Is your institution fully leveraging communications with prospective students? Answer three simple questions about your institution’s marketing communication practices:
- When a prospective student inquires for the first time, we send them an application or an email with a link to “Apply Now” or “Register Now” Yes or No
- We use postal mail to send catalogs to prospective students and wait for them to apply or register. Yes or No
- When a prospective student completes a web form requesting more information, we add them to a list and from that point forward, they receive mailings, emails, and phone calls from us about all of our programs. Yes or No
If you answered yes to one or more of the above, we need to talk. Better yet, you need to start talking to your prospective students (and listening to them).
Enrollment is a Considered Decision
First, applying or enrolling is a considered decision. That means you don’t go from first date to marriage.
And how we respond to individuals faced with an enrollment decision can be the difference between a registration and a lost student.
A prospective student inquiring for the first time may not be ready to “apply now” or “register now”. As enrollment marketers, we need to be prepared to listen to their needs and assist them in their decision process. Depending on the individual, that process might take months or even years. Daunting? Yes, but the more we recognize the gravity of the decision process, the better we become at providing prospective students with the information and the resources they need in order to arrive at the decision to choose our institution above the competition.
No one but the stereotypical used car salesman enjoys a high-pressure approach. Email marketing is a powerful communication medium that is underutilized for its real capabilities. Many of us use it, just not well. Instead of an email blast, think of an email as a small conversation, with an exchange of ideas including an opportunity to continue the dialogue.
Sending the right message at the right time can encourage a decision rather than frightening individuals away with the expectation of an immediate response they’re simply not ready to make.
Integrate Online and Offline Enrollment Marketing
Second, catalogs and brochures are great information pieces. But did you know that according to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2010 Response Rate Trend Report, the average response rate to a direct mail piece alone is less than 4% to a house list and less than 2% to a prospect list?
What might happen if you include direct mail as part of an overall communication plan that also includes email? Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student for a moment. Think of how powerful it could be to receive a catalog about an institution of interest and then receive a personal follow-up email a few days later referencing the catalog and offering to assist you and answer your specific questions. Suddenly, you’ve moved from a passive catalog mailing to the start of a real conversation, demonstrating that your institution understands that enrollment is a decision, not an impulse buy, and you’re here to help.
Qualify Prospective Student Interest
Third, examine your web forms and be sure you are proactively asking students how they want to hear from you and what information they wish to receive. Are you asking the student which programs or subject areas are of interest? Are you asking them about their enrollment timeframe?
Capturing that information and using it to build your communications with that prospective student demonstrates that you are listening and sending information the student actually wants, rather than bombarding them with info about every program you offer. Never assume that they want to receive all forms of communication just because your form required them to provide a mailing address, email address, and a phone number. By asking how they prefer to be contacted, you have immediately demonstrated that you care about their preferences. And when you ask for their communication preference, be sure you actually follow it!
A research study conducted by DemandEngine demonstrates that email is a preferred communication method for prospective students ranging from undergraduates to adult learners. Email works best when it is treated as a foundation for conversation; initiated based upon student needs, time horizons, and expectations; and paired with other channels.
Regardless of the channel, providing personalized content relevant to the recipient’s interests provides value and builds a long-term foundation for the relationship.
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