How empowered students have changed Education Marketing

Insights to connect with today’s empowered students

November 12, 2015

A decade ago, higher education marketing was a fairly simple exercise in awareness-building. If enough prospective students knew about your institution and had positive perceptions of it, then you could be confident that they would get in touch – most likely to ask you what courses were available, and get your advice on their next steps. As everyone working in the sector knows, a lot has changed since then. It’s become increasingly difficult to convert prospective students into students enrolled on your courses. But new research from LinkedIn shows that education marketers can gain a huge advantage from a deeper understanding of what motivates people to learn.

The challenges that education marketers face have a wide range of causes: the global economic downturn, which puts pressure both on marketing budgets and students’ own funding; advances in online learning that have created new forms of competition. But arguably the greatest change is amongst students themselves – and the way they go about deciding which Masters or MBA course is right for them.

Meet education’s empowered prospects

Today’s prospective students are hugely empowered. They’re able to tap into a broad range of peer reviews and expert insight on the courses that best meet their needs – and as a result, they already have a very strong idea of where they would like to study before they get in touch with any education provider. Two-thirds have finalised their shortlist before they speak to anyone in higher education – and on average only three schools make that shortlist.

To be considered, an institution needs to demonstrate its relevance to a particular prospect’s needs early in the decision-making process – and here, knowledge is power. It’s increasingly difficult to win in higher education without a precise knowledge of why your potential students want to learn more, and therefore what matters most to them when choosing where they will learn. Deliver relevant messages that talk to these key drivers and you will dramatically increase your chances.

Why knowing your target audience is all-important

The critical thing for education marketers to understand is that motivations can be very different for students of different backgrounds and different ages. Millennials in Europe are acutely aware of the need to increase their range of skills in order to secure their future career prospects, whereas, for GenXers it's a passion for learning that provides the strongest motivation for heading back to school. It’s dangerous to generalise within a demographic as well. For European Millennials, earning a higher salary ranks as the third most important consideration behind up-skilling and a passion to learn. Amongst US Millennials, it’s top of the list.

Understanding your potential students’ motivations helps you to plan content that relates your courses to their particular needs. And it should also inform which credentials are most likely to sway their thinking in your favour. Given their need to up-skill and enhance their career prospects, it’s no surprise that Millennials want a course and a school that will impress future employers. They are likely to pay note to university rankings, but also to the employment rates amongst your graduates. GenXers, on the other hand, are more likely to be influenced by the format and style of the course – and finding the right personal fit for them. 

Nurturing prospective students

As I mentioned earlier, knowledge is power when it comes to targeting today’s empowered potential students. But ultimately, it’s only as powerful as your ability to act on it. Developing different nurture streams for different segments of potential students is crucial to delivering the right content to the right people at the right time.

It’s striking how similar the process of students choosing a higher education course has become to the process of buyers choosing a solution for their business. Both involve target audiences with an appetite for educating themselves. Both involve extended decision-making committees (prospective students are influenced by employers, peers, family and friends) and both require marketers to target the right content at the right audiences at the right point in their decision-making journey. Nurturing your prospects is at least as important today in education marketing as it is in B2B marketing.

On Monday November 16th, we’ll be unveiling our full research into today’s empowered students at our Education Connect event in London. And we’ll also be exploring how marketers in higher education can use the LinkedIn suite of full-funnel marketing solutions to dramatically improve their conversion rates. It’s not too late to register for the event – and you can do so by visiting our Education Connect homepage.