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2021 Higher Education Marketing Trends

The pandemic, mixed with changes already happening, has changed how and where we work and learn. Now, even more people are researching and signing up for online courses. While this is a cause for celebration, it can be a losing battle for the marketer. Think of it this way: Though the number of students is increasing, stiffer competition and low conversion potential reduces the number of students who actually sign up. For marketers, this is a serious concern to address.

Not only that, students are taking their scholastic decisions into their own hands. From exploring courses that would suit their needs to the application process, their motivations are increasingly being driven by website content and channel messaging. This is not surprising behavior. But content loses its effectiveness when it is not quickly and easily processed by prospective students.

It is easy to jump into discussions around these problem statements from a marketer’s perspective, but here is another question: Is the role of the marketer the same? Is the CMO solely responsible for bringing in more prospects towards inquires? The answer is a resounding NO! Today’s higher education CMOs now realize that their teams are not simply lead-gen engines. They are responsible for much more than that. Enabling specific user behavior, lead nurture, application completions, and enrollment. Basically, a marketer’s purview is now the entire spectrum —from the moment a user reaches the website to revenue generation.

Why is this perspective important? The crucial factor is that solutions need to change too. We need more holistic answers to questions that are asked on a day-to-day basis. For example, instead of asking “Which channels are the most effective in bringing qualified lead-gen traffic?” let’s also ask “Which channels bring in more users who enroll?”

What does this entail?

Let’s look at the impact areas one at a time:

Data collection

Here is a common scenario: The marketing team has all the necessary data but does not know how to use it or, data is not being collected because its importance is unknown. One major shortfall here is that data is available only when it starts flowing in. So, if I need data in the future, the time to start collecting it is now. Here’s an example:

One of our clients started foraying into lead nurture recently and asked for inputs. We identified that their lead nurture data was available in the data warehouse, but it was not available directly in their reporting framework.

It only took a few weeks’ worth of engineering and analysis work to get that data flowing into the analytics tool for validation. But, to get the permission and the budget allocation for the work took almost six months.

Once the data started flowing in, they needed another three months of data collection to properly analyze opportunities. That is a timeline of more than nine months for a data point they already had! Simple advice: Start now.

New Reports, Filters, and Dashboards:

Different reports answer different questions. If you look at the data flow holistically, you need additional reports or, add analytic features that will answer new questions. The most important part here is to, at the earliest possible moment, keep track of action-based questions that are not being collected, and find an alternative. Your analytics partner should be able to help you here.

New KPIs:

Until now, the default dimensions and metrics provided by the reporting framework met your needs. When you change your focus onto new areas of the user journey, and to analyze the end-to-end behavior, you will need new metrics. For example:

  • Lead to Return Rate
  • Lead to Application Start Rate
  • Enrolment Rate

To get these metrics, you may need change your data collection methodology. But, keep in mind that you may already have these metrics and not know it. Your analytics partner should be able to take up most of the work in identifying the right data sources. The partner can also figure out the data engineering work needed based on your requirements and be able to tweak the reporting infrastructure to collect it.

Data Integration and Complete Funnel Understanding:

Some of these data points can be stuck in silos. Different teams have answers to different pieces of the puzzle and its up to the CMO to bring the pieces together. This activity is of paramount importance to bring efficiency and ROI to the marketing initiatives. The CMO should be able to drive the acquisition campaigns with a complete understanding of its impact in applications and enrollments. They need to understand the impact of the lead nurture campaigns and how to strategize around these efforts in such a way that they work hand-in-hand to give a smooth conversion-driven experience to the student.

Possible Anomalies

A 2020 study, by cyber security firm Imperva, found that almost 40% of internet traffic is from bots. So, in order to make sound data-based decisions, we need clean data. But how do we take experience initiatives and channel investment decisions not knowing if our decisions are based on bot traffic? We need a constant monitoring effort here to make sure our data real. Your analytics partner should be able to plan this activity for you.

Impact of New Reporting

Here is the most salient point: Data analytics will show if tracking is effective and it captures the continuous behavior of the user. It will also discover any gaps between content and marketing strategies. The goal is to find opportunities, fix the data, and test. Converting this entire process into a content-marketing strategy for a continuous behavior-opportunity test-and-deploy cycle to increased conversions is the ultimate goal.

To make this happen, you need the right analytics partner — someone who’s done and dusted it. Find a mature partner who is well-versed in the analytics curve so they can find the right data at the right time. The right partner will guide you to look at the bigger picture, and the conversion funnel in its entirety.

The education industry is going through a similar upheaval that the retail industry faced at the advent of internet. This new standard began before the pandemic but has drastically accelerated in the last year. Now is the time to reevaluate your data, find missed opportunities, and better guide students through their journey.

Drive better results by understanding customer data