November 10, 2020

Enrollment Marketing Without Traditional Data Sources


As schools adapt to the lasting effects of COVID-19, many are finding it more and more difficult to rely on historically successful methods for recruitment, admissions, and retention. The pandemic has greatly changed many prospective student’s path to enrollment, key decision factors, and behaviors. 

Now, higher education is faced with another dilemma: how to approach enrollment generation when many traditionally-solid methods of data collection are gone. It’s a fear shared by many. A recent NACAC survey of higher ed leaders found that one of the biggest fears was a loss of the data sources traditionally used in recruitment, due to the disruption of COVID-19. If you’re struggling to adapt your student acquisition strategy to the new reality after coronavirus, here are some things you can do to set up for success.

What Data is Being Lost?

When higher ed marketers express fear over a lack of data, they’re speaking about the things that COVID-19 is now preventing from happening: in-person campus tours, standardized tests, and other face-to-face student recruitment events. These events once generated treasure-troves of data that schools could rely on for student outreach. But campus tours, typically requiring sign ups as well as parental information, are no longer happening. SAT and ACT tests, which provided colleges with list purchase opportunities segmented by scores or demographics, are on hold and under such scrutiny that many schools may opt to never use them again.

Without the opportunity to have these lists of individual prospects, schools are concerned about how they can continue to efficiently provide marketing drip campaigns to the right students. Fortunately, there are digital strategies available that not only supplement these traditional approaches, but in many cases can replace them entirely.

Set Up Closed-Loop Analytics and Lead Capture Opportunities

Closed-loop analytics is a system where data and tracking from marketing is reflected in your CRM or admissions data and vice versa. It’s a loop of information, with all systems talking to each other. And when properly set up, it allows you to utilize your CRM to see exactly where individual records came from, what stage of a student journey they’re at, and what additional touchpoints they may need.

Getting your digital marketing attribution and CRM information tied together is, in essence, remaking the traditional data sources that COVID-19 has eliminated. You want to be sure that you’re capturing basic lead information wherever possible across your digital presence. For example, virtual campus tours. Virtual tours are a huge draw now that in-person tours are on hold. If you set up lead capture on your website for prospects to register or access a virtual tour, closed-loop analytics ensure that their information in the CRM is clearly labeled as coming from a virtual tour – even potentially showing what marketing material first interested them in the tour. From there, you can segment out lists of prospects based on any other information and then use that list for additional outreach. It’s no different than someone showing up to campus and physically signing a form, except it’s done virtually and is readily available even during the pandemic.

Custom Audiences Across Multiple Platforms

Having those leads available for additional marketing is great, but only if you know the most efficient way to reach out. Traditionally, this is where schools might take a purchased list and broadly engage them with standard mailers or generic digital copy. Instead, use the segmentation available from your closed-loop analytics and incorporate custom audience campaigns across multiple platforms.

Custom audiences allow you to match a list of emails or other information to users on a platform, creating a specific audience to target on channels like search, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s a cost-efficient, low-risk way to follow up with prospects you’ve collected from things like virtual tours or online info sessions (remember to set up lead capture opportunities for those!). 

Tying multiple platforms into the mix at once allows you to customize the look of each ad based on the list. You can target the same prospect pool across three channels with ads each designed to fit that platform, advancing your school’s story with each touchpoint. No more one-size-fits-all mailers or email blasts to a single broad list!

Nurture Based on Milestones

Using traditional data sources like SAT score lists was successful for schools because it allowed a school marketer to know exactly where a prospect was at in their higher ed journey. Knowing someone had just taken the SAT or completed a campus tour gave confidence that they were at a good place for considering a school and engaging with marketing. Your CRM can help provide that same confidence and drive your nurturing efforts.

If your closed-loop analytics is set up, you’ll be able to see the journey that prospects are on once they become leads in your system. Segment and analyze CRM lists based on milestones being recorded, and compare that to your school’s typical admissions process. Are there a lot of virtual tour attendees who haven’t yet answered a follow-up phone call from admissions? Put them into a custom audience and serve them ads calling out urgency and deadlines for submitting an application. Pull lists of accepted students who haven’t committed their deposit, and engage them with remarketing efforts featuring student testimonials and deadline info in order to increase enrollment yield.

Just because some common ways of collecting prospect information are gone, it doesn’t mean your enrollment marketing has to suffer. The fact is, there are plenty of ways that digital strategies are efficiently replacing traditional data and list sources. With the right data collection and digital marketing tactics, you can continue engaging the most relevant prospects and pushing past your enrollment goals during COVID-19 and in the future. 

Curious how to shift away from traditional data sources to reach ideal prospective students? Get in touch with us today!


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