In this introductory blog post, we’ll discuss Step 1 of the enrollment funnel: exploring ways to harness your school’s differentiating factors to tap into new or existing Key Market Opportunities for your institution.
Step 1: Learn How to Identify Your Institution’s Key Market Opportunities and Build an Effective Strategy
Your goal is to increase enrollment without dramatically increasing your marketing spend. But is that even possible? The short answer is, yes—if you are willing to optimize your institution’s enrollment processes and work to streamline the student experience from initial inquiry to graduation.
Think of Key Market Opportunities as levers that, if pulled, would help increase brand awareness and grow your market share. Your goal in developing a new marketing strategy is to identify and prioritize the opportunities likely to reach the widest audience and create awareness about your institution.
That means having a clear understanding of your school’s unique offerings and how you can use them to create the perfect match with prospective students.
Understanding Your Differentiators
Differentiation can be a challenge in higher education. In fact, a recent Gallup study found that more than fifty higher education institutions had very similar mission, purpose, or vision statements, leading to the conclusion that many colleges and universities were not clear on how they stood out among their competitors.* But in order to reach new audiences and maximize existing ones, it’s critical to clearly identify how your institution is special.
For example, perhaps many of your competitors offer business degrees, but your institution is home to a unique co-op program that lets business majors apply their classroom learning in a real-world setting. Or, maybe your institution offers a nurse practitioner program designed especially for working healthcare professionals. Knowing your school’s best assets will help you target the students who are looking for what you have to offer!
Examples of differentiators include:
- Schools and Programs – What schools and degree programs do you offer that are relatively unique among your competitors, e.g. a seminary school or an online counseling program?
- Partnerships – Do you have valuable community partnerships, such as with a medical facility or other major local employers?
- Geographic advantages – Is your campus located in a strategic area, such as a major manufacturing or technology center?
- Populations – Is your institution known for serving a particular type of student, such as working adults or military service members?
- Unique features or opportunities – Perhaps your institution is a pioneer in online education, or requires every student to pursue a study abroad experience. Know what features and philosophies make you stand out from the pack.
- Network – Do students in your programs meet peers, mentors, or connections from internship/clinical requirements that help to place them in jobs after graduation?
Understand Where the Bulk of Your Existing Population Came From
Key to growing your student body is knowing who your current students are. Are they mostly local? Of traditional age? Do you have an unusually high percentage of transfer students? Understanding where your students are coming from, how they found your institution, and what influenced their decision to come to your school can help you reach a wider audience of prospects with similar needs.
For example, say your evening and weekend course offerings tend to attract parents and working students who need to fit their studies into a busy schedule. Or, maybe you have a program that offers course credits for life experience, which appeals to military service members or students coming to a degree with years of work experience. These populations represent existing Key Market Opportunities potentially worth maximizing, and you could use your knowledge of them to help clarify your institution’s identity and shape up your marketing strategy.
Stats to research include:
- Students’ employment status
- Students’ veteran or military status
- Most popular programs
- Percentage of evening or online students
- Percentage of nontraditional students (those who didn’t enroll right after high school)
- How students found you (marketing channels)
Identify Needs and Niches That Have Gone Unfulfilled in Your Market
In addition to maximizing the Key Market Opportunities you are already tapping into, it’s advisable to be aware of what you are NOT doing. Identifying where your institution could fill a gap in the higher education marketplace is a longer-term strategy that could help you envision new ways to expand your reach.
For example, if online counseling programs are few and far between at local colleges, what are the potential benefits of developing one through your institution’s existing School of Psychology? Asking such questions, and assessing potential demand for new opportunities, can help your institution grow and evolve in its mission.
Enhancing your marketing strategy requires you to clearly assess your institution’s identity, strengths, and ability to fill gaps in the marketplace. The challenge is being able to envision your school as straddling many different potential market opportunities, as well as diversifying its reach to a variety of audiences both old and new. Once you have identified your missed valuable Key Market Opportunities, you can create targeted campaigns to connect your offerings with students who fit the bill.
Stay tuned for Step 2, where we’ll explore the most effective ways to attract and connect with the audiences you’ve identified.