College enrollment in the U.S. is on a multi-year decline. Enrollment fell by nearly half a million from 2012 to 2013 alone. And many news outlets are speculating that the college admissions bubble is about to burst.
So how did one small Connecticut university defy the odds and increase its enrollment by 41% this past year?
A lot of smarts, and a little marketing magic.
The University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. credits its record-setting enrollment to “the quality of the University’s education, as well as to the employment of new and innovative recruitment strategies.”
But we wanted to know more. So we asked for the inside scoop on their marketing and admissions strategies from USJ’s marketing and admissions team.
[Spoiler alert: We knew before we asked; we worked with this awesome school on its website content and upcoming content marketing strategy. But we want YOU to learn their secrets, so we asked anyway.]
Overall, we shifted away from working with an expensive marketing agency and used the funds to develop our own work. We blended traditional outbound marketing with inbound marketing strategies, and focused on storytelling.
We created and launched the “I Will” campaign, which embraced and celebrated our Women’s college stature (rather than shying away from it). The campaign consisted of 12 commercials, which aired at key times in the enrollment cycle and hit shows that prospective students watch (according to research conducted on their interests). We used USJ students in the commercials (their words, their stories), which added an air of authenticity. The style was “emotional storytelling” intended to capture the hearts and interests of prospective students and their parents. Beyond TV commercials, the campaign included billboards, bus wraps, mall banners, ads in movie theaters, traditional radio and online radio.
We’ve been gradually shifting more of our advertising budget over to digital marketing from traditional channels. Connecting with prospective students in the digital space is obviously the right move, but it’s the ability to effectively target a particular demographic that makes digital marketing so effective. Add in psychographic targeting, and we’ve been able to tailor specific advertising messages to highly targeted groups on a program-by-program basis.
We employed strategic tactics to make sure our campaigns were effective, including multiple ad copy variations, multiple image variations, unique landing pages, calls-to-action with conversion forms, and an adherence to information scent.
If you consider a website as the centerpiece of your marketing efforts, it’s imperative that the website be optimized to effectively communicate information to prospective students, that they are able to easily navigate and find the information they are looking for, that we offer them easy ways to connect with us for more information, and that we offer relevant calls-to-action and conversion opportunities on just about every page of the website.
Our rebuild to a new website included a complete overhaul of the strategy and architecture. All of the content was rewritten to be web- and SEO-friendly. A fresh design was introduced, and the site was built to be responsive. The end result was a lean, marketing-driven website with calls-to-action and conversion opportunities throughout.
Adding “Learn More” forms allowed users to easily ask questions about programs. In the first year, 5,600 forms were filled out and the numbers are increasing during year 2. An early review of applications from 2/1/14 to 7/21/14 showed that 48% of applicants who had used a Learn More form were either enrolled, deposited, admitted, or accepted. The takeaway here is that the users communicating to us via our website are prospects that we need to pay close attention to because the yield is so high.
Lean, marketing-driven, web- and SEO-friendly content made the user experience better, as they were able to find and digest content easier. The previous version was extremely text heavy and cumbersome (also out of date in design, not responsive, etc). The transition from old to new was a bit of a culture shock from the community but we were able to succeed because we had the backing of the administration.
As for specific strategies and tactics:
The end result is a website that has maintained its integrity over the first year and beyond. There has been minimal degradation.
We won a Merit award from the Education Digital Marketing Awards. But the best feedback is in the enrollment numbers. It’s obvious we are providing better service to prospective students and making it easy to ask for and receive information. This also provides the opportunity to convert them from an inquiry into an applicant as we capture their information and develop a correspondence.
We are going to shift even more resources into digital marketing. And we are (still) working on a content marketing strategy — so stay tuned!
Thanks to USJ for letting us peek behind the admissions curtain! For more school storytelling inspiration, browse our FREE Resource Library, exclusively for Cursive subscribers.