a similar conversion rate as people making an inbound phone call. It’s an indication that someone is interested (i.e., has purchasing intent) and therefore it’s worth investing more resources and effort for this tactic.
Especially if your chat inquiry is a high-priority request indicating intent to enroll, the sooner you make the follow-up calls the better. In other words, the longer you wait to make follow-up enrollment calls, the less likely you’ll convert the prospective student over.
3. Optimize your lead nurturing email campaigns
An effective lead nurturing strategy can help progress prospective students along their enrollment journey. When creating email sequences, we follow the school’s mission to engage with prospective students and make sure we’re respectful, timely, and relevant. We encourage you to do the same always keeping a student-centric approach.
Key points to consider when optimizing your lead nurturing email campaigns:
Timing – what time of the day or night are you sending emails
Frequency – not too frequently or you risk harassing them, not to infrequently or they will move on
Open rates – if poor, test subject lines
Click-thru rates – if weak, test content
Successful emails – analyze the types of email that have the highest open/click-thru rates and replicate your findings across other emails
4. Streamline your application process
Overall, streamlining the application process will help conversions but you’d be surprised at how quickly it can get complicated. For example, as part of one school’s international student application process, the institution asked for social security numbers. The only problem is that international students don’t have social security numbers. If your application process is causing frustration to future students, you risk losing them.
Ask yourself these questions:
Have you provided all the necessary information prospective students might need?
Have you removed any barriers for someone attempting to apply?
Is your process easy to understand for your intended audience?
Can applicants complete the application in their preferred style of communication?
5. Develop a coordinated outreach communication plan for admits
Congratulations! You worked hard to get prospective students to the admits stage, but you’re not done yet. Of all the stages, this is the most critical. You have already invested a considerable amount of resources getting to this point. Devote the additional time and resources needed to convert applicants to enrolled students. One way to do so is by creating a scalable white-glove experience via a coordinated, multi-channel communication plan:
Include outbound calling as part of your outreach
As part of the call, include a message such as, “Congratulations on your acceptance, I’m calling to answer any questions you might have about the program.” Here, you will remove any potential barriers with a quick phone call.
During the call, you’ll find out more about the decision criteria. This is a great market intelligence opportunity. Be sure to collect and share that information.
Modify any email campaigns at this stage
Assess the messaging – are you providing useful information about the program? Can you run any promotions for enrolling early?
Assess the timing
Assess the frequency
Assess open rates. If poor, test subject lines
Assess click-thru rates. If weak, test content (ensure it’s personalized and relevant)
Develop your messaging so it resonates with a group that has already been admitted and makes them excited to be part of the program.
Improving just a few of the most critical tactics can have a big impact on your enrollment process outcomes, especially those with high purchasing intent and those that are at the admits stage. As with any successful program, taking a holistic approach that is student-centric will help guide you to necessary improvements and success.
What are some of your enrollment challenges or success stories? Share below.
Today’s digitally aware adult learners have many choices when pursuing continuing education opportunities. Institutions need to find effective ways to reach these future students and introduce the right courses or programs to them. So where do institutions begin? A great place to start is to develop marketing personas. Marketing personas will help you better understand your future students so you can make a powerful connection with empathy.
Marketing personas are a foundational element that should not be overlooked. They are essentially the blueprint to help institutions understand future students in order to identify when and where they’re most likely to be receptive to your marketing efforts.
Components of a great persona
There are many elements to consider when developing personas, but the most important goal is to create something that is actionable. If your personas are very detailed, consider creating an abbreviated version for each persona that is circulated to your marketing and enrollment teams. Simplifying the information to a one-page description helps team members to quickly identify with the personas and better target marketing and enrollment activities.
Here are some ideas for components to include:
Learning styles/schedule to consider
A nickname that’s easy to remember
Where to get info to complete your persona
The best personas are created from a mix of research and past student profiles. The more you can tell a story about the persona, the more you can help both marketing and enrollment teams to relate to the person, his or her pain points, and the motivation behind certain behaviors. Sometimes, you may not have the information readily available, and in those cases, use your best judgment to develop a working hypothesis until you can learn more. Re-assess personas yearly and review newly available information to make the necessary modifications.
Additionally, you may find that you have broader personas (e.g. lifelong learners, career advancers, etc.) and more specific personas targeting future students of a specific master’s degree program or certificate program.
There are several different places you can research relevant information. Here are some ideas.
Using historical enrollment data
Current students and alumni are one of the best sources of information. Surveying and interviewing students and alumni help you understand their motivation for enrolling in the program.
Using Statista to develop a marketing persona
Statista has free and paid information available. In this example, I accessed free information, Reasons for concern given by U.S. adults considering going back to school. This example would be better suited when researching a broad learner type.
Here, I can see that the top five worries for adult learners are as follows:
Taking on too much debt
Balancing work/family with school
Keeping up academically
Staying motivated and focused on schoolwork
Getting the schedule and classes to graduate on time
This helps me better understand common pain points.
Using Facebook Audience Insights to develop a marketing persona
Source: Facebook Audience Insights
Depending on the size of your audience, you can choose to search everyone on Facebook or everyone who is connected to your page. If your page audience is too small, expand your search to include “Everyone on Facebook”.
Source: Facebook Audience Insights
In this example, I applied the following filters:
Interested in Engineering
Has a college degree
Source: Facebook Audience Insights
Source: Facebook Audience Insights
This information helps me better understand the types of industries this persona currently works in.
Marketing persona components specific to adult learners
MindMax was founded with the intention of bridging the gap between universities and the adult learner—from professionals who need to add credentials to their resume, to baby boomers looking to pursue an interest. As you review your programs serving the adult learner, break down your personas to start researching. Here are two general examples, noting that yours may vary depending on several factors.
Sample 1 – Lifelong-Learner Lauryn
Age: 40-50 Salary: $75K Pain points: she’s an empty nester and finally has time to do something for herself; she has a thirst for learning that is not easily satisfied Relationship status: married Family status: 2 children Career status: currently working in a job 30+ hrs., she’s not tied to a specific career path Interests/hobbies: she’s innately curious and enjoys taking on new challenges, listens to podcasts, avid reader, including the New York Times, DIY projects, volunteering Learning styles/schedule to consider: because of her curiosity and acceptance of change, she is comfortable with online or in-person classes and won’t mind commuting since she can listen to podcasts during the drive
Sample 2 – Career-Advancer Allen
Age: 25 – 32 Salary: $80K Pain points: he wants to move up the ladder and make more money quickly; he needs to deepen his skills Relationship status: single Family status: no children Career status: currently working a professional FT career, in IT and wants to gain deeper knowledge in his field Interests/hobbies: popular movies, craft beer, building models Learning styles/schedule to consider: he’s willing to commute an hour if needed, he can take night classes and weekend classes, he may be interested in an accelerated learning path
Marketing personas are an important first step in empathetically connecting with your prospective students. It’s a look into their personalities and lives so that you can make informed decisions on how and where to market to them. Using a mix of research and past student profiles, compile the information making hypotheses as needed. If you have more than one page of descriptions, create an abbreviated version for distribution to your marketing and enrollment teams for recall and actionability. Be sure to reevaluate your marketing personas every year and incorporate new research and profiles and modify as needed.
Do you have any best practices with creating marketing personas? We’d love to hear about them. Comment below.