The Power of AI for Your Higher Ed Enrollment Marketing Strategy

The Power of AI for Your Higher Ed Enrollment Marketing Strategy

Digital marketing media in virtual screen

Higher education enrollment marketing is complex. Colleges and universities must create and execute strategies across degree types (undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education or certificate offerings), modalities (on-campus, online, or hybrid), and individual schools and departments within the institution. Due to tight budgets and small marketing departments, many colleges and universities have had to take a one-size-fits-all broad approach to their marketing, or they’ve had to determine which areas to invest in at the expense of others. But AI is leveling the playing field and making it easier for institutions to scale their marketing efforts.

Machine learning, predictive analytics, generative AI, and automation are empowering higher education marketers to be more precise in targeting prospective student audiences and deploying personalized outreach at scale. With this technology, colleges and universities can identify top prospects and strategically place messages to move them through the enrollment funnel more efficiently than ever.

How Schools Use Digital Marketing to Increase Enrollment

Higher education enrollment marketing uses a range of activities to attract, engage, and enroll students. These activities may include traditional advertising (TV, radio, print, etc.) and in-person events. But as with other industries, digital marketing efforts have become key to moving prospective students through each phase of the enrollment marketing funnel—from awareness to consideration and onto conversion. Robust digital marketing strategies include well-defined target markets, audience segmentation, and precise channel selection to build compelling student journeys.

Particularly as more higher education programs and offerings go online and expand their reach into nationwide or global student audiences, it’s crucial for a well-executed strategy to include SEO, paid search, social media (organic and paid), email, text, and display advertising. For example, a user journey for an online MBA program may be similar to the following:

  1. The initial click to the university’s website comes from a non-branded Google search for “online MBA, no GMAT.”
  2. The user goes to a landing page and is interested enough to submit her email address but is not ready to share her phone number or talk with an advisor.
  3. Next, university marketers strategically communicate using a three-pronged approach:
    1. Send emails and texts with content targeted to her early phase of interest.
    2. Use remarketing on social media and throughout the web (video and display ads) to stay top of mind.
    3. Bid higher for any future Google searches she may conduct (e.g., “affordable MBA”) as they know she is aware of the offering.
  4. If/when the user interacts with the emails, ads, or the university’s website, her activity will be captured and factor into a CRM-driven lead scoring system that ranks her probability to have a conversation with a recruiter/advisor or even to enroll.
  5. The university uses the lead score to send personalized communication and messaging strategically created to answer questions and overcome objections based on her stage in the student journey.
  6. Her interest increased; she clicked on the “talk to an advisor” button in an email and enrolled in the university after the conversation.

This user journey is a relatively simple sample yet still fairly complex. Imagine dozens or hundreds of distinct user journeys for the same university across multiple course offerings. The amount of targeting, segmenting, and content creation needed to create personalized messages across thousands of prospects becomes untenable. That is, until we had the power of AI at our fingertips.

How to Use AI for Enrollment Marketing

Many of the media platforms and technologies digital marketers use offer AI features. This includes search and social channels such as Google and Facebook and CRMs such as Salesforce. Enabling the features activates algorithmic data analysis, predictive analytics, and audience segmentation, often leading to better targeting and improved ROI. Furthermore, generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and AI-enabled chatbots can reduce manual tasks and improve productivity.

Ways higher ed enrollment marketers can use AI to garner quick wins include:

  • Streamlined Content Creation: Great marketing campaigns require ample content and creative. The more you have to test, the better. Generative AI can scale production by designing images, producing videos, and writing content. Humans remain part of the equation as strategic prompts and iterative fine-tuning are necessary to ensure the output aligns with campaign requirements.
  • Improved targeting through machine learning and predictive analytics: Optimizing digital campaigns has always required a test-and-learn approach. A sample of audience characteristics and placement aspects marketers test include:
    • Gender
    • Age
    • Geography
    • Income
    • Time of day
    • How the targeted demographic reacts to images and messages

Enabling machine learning on media platforms (via smart bidding technology) or using AI-powered lead scoring in a CRM empowers the technology to do the testing for you. The AI takes the testing beyond the factors listed above, incorporating every known factor about a user and the market (e.g., device used, language settings, competitive factors) into its testing strategy. The end result is algorithmically driven targeting that can assist in better defining the ideal student/client profile.

  • Personalization: Use AI to communicate with prospective students in a way that is seemingly one-to-one. The technology can be used across platforms (social, website interactions, chatbots) and in outreach. AI’s understanding of exactly where a prospective student is in their enrollment journey, along with their demographics and the historical performance of similar students, enables it to put the right message in front of the right student at the right time.
  • AI-powered chatbots: Digital natives are accustomed to instant results and 24/7 business hours. A generative AI-powered chatbot can fulfill those needs and help strategically move prospective students through the enrollment funnel. For example, suppose a prospective student asks a question regarding application due dates. In that case, the chatbot can go beyond just answering the question and proactively suggest and schedule a campus visit—a known variable that increases enrollment probability.
    • Pro Tip: Leverage the chatbot beyond onsite conversations and integrate it with SMS text and messenger platforms to provide flexibility and allow outreach capabilities.

Each of the AI use cases listed above is interconnected. Content and user data should be shared across channels and platforms to ensure the best outcomes. Big data analysis and predictive analytics are required throughout, demonstrating AI's central role in enrollment marketing. Colleges and universities must adopt AI’s power quickly to stay competitive in the rapidly changing higher education enrollment environment.

Don’t fall behind the curve! Contact Everspring to learn how we can help implement the transformative power of AI into your enrollment marketing strategy.