Student recruitment, it's a lot like dating

We recently carried out a survey to all education providers in the UK and Asia Pacific (APAC). We asked those filling out the survey to tell us their priorities for 2018. In the UK, 80% of all sectors said student recruitment and retention were their main priorities. In APAC, around 65% said the same.  

Marketeers could say anything once upon a time, ad agencies even made cigarettes sound good for you.  Now, we have to say what we mean and honour what we do, if we don’t then we only disappoint.  

Disappointed students tell their friends (or anyone that follows them on social media) and they're going to look elsewhere, or if they've enrolled already, they're going to leave. Either way, that's going to cost you money and your reputation.   

Of course, reputation, location, and academic standard goes a long way.  But many institutions need to do more now to appear an attractive option. We now need to personally connect with our audiences. How? Let's look at recruitment as if it were the dating game. 

1. Understand your dating parameters

Persona mapping – You wouldn’t go on a date with someone just because they were 35 and based in London. Well, you might but there’s no guarantee that you would have an exciting time or have anything in common with the other person! You need to delve a little deeper than basic demographics. Find out what they like, where they get their information, what their hobbies are. In short, you want to know WHO they are. The same is true when recruiting your prospective students. If you're the best fit for each other, they are more likely to stay for dessert. But how do you get to know them? Interview your support staff and customer service people, ask questions on social media, get the conversation going.  

Communicate with current students, interact with them in ways that will produce meaningful results – survey them regularly, poll them on important topics, speak to them in interviews and at events and listen to what they are talking about on social media. 

Sort your marketing preference centres out so you can tailor content to them in the future and NEVER assume you know them.  

"Interview your support staff and customer service people, ask questions on social media, get the conversation going"

2. Be interesting

In the dating analogy, you walk into a bar looking good, you are single and ready to mingle. Your first move is to start shouting loudly about how great you are. It’s a bold tactic but at best you’ll be ignored, and people will suddenly find reasons not to be near you. The same can be said about marketing. Self-promotion isn't enough, and it only works with the people who are already interested in you. Focus your strategy around inbound marketing. Producing or sharing engaging, useful and relevant content that roots itself in the imagination of your target is going to get you noticed.  

3. Be honest!

It’s not a good idea to lie about your age! Don't sell an ideal or a disingenuous version of who you are. Focus on your strengths, don’t try to be all things to all people. It's important when connecting with your audience to let your brand personality shine.  Make your content stand out and deliver it with authenticity and passion! You can adopt a formal tone and still connect with your audience at an emotional level.

4. Get personal

Bursting into a room and asking everyone for a date, without even addressing them by name, isn't likely to get you very far. It's a waste of time and effort. The same applies in marketing. Whilst the spray and pray approach might give you exposure to a wider audience, it's pointless if that audience isn't ready to invest time in you.  

Make your marketing personal and interesting. Try and connect with the PERSON…use 'you' instead of ‘I’ or ‘we’ and tell them how you're going to help them. At the same time, avoid marketing jargon - speak like a human - and in your audiences' voice (this is where your persona research comes in, trying to wing it will only sound fake).   

Great marketing feels warm and inviting - try to make them smile in your content. 

"Focus your strategy around inbound marketing. Producing or sharing engaging, useful and relevant content"

5. The date is on!

Firstly, you've got to look good. Make sure your brand image will connect with your persona… go beyond your logo and corporate colours, show who you are by dressing up your marketing materials and a strong brand. Think about your tone and how it connects to your audience.   

Don’t be anti-social on the date. Encourage live tweeting, encourage your audience to share content and, most importantly, listen! Find out what resonates. Don’t forget to follow individuals for a more personal experience (though perhaps this one only works in the marketing world!).  

It never hurts to bring a thoughtful gift on a date. Once upon a time, a stress ball or pen might have been enough, but students aren't stupid. Give them a gift they want, something that's useful and relevant to them i.e. 'Download the Student App now for free'. 

6. Be cool...

You aren’t going to propose on the first date, and if you did you couldn’t realistically expect a positive response! Top of the funnel marketing content is not the place to pitch your institution. Focus on delivering content that meets potential students' needs or individual persona problems - get them to like you first.  Customise content for each stage of the decision-making cycle. Top of the funnel should be more thought leading i.e. addressing issues and concerns. Middle funnel level should feed into a little bit more about who you are, what you do. Bottom of the funnel is the place to start driving decisions.  

Getting potential students to move through the funnel is all about asking for that all important second date. There's no better time to ask for a commitment to the next stage than on the first one. Include calls to action on every piece of marketing, directing your audience to wherever you want to take them next.  

People may forget what you said but will remember how they felt. Strike whilst the iron is hot, or they will move on.  

"Go beyond your logo and corporate colours, show who you are by dressing up your marketing materials and a strong brand"

7. ...but not too cool

Don’t wait too long to call back after the date - follow up within 24 hours of contact. Schedule follow up activity via the most relevant channels for your target students. Do they actually use email or pick up their phone calls? Use lead scoring to work out how to prioritise large volumes.  

Show your date that you were listening - Use engagement data, look at how they responded to your marketing efforts via tweets, content downloads etc. and figure out how you can use that to tailor your follow up activity i.e. I saw you tweeted xyz and I'd like to talk to you about how we might be able to help you.  

Above all, be yourself and you’ll connect with the right match for you.  

(Dating) Marketing rule book:
  • Segment your data  
  • Personalise your content 
  • Connect with your audience  
  • Use the best technology tools available to you 
  • Humanise your content 
  • Give them relevant and useful content as gifts  
  • Personalise follow up  
  • Don’t wait to follow up  
  • Continue the conversation  
  • Make the next logical step  

Time to read more? Read how NESCOT communicates with their students with a dedicated student engagement app.