Marketing refers to any actions a company or higher education institution takes to attract an audience to its products, services, or campus through high-quality messages. University marketing aims to deliver standalone value to its unique target audience in a way that grows recognition and reputation.
Universities' spend on marketing is often spread among many departments, including student recruiting, athletics, and fundraising. A 2019 SimpsonScarborough survey found that institutions spend between $429 and $623 per enrolled student, per year, on marketing.
Additionally, colleges collectively spent $2 billion on marketing in 2018 and $2.2 billion in 2019, according to Kantar. Although the total declined at the peak of COVID-19, it nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2021.
Among the most prominent players include the nonprofit Southern New Hampshire University, which spent $144 million on advertising and promotion in 2019. The nonprofit Western Governors University spent $127 million that year. And the University of Maryland Global Campus announced in 2019 that it would spend $500 million on marketing over the following six years.
Any credible college or university will have recourse to some positive stats and will possess its combinations of strengths and weaknesses. In people, we consider these variations as personality. The same goes for university branding.
First and foremost, a university brand must be authentic and reflect the reality of an institution. Higher education must also consider resonance with its brand, as the student body makes up the majority of people at any given institution.
For example, universities can poll or interview students to uncover their preferences, aspirations, concerns, and essential educational values. Doing so will help the institution understand which of its own strengths to highlight the most in its branding strategy.
But defining a university brand is complicated, so stakeholders at all levels must be involved to ensure that the brand is accurate and effective.
The key players at a university must all pull together to achieve brand goals. If the brand is teaching quality, academics must be passionate about teaching, and universities must present marketers with compelling, illustrative stats.
One tip to keep in mind when defining a brand image is consistent branding across different mediums. For example, a clear divide between a billboard and a Facebook advertisement creates confusion, and the university may come off with a split personality.
Websites must therefore reflect the brand. But universities should always simplify. Students want straightforward, concise content to avoid any distractions. Overall, they want to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently.
Social Media Presence
Social media is one of the critical components of marketing plans for higher education, as it is an ideal way to showcase the campus, student life, and academic and extracurricular opportunities.
In higher education, social media is used in various contexts, including language learning, writing development, after-class discussion, synchronous and asynchronous communication, community building, and curricular tools.
A recent Pew Research Center study uncovered that YouTube (95%), TikTok (67%), Instagram (62%), and Snapchat (59%) are the most prominent channels for young adults, which includes high school students considering college.
Therefore, social media is a handy tool in higher education, as it provides the opportunity to connect and cooperate in a flexible and approachable manner, supporting interactions between staff and students.
Creating brand awareness is crucial to set universities apart from others. For example, sharing the accomplishments of students or faculty members is a great way to increase brand awareness in higher education. The awareness could include a breakthrough research project, a successful student-athlete, or a student who has positively impacted the community.
Some institutions also use social channels to share their university's unique culture and history, encouraging current students to generate posts and interactions. Sharing a culture makes students feel included and allows them to share social posts across all platforms.
Additionally, universities that create a hashtag specific to their institution can gain attention from prospective students. Students could use the hashtag to share photos of acceptance letters, sporting events, campus activities, and other university-related content.
Other practical uses of social media for marketing strategies include a student social media takeover, featured student stories, and online tours on social media for prospective students interested in a university but can’t commit to an in-person visit.
Overall, the key to successful social media marketing is consistency. So, universities should create a social media plan, stick with it, and be responsive to DMs, comments, and mentions.
Most students attend college to get a better job with a higher salary. But the financial returns to college vary widely depending on the institution a student attends and their study subject. And many prospective students often ask themselves whether college is worth it.
In 2013, a Gallup survey found that 70% of U.S. adults considered a college education to be “very important,” 23% felt it was “fairly important,” and 6% said it was “not too important.”
In 2019, those figures shifted to 51%, 36%, and 13%, respectively.
Current admissions and enrollment decision-making and desires involve thoughts on location, price, and flexibility throughout the process. Therefore, another marketing strategy universities should utilize is proving their university is worth attending. Many parents and students won’t consider a school unless it’s proven to help its population.
Additionally, graduation rates can assist students in getting a sense of the quality of the college. These metrics give them insight into not just how many students are enrolling at that college but also how many are finishing their degrees in a timely manner.
A few points that higher education should consider when using numbers in their marketing strategy include:
- A market strategy specifically targeting this audience is the best way to get their attention.
- If a university actively promotes its higher graduation rates, it actively encourages its other departments in the process, speaks well for the advisors and professors
- Excellent statistics show that the staff is dedicated to ensuring its students graduate successfully, year over year
The recent downturn in undergraduate student enrollment at universities in the U.S. and countries worldwide pushes higher education to continue its focus on streamlining and improving its schools’ marketing strategy to ensure dollars are well spent and that students see their value.