A comprehensive recruitment marketing strategy requires crafting and implementing tactics that effectively engage prospective students and highlight the unique qualities and opportunities offered by your university.
When you understand the needs and aspirations of your prospective students, use digital platforms, and employ personalized and impactful messaging, your institution can establish a strong brand presence, cultivate relationships with potential applicants, and ultimately secure the enrollment of highly qualified students.
Use this checklist as a starting point for developing your comprehensive recruitment marketing strategy.
Set Your Recruitment Goals and Objectives
Establishing clear and measurable targets is the first step of any recruitment marketing strategy. These goals may include increasing overall enrollment numbers, diversifying the student body, targeting specific geographic regions, or attracting students from underrepresented populations. Objectives within these goals can include improving marketing strategies, enhancing outreach programs, strengthening relationships with high schools and community organizations, optimizing online presence, and implementing data-driven approaches for identifying prospective students.
What you get: These goals and objectives provide a roadmap for your recruitment team. They guide their actions and enable them to track progress, make data-informed decisions, and ultimately achieve desired enrollment outcomes.
Identify Your Desired Prospective Students and Create Personas
You may feel like you have a strong handle on the makeup of your ideal prospective student but identifying them and creating personas are crucial steps in developing effective marketing recruitment strategies. It’s important to analyze demographic data such as gender, location, and family income, as well as information like interests, values, and lifestyle preferences. This helps you understand their needs, behaviors, and motivations. And then create student personas — fictional representations of your ideal students — by conducting surveys, interviews, and other research.
What you get: By identifying your ideal prospective students and creating student personas, you get a deeper understanding of the students you are engaging and can develop strategies that speak directly to their needs. This student-centric approach enhances the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, improves engagement and satisfaction, and ultimately helps drive admissions.
Incorporate Parent and Family Communication
Parents are more involved in their student’s recruitment journey than ever. They have more influence than ever. Their impact is felt earlier than ever. And they are more skeptical than ever. (That’s a lot of evers!) Just as you must understand the priorities, values, habits, and needs of your prospective students, it’s equally important to understand their parents. Who are they? What’s important to them? Also, just like their teenagers, parents can be finicky when it comes to outreach from universities. It’s important to have an iterative, multi-channel, and multi-touch plan that helps them help their students navigate the enrollment process.
What you get: Opportunity! Three out of four parents consider themselves “very involved” in their student’s college search process. But only slightly more than half say they receive communications from colleges directed at them. This means nearly 50 percent of parents who wish to be very engaged in their student’s decision process are not receiving any communication. This is a massive, missed opportunity … because parents are the most important influencers for current prospective students — more than their friends, more than their fellow students, more than their high school guidance counselors.
Craft Your Authentic Brand Message and Value Proposition
You’ve probably read a lot about Generation Z’s desire for authenticity, the need for authentic messaging when trying to reach them, and the idea that, as a university, your marketing must appeal to them through your uniqueness, your originality — your realness. Gen Z grew up on the Internet, in a digital jungle constantly advertising and marketing to them from seemingly all angles. This has made them a savvy and suspicious lot. Authenticity in your marketing — cultivating a “be you, be real, be here” sense of belonging with your prospective students — is crucial to attracting students who will thrive on your campus and help you meet your enrollment goals. Simply put: your brand messaging must describe the type of experience each student will have at your institution if they decide to go there.
What you get: Students who truly belong at your university. Students who will retain. Students who will thrive. Your institution has its own unique story, heritage, offerings, and brand. Don’t look, sound, and feel so much like your competitors in your marketing.
Conduct a Competitive Analysis
This involves assessing the strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and positioning of your competitor institutions to gain insights and improve your own recruitment efforts. The steps for conducting a comprehensive analysis include: identifying your competitors, defining parameters (enrollment numbers, program offerings, admission requirements, tuition fees, scholarships, facilities, faculty qualifications, student support services, extracurricular activities, and marketing strategies), gathering and analyzing data, conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, evaluating marketing strategies, benchmarking against best practices, and monitoring and adapting the competitive landscape.
What you get: An ongoing process that informs your overall recruitment and marketing strategies. By understanding your competitors and the broader market, you can make more informed decisions and position your university effectively to attract and retain students.
Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Measuring Success
How do you track, evaluate, and measure the performance of your comprehensive recruitment marketing strategy? How do you measure behavioral engagement with your website and digital assets? Developing some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be useful. These KPIs may include everything from inquiry conversion, application, acceptance, and yield rates to diversity indexes, cost per enrollment figures, retention and graduation rates, alumni engagement, and return on investment (ROI).
What you get: Performance indicators and metrics that align with your institution’s goals and priorities. Regularly monitoring and analyzing your KPIs can provide valuable insights to refine your student recruitment strategies and drive success.
By Christopher Harris, Ed.D., Senior Enrollment Strategist, Capture Higher Ed