September 3, 2019

The Role of Parents in the Student Journey

The modern prospective higher ed student is doing some heavy lifting when it comes to researching where they’ll go to school. But buried in all that searching, comparing, and application submitting is another driving force that is often forgotten about: mom and dad. Higher education marketing often focuses on engaging the prospective student. But a strategy that leaves the parents out could be leaving a lot of success on the table.

Parents can be a huge factor in helping their children choose a college. Whether they’re focused on the financial aspects, future career opportunities, or even just the distance from home, parents have a number of reasons to get involved with the college selection process. And even if the decision may ultimately be up to their child, higher ed institutions can gain a lot of ground by providing these parents with the right information. When prospective students and their parents start seeking out your school, marketing to the whole family will take your enrollment-generation efforts much further than marketing only to the end user.

The first key to successfully engaging parents in your school’s digital campaign is to know the best places to target them. Using your existing paid search terms or broader display tactics won’t work. Even specific things like branded searches should be designed to speak to a prospective student. Targeting parents in digital higher ed requires a more nuanced approach. There are a few proven avenues that will help your school sell mom and dad.

Facebook Advertising

Social media has become very influential in the college selection process, especially for parents. Studies have shown that parents actually engage with a school’s social media presence more than students! Facebook ads are highly recommended for engaging parents because the specific targeting needs are pre-built within the platform. Within the “behaviors” targeting for Facebook ads, you can select “parents with teenagers (13-18 years old)” and “parents with adult children (18-26 years old).” While this isn’t the perfect range, it is a good start to narrow the audience down. You know ads will only reach parents, and you know the ideal prospective student’s age is there. By layering on additional targeting like location, income level, or the parent’s own education history, the ads can get more precise in reaching students that are a good fit for your programs.

Google Custom Affinity Audiences

Parents taking part in the college research process are likely looking at different dedicing factors than their kids. Prospective students will want to know about majors, campus life, athletics, and more. Parents will be interested in financing, the stature of the college (like national rankings, especially focused on academics), and proximity to home. And by considering the types of websites where parents might be seeking that research, you can use Google Ads to build a custom affinity audience for display banner ads.

This audience type allows you to input the websites and content keywords that your ideal user would be browsing. Build one by including financial websites or major college ranking sites. Include keyword phrases like “paying for college,” “saving for college,” “529 plans,” etc. Many prospective students are also deeply interested in these items. But if you start at the top (like with Facebook), you can then layer other demographic targeting to narrow things further to just parents. By serving banner ads to these users, you can start building awareness of your school without waiting for the parents to search for specific queries.

Don’t Forget Unique Messaging

Niche targeting to narrow your digital strategies to just parents is great, but it means nothing if they aren’t getting the tailored messaging needed to help build trust in your school. Serving the same information to parents that their kids are seeing won’t build a story. Parents need to see specific information that will help them not only recommend the school to their child, but feel comfortable and trusting in sending their child there.

This may include more focus on things like financial aid or location. But don’t shy away from the testimonial aspect, either. Direct reviews and quotes about a school can be a huge point of persuasion. Parents want to know that others have found success and safety there. Testimonials touting this, paired with the more informational approach to things like cost and location, are a great way to win mom and dad over. Once you do that, your more student-focused enrollment acquisition campaigns can pair nicely to provide an overall lift.

When it comes to higher ed marketing, there are endless tactics and technologies to optimize toward enrolling more students, while spending less marketing dollars. Engaging parents of prospective students is a big piece to this. With moms and dads consistently taking more active roles in the college research process, selling them on your institution could make or break someone’s enrollment.

Are you interested in seeing how parental targeting can motivate more prospects to enroll in your school? Let’s talk.

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