After working with two-year colleges for over a decade, we know the story: when the economy improves, two-year college enrollments go down. So while it isn’t shocking that technical and community college enrollment is down almost 23% nationally compared to 2010, it’s more important to fill the student funnel than ever.
But that funnel can look like more of a sieve, with so many places students can drop out:. from the moment they begin researching their options to application submission to actually enrolling in classes or finishing that Associate degree. It’s important to nurture students every step of the way with relevant content and messaging to ensure you can get—and keep—students in seats.
It doesn’t need to be a costly or labor-intensive process to turn the sieve back into a funnel. With the right content for the right audience and marketing automation, you can boost your enrollment numbers and prove your marketing efforts’ ROI by creating warm leads and re-engaging current and lapsed students with content relevant to their point in the student journey.
Every effort you put out into the marketplace should start with a deep understanding of your intended audience. Quick—think about the type of student that applies to your college. Can you picture them? Do they have a name?
We’ve written about personas—the fictional representation of your audiences based on data—before because we believe they are a critical foundation to marketing planning. It’s impossible to meet your audience’s needs if you don’t know what those needs are.
1. Identify your audience types: You know your audiences best. Start with your enrolled degree and continuing education audiences or the businesses you work with currently and expand your possible audiences to include desired prospective students or other parts of your community you’d like to reach.
2. Gather the data you have about each audience: Good sources of data include application and information request form submissions, CRM data, your website Analytics and information from admissions team members and others who work directly with students. A quick survey can also be a great tool to collect data about your intended audiences.
3. Start looking for patterns and trends in the data: Align characteristics, like demographic information, as well as their behavior and attitudes, to each audience group.
4. Based on common characteristics, identify a persona or personas to represent each group: You might have one persona or multiple personas based on what the data shows.
5. Review your personas: Are any personas too similar? Is anyone missing?
6. Name each persona and create a persona profile: Common things to include are age, gender, a representative photo, the context for how they interact with you, and their goals and possible barriers preventing them from meeting those goals.
7. Map the persona’s student journey: How does this persona interact with your communication channels? What key messaging should they see at each point along the journey? What barriers need to be addressed?
Most technical colleges will have a minimum of four personas: two for degree- seeking prospects and students (traditional and returning adult students) and two continuing education prospects and students (professional development and enrichment students), but you should also consider other important personas such as employers in your community or student influencers like parents and guidance counselors.
Taking this important first step to better understand who you’re talking to will ensure you provide them with content that meets their needs.
The best content strategy starts with minding the gap—that is, the gap between what your personas already know and their ideal state. The gap is where your expertise and information can meet your audience’s needs and help them get to the next point in their journey.
Brainstorm all the things your personas need to know to help them get to their ideal state. At this point, it’s helpful to include the people at your college who interact with prospects and students directly. They can tell you the questions they get most and point out areas where each persona struggles or needs more information.
Once you have your content ideas, map them to the student journeys you created when you finalized your personas. What is most relevant to each persona as they’re considering your college or right after their acceptance? What barriers might they face in submitting an application or researching financial aid and how can your content and information help them overcome those obstacles?
After you align your content ideas with the student journey, you can create a content plan for each persona. Start by identifying the channels that would be the most appropriate to deliver that content and the timing for that messaging.
With a solid understanding of your personas, an understanding of their needs and a content plan to address those needs at the most relevant part of their student journeys, you just need to set up your automation. Align emails, blog and social posts, articles and other content with behavioral triggers in your marketing automation platform of choice. If you don’t already have a marketing automation system, check out our Marketing Automation Comparison Tool to find the best platform for your school’s needs.
For example, a prospect who fills out a degree interest form could receive a series of emails aligned with the admissions process to help her navigate the application system, finding financial aid and registering for courses. Or a student who was previously enrolled full-time and hasn’t registered yet for the upcoming semester could be provided with reminders and suggested courses based on his degree program.
By creating an automated response based on behavioral triggers, you can align your content to each persona’s needs without the need to manually intervene each time, saving your team time and effort while still providing a personalized experience to students and prospects.
By taking an audience-centric approach to marketing automation, you can provide students, prospects and members of the community with exactly what they need at the exact right time in their journey with your college. Need help developing your strategy or choosing the right MAS? Let us know!