Marketing online programs: Five questions to ask yourself

In a sea of online programs (often touting the same messages of high quality, low cost, great faculty, etc.), how does your institution stand out from the crowd? As new platforms to reach prospective students arise, sticking to traditional approaches might leave you falling behind your competitors. Ask yourself these five questions to help your institution market smarter — and gain an edge over the competition.

Are you visible?

In this day and age, it takes more than just having a website and a few social media profiles to be visible in the marketplace. It involves actively using them and creating a dynamic digital presence with regular updates. Digital visibility strategies include creating content and ads optimized for a specific audience to appear on relevant channels such as social media, websites, and search engines. When done right, Google AdWords and other search advertising can play a key role in your marketing initiatives. Search campaigns, however, need constant attention, optimization, and creativity. Overall, the goal of online marketing is to create content specific to the ideal audience and display it where they’ll be looking. The more people who find your institution, the more interest you’ll receive.

Are you providing a clear, consistent experience?

If your institutional brand is going to work across all audiences and markets, it needs to be consistent. And that means your processes need to be completely focused on delivering equal experiences to students and faculty both on and off campus. An important part of delivering on a superior experience is cohesiveness in brand messaging and outreach in order to provide high-quality leads that turn into enrollments. Being consistent doesn’t mean that your institution can’t change. In fact, consistency gives you a firm foundation for evolving into offering even more options for even more students. Once you have built or refined your brand through the consistent delivery of your brand promise, you are able to evolve and expand. Every interaction a prospective student has with your marketing materials and every person they come into contact with representing your school creates a brand impression. You should think through the entire process from the prospective student’s point of view using this lens.

Are your marketing and recruitment teams aligned?

Aligning your recruitment and marketing teams is the best way to fuel institutional growth efficiently and effectively — and keep them from pointing fingers at each other when challenges come along. Structuring and fostering a philosophy of consistent and constant communication along with relevant data is the key. This means defining not only goals and language, but also every stage of the recruitment process. By creating open communication and shared goals backed up with shared hard data and analysis, you can improve your marketing effectiveness, increase qualified leads, and track them through the entire prospect lifecycle: from first contact through enrollment. Defining terminology, developing a plan, and setting mutual goals can help you to align your recruitment and marketing teams, improving your efficiency and enrollment growth. Remember, the purpose of marketing is to produce students, not leads or impressions (which is the smoke and mirrors agencies will try to sell you).

Are you agile?

We’re not talking about jumping on every new channel that pops up or addressing every hot idea. By weaving agility through your business efforts, your institution can create environments that stay focused on where the current need is within the higher ed industry, and allow for quick pivots to respond to demands. Successful agile practices require some big, but manageable, changes to implement including a mentality of collaboration and cooperation across the institution that accounts for and encourages calculated risk taking. Do this by creating a culture and system for testing and optimizing, both at the channel and asset level. Marketing leaders can be famously confident, only the market response is a fair judge of performance.

Are you tracking your ROI?

Do you know if your marketing is actually working? Evaluating results is a top challenge among many institutions today. Tracking and measuring your ROI allows for an in-depth, data-backed picture of where your marketing dollars are spent and how many leads and students you’ve earned as a result. Clear and up-to-date data can also help you be strategic based on the results. This information can inform your marketing budget allocation so you can reinvest in the tactics that are bringing you a return and pull back on the weaker strategies. Now that you’ve considered the hard questions, here’s one more: Is your institution willing to invest in the resources and expertise internally to address these needs? Or are you ready to consider working with an outside partner who will bring these assets and investment capital to reach your institution’s potential? Read our free white paper to learn what other issues and costs you may need to consider when growing your online programs and get insights to help you answer one pivotal question — should you build or buy?


Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reaching more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Learn more

About the author

Rob is a Vice President of Business Development for Pearson. He’s been with the company for 16 years in both operational and business development roles and has developed numerous successful partnerships over that period of time. Connect on LinkedIn.

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