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Today’s enrollment marketers face an array of challenges when it comes to student recruitment. In an industry that is crowded, competitive, and regularly forced to adapt to the ever-changing technological and cultural landscapes, knowing how to attract — and convert — the right students to your programs can feel overwhelming.

At DD, we’re all about helping Davids beat Goliaths. Whether you’re the director of graduate admissions responsible for marketing 100+ graduate programs, an undergraduate admissions coordinator looking for tips on marketing arts programs, or a graduate program coordinator looking to market just one program, we believe this resource will be of great value to you (and if it’s not, be sure to drop us a line).

You’re more than welcome to read this resource from soup-to-nuts, but if you’re short on time, feel free to jump to the section that you believe will be most helpful for you.


A Changing Marketing Mix: Understanding Enrollment Marketing in 2018

In the past, most institution’s marketing mixes were simpler. They included the following:

1. Lots of Direct Mail
2. Some Email Marketing (renting College Board lists, GRE names, etc.)
3. Some Radio Ads
4. Space Ads (those $$$ metro and bus ads that some well-dressed salesman sold you)
5. Graduate Fairs

But in the past five years alone, enrollment numbers have made it apparent that these channels aren’t enough. Today’s marketing channel is much more diverse. It looks more like this:

1. A little Direct Mail
2. Lots of Email Marketing
3. SEO
4. Social Media
5. Pay-Per-Click Marketing
6. Digital Content
7. Blogging
8. Graduate Fairs
9. Radio

While the original channels that defined enrollment marketing are still present in today’s marketing mix, these new components must be added in order to stay relevant.

There is no silver bullet for the perfect enrollment marketing campaign, but there is a strategy that equips you with the tools and vision necessary to develop a strategy that is moldable, customizable, and personal to your recruitment goals.

The strategy is called Inbound Enrollment Marketing — a holistic marketing methodology that works for small and large schools alike.


What is Inbound Enrollment Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a methodology that focuses on creating educational content that pulls people toward your website where they can learn more about your institution on their own accord based on their interests and needs.


Students love content — and are consuming an increasing number of articles, videos, emails, and social posts each day.

Inbound Enrollment Marketing uses four phases: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight to turn strangers into website visitors, inquiries, applicants, and enrolled students.

Inbound Journey

The tactics present in each of these four phases of Inbound Enrollment Marketing are used to pull prospects through The Applicant Journey.


Inbound Enrollment Marketing is fundamentally different than direct, outbound marketing strategies. Inbound acts as a magnet that organically pulls in qualified website visitors, while outbound marketing tactics act more like a megaphone.

What differentiates Inbound Enrollment Marketing from Content Marketing? Inbound Enrollment Marketing adds context to your content. Content Marketing adopts an “if you build it they will come” approach to content creation, but Inbound Enrollment Marketing suggests that your content strategy must be conversion-centric in order to efficiently nurture prospects through The Applicant Journey.


In order to maximize the effectiveness of your content, you need to understand your prospects:

Track which media sources work best
Identify their needs
Offer relevant content resources
Personalize your marketing
Nurture prospects towards applying
Leverage marketing automation tools to increase yield rate


Understanding the Six Themes of Inbound Enrollment Marketing

Persona Development

Inbound marketing is a methodology that focuses on creating educational content that pulls people toward your website where they can learn more about your institution on their own accord based on their interests and needs.

Imaginative Ivy

Age: 18
Location: Portland, OR
Archetype: The Artist

Goals: Ivy wants to enroll in 4-year university and major in English. Her dream is to one day write and design her own series of children’s books.

Frustrations: College is expensive, and Ivy fears she won’t be able to find a steady job in her chosen field.

Student personas are also not profiles of your current students. Your current students are very helpful in establishing student personas because you can learn a lot about the kind of students you are currently attracting.

However, your academic programs may be a great fit for prospects who aren't currently enrolled at your school. And what if you have a brand-new program? You would not have any current students on which to base your persona. So, don't just rely on information about existing students to define your student personas.

Simply put, student personas are fictional representations of your ideal student.

They are just like real people, with real personalities, identities, life situations, goals, challenges, and media preferences. The difference is that they don't actually exist.

Student personas are meant to represent a specific version of your ideal student – specifically the type of student you would like a lot more of at your institution.

Content Creation

Prospective students are professionals at researching what your institution has to offer them in the academic, athletic, and social scenes, but they don't want to navigate throughout your 200+ page website to do so.

They want to hear the real challenges and real benefits of receiving an education at your institution from the points of view of your faculty, alumni, and currently enrolled students.

They want to actually get to know your school - its personality, what makes it unique, what it offers them that differs from everyone else - they don't just want to learn about it generically.

Creating content like digital resource libraries, eBooks, guides, videos, checklists, financial aid calculators and more, will leverage your institution as a thought leader and validate your online presence as a true resource.

Personalization & Context

Inbound Enrollment Marketing provides a context for the content you are creating. It takes educational content and applies conversion-centric strategies and techniques in order to generate prospective applicants.

Inbound takes your content and tracks it with marketing technology in order to help you better understand what your prospective students are reading, watching and downloading so that you can send them more content that is highly relevant to them.

By developing student personas, and establishing effective marketing automation, you can personalize a prospect’s next visit to your website based on that contextual information you have already gathered about them.

Lifecycle Marketing

It’s essential that you create conversion-centric content that is relevant to each stage of the Applicant Journey. Your goal as an enrollment marketer is to nurture prospects through the enrollment funnel as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Inbound Enrollment Marketing requires “no marketing dead ends.” For example, if a prospect downloads an eBook on “If, When, and Where to Go to Graduate School”, chances are this prospect is in the “awareness” stage of the applicant journey.

Rather than simply thanking the downloader and giving them access to the guide on the thank you page, you should ALWAYS have a secondary content offer. So, in this case, offering a contextually-relevant guide on “How the Admissions Process at DD University Works” would make sense. If the contact proceeds to download this piece as well, chances are they will move through the Applicant Journey relatively quickly.

Multi-Channel Optimization

As you learned in the above section on the changing marketing mix, today’s student recruitment strategy requires a diverse marketing channel portfolio.

Inbound Enrollment Marketing is all about diversification! Inbound is about creating content that is relevant and appropriate for each channel: From social media, to email, to video, to direct mail, and more.

It’s not enough to take one piece of content and push it out on every channel. Inbound requires you to customize each content deliverable for the appropriate channel. For example, let’s say you want to promote a “Guide to DD’s MBA Program.” Facebook Leads Ads is a great tool to use when it comes to simple, content conversions.

Now, let’s say you want to promote this guide on Instagram and Snapchat as well. Since these platforms have different audiences and promote content in different formats, a “lead ad” won’t work.

So, you’ll need to get someone from the social app to a landing page on your website to download the guide.

Therefore, you’ll need content that is more “attractive and engaging”, which in this case, might be a short video on the growing value of an MBA.

Again, the end objective of generating new contacts from this guide remains the same, but the content format you use to achieve said objective will vary based on the promotional channel.

Marketing Technology

Marketing technology is the glue that holds Inbound Enrollment Marketing together — it’s what makes this strategy doable for busy enrollment teams.

Inbound Enrollment Marketing requires having an inbound marketing platform — like HubSpot. The marketing automation tools that HubSpot offers enables you to leverage prospect behavior data related to content consumption — a method that improves engagement and generates positive applicant conversion results.

You need the ability to know who is visiting your website and what they’re actually reading, before they even think about filling out your inquiry form. Marketing technology helps you do just that!


How Today’s Prospective Students Search

What are they looking for and how are they looking for it?

Prospective students want:

1. Quick answers
2. Problems solved
3. A place where their story can continue
4. Authentic examples

In 2016, a study showed that 62 percent of U.S. adults gleaned their news from social media. This percentage has increased to 67 percent in 2017. This statistic sheds light on how many people actually continue to get their news from social media platforms.

We’re living in a time where every barrier that prevents us from accessing the information we want, in the way we want, is being knocked down. Search algorithm updates like Google’s Quality Update and new devices like Amazon’s Alexa were created not only to deliver us authentic answers to the questions we ask, but also to intuit what we’ll ask next — all in a matter of seconds.

As search continues to evolve at such an exponential rate, it’s important that enrollment marketers stay “in the know” about how these changes are affecting student recruitment.

According to a study conducted by Fractl and BuzzStream, 48% of millennials consume more than 10 hours of digital content a week, and 35% of them are searching/reading this content between the hours of 8:00 pm and 12:00 am on weeknights.

Let’s say you’re a graduate school looking to increase your applicant pool: It’s essential that you understand when your target audience is actually online as this should influence the timing of your social promotions, the deployment of your emails, and the hours you should be available for online web chat.

Today, the Applicant’s Journey is highly fluid — it’s anything but linear.

In enrollment marketing we tend to use “funnels” to help visually depict the path students take from prospect-to-student. The reality is, technology has made it incredibly easy for prospects to jump around the enrollment funnel in a way that is anything but linear. Tools like The Common Application have made the undergraduate admissions process wonderfully easy for prospective college students.

Easy-to-create applications accounts have enable prospective graduate students to “start’ an application with only their name and email. While we like to think that students meet us at a grad fair, read our program requirements, check out options for financial aid, and then apply — it’s rarely that simple.

Today’s prospects read blog posts about existing graduate student experiences, look your faculty up on LinkedIn, watch videos about student research, and download content related to financing graduate education — all before ever submitting your inquiry form or completing their application. It tends to look something like this:


Interested in launching an Inbound Enrollment Marketing strategy for your school? Let’s chat!


Social Media Targeting is the New Outside List World

As more and more schools — at both the graduate and undergraduate levels — become test optional, list sources such as those from College Board, the GRE, GMAT, etc., have declined quite dramatically in performance. The quality of these prospects just isn’t what it used to be — and, because this pool is so much smaller than it used to be, odds are that your competitors are purchasing the exact same names.

The good news is that social media has changed the game when it comes to converting top-of-the-funnel prospects.

Each social platform has targeting options that allow you to reach qualified users that are looking to consume content that is relevant to your program offerings.

If you’re new to paid social, check out our Guide to Social Media Targeting to get started right away.

Let’s talk about Facebook for a moment. Facebook let’s you get as specific as you want when creating your target audiences. They offer a plethora of both demographic and psychographic targeting options. Here’s an example of a Facebook Ad and its targeting criteria:

Additionally, if you have a list of applicants and their email address you can upload them to Facebook and create a “Lookalike Audience” that will target users with similar demographic information and interests. This allows you to reach potential applicants who are most similar to those who have already applied, making it much more likely that they’ll convert on your ad and ultimately apply to your university.

If you already have a Facebook page with a decent fan base, Facebook’s “Audience Insights” feature will tell you the demographics and psychographics of your existing audience. This way when you’re building your next campaign, you can either stick with these already established audience features, or you can tweak your desired audience if you want to focus on a specific type of person. Facebook’s “Page Insights” feature will also tell you who is actually engaging with your posts, so you know where to focus your energy when building your campaign.

But here’s what’s REALLY important to note about targeting on social:

Social media is a place where people come to consume funny, informational, and inspirational content. It would be a mistake to go out to social media for the first time and create an ad that invites people to apply to your grad school. Enrollment marketers have seen great success when it comes to social media when they go out with content first.

Here’s an example of what a proper, Inbound Enrollment Marketing social strategy should look like:

Inbound Enrollment Marketing Social Strategy 1
Inbound Enrollment Marketing Social Strategy 2
Inbound Enrollment Marketing Social Strategy 3


Increased our RSVPS from social media by over 130% and increased our new contact conversions from social by 50%.

Click "Download the Guide" to access a downloadable copy of this page as an eBook to reference and share with your enrollment marketing team.

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Redefining “The Inquiry” — And Why There’s No Such Thing as a Stealth Applicant

Traditionally, enrollment marketers have defined an inquiry as someone who completes the infamous form that asks for everything from your birth date, to program of interest, to the name of your first born child ;).

The reality is, people hate filling out long forms — especially on mobile where filling out any form can be a true hassle. In today’s online ecosystem, long-form completion is associated with “big commitment.”

People fill out long forms when purchasing flights, hotels, or applying for a mortgage. Even though an “inquiry” is not the same as “applicant” or “enrolled student”, it can carry similar connotations.

But just because your website visitor-to-inquiry conversion rate isn’t going up, doesn’t necessarily mean that your website visitors are less qualified.

If you knew that someone was coming to your admissions’ blog every time you published an article on the value of a MSN, and you knew that this person was interacting with social posts related to the field of nursing, AND this person was visiting your MSN program page a couple of times each week, wouldn’t you want to interact with them in the same way that you interact with your formal MSN inquiries?

If anything, this individual may be even MORE qualified than a traditional inquiry since they are regularly — and actively — consuming nursing-related content.

This isn’t to say that the inquiry form isn’t important, but it is to say that there are likely several highly qualified website visitors that require a different pathway-to-application.

They don’t need to “inquire” because they’re reading about your program and faculty on The Grad Cafe, student blogs and vlogs, research forums, and third-party review sites like US News & World Reports.

So how to you help qualify these website visitors and “redefine” what an inquiry actually is? By utilizing the power of a marketing automation platform like HubSpot to build smart lists and activity-based nurturing communications.

Here’s an example of how to do this: Let’s say that you want to nurture qualified people who are interacting with content related to interior design to an upcoming interior design information session.

Step 1: Use smart lists to collect all people who have:

1. Read 3+ interior design blog posts
2. Viewed your interior design program page more than 3x in the past 60 days
3. Or have watched at least one of your interior design program highlight videos.

Step 2: Create a marketing automation workflow that will send these individuals an email inviting them to your upcoming event if they:

1. Read one more interior design related blog post in the next week
2. Visit your interior design program page again in the next week
3. View another interior design related video in the next week

Step 3: Write two more emails that will nurture these prospects towards event attendance:

1. If a contact meets the aforementioned criteria and RSVPs to the event, thank them immediately,
and remove them from the workflow

2. If a contact meets the aforementioned criteria, opens, but doesn't’ RSVP to the event, send
them one more email two days later that is HTML-stripped and “from” your program director

3. If a contact never meets the aforementioned criteria and the event passes, update the
workflow to simply trigger a “Let’s Chat” email that invites said contact to chat with a program

This is just one, simple example of how to alternatively qualify someone as an inquiry. Again, at no point in time did we ask these folks to fill out a traditional inquiry form, but, if they RSVP to an information session on your graduate program in interior design, are they not just as valuable (if not more so) than a traditional interior design inquiry?

Gone are the days where inquiries could be lumped into large categories and receive follow-up emails in batches. Potential applicants move at different speeds, process information differently, and consume content at their own rate. It’s your job as an enrollment marketer to develop several different pathways for prospective students to get to the “end of the rainbow.”

Finally, the technology available to enrollment marketers today, is unprecedented. You can know who is visiting your website, what they are reading, what they are watching, what they are clicking on, etc.

Marketing platforms like HubSpot have revolutionized the way that institutions of all shapes and sizes make decisions about where to spend their marketing budgets, what channels are performing well (and which aren’t), and what content types are generating the greatest ROI.

Today, there is no excuse for enrollment teams to have a “Stealth Application” source option in their CRM — since there is no such thing. People don’t just wake up one day and decided to apply to your graduate program. Just because you didn’t know they were there, doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

No one’s enrollment marketing budget is getting bigger. Today, enrollment marketers are required to spend smarter than ever before. In order to spend smarter, you have to have accurate data that informs you on what’s working and what’s not. If you don’t already have a marketing platform like HubSpot, it’s time to convince your team to invest in this software ASAP.


Leveraging Faculty Thought-Leadership As a Recruitment Tool

From researching scholarships to job interview tips, there are plenty of topics you can cover in your undergraduate or graduate admissions blog. The ones that will attract the most qualified leads, however, are the ones that are the most specific to your institution.

Writing about the particular subject areas in which your institution excels will help prospective students find you.

These topics, of course, are more difficult to write about for enrollment managers, who don’t spend every day immersed in them. So where can you find the content for a post about physical therapy?

Your faculty members can be a great resource for your inbound marketing content — not only are they experts on the subjects they teach, but they are also knowledgeable about the industry they prepare students to enter.

It would be great if they could write the blog posts themselves (and maybe some are even willing to!). More likely, however, they’re just as busy as you are, so it’s in both of your interests to make getting content from them as quick and painless as possible.

Ask them for content they’ve already written. Many faculty members are quite prolific. While an academic paper in its entirety is not appropriate for your admissions blog, you may be able to repurpose pieces of one for a post or eBook. Tell them what goals you have for your blog, and ask them if there’s anything they can think of that would fit your purposes.


Recruitment vs. Engagement When it Comes to the Enrollment Marketing Communications Process

 Using traditional communications flows are helpful, and just about every school sends out a series of emails in a drip sequence spread out over time that all drive prospects towards applying. The problem with those type of “comm flows” is that they start somewhere in the middle of a potential applicant’s journey and usually do not take into consideration prospect behaviors other than the fact that they completed an inquiry form.

The fact is, by the time prospects have completed your full inquiry form, they have already been consuming a lot of your content.

But fear not! There is a method to leveraging this prospect behavior data related to content consumption — a method that improves engagement and generates positive applicant conversion results. That’s why we made this resource — The Essential Guide to Content Nurturing Workflows for Enrollment Marketing — which will outline how you can take a stranger through the entire Applicant Journey and be able to increase positive engagement via content and email interaction using content nurturing workflows.

Recruiting students versus engaging with them is a fine-line – one that can make all the difference. As the years go by and potential applicants are growing up with more technology they naturally want more information, but in a simpler and more interesting way than in the past. Your content should be focused on engagement, not recruitment. Here’s a breakdown of the difference:


Sales language


 Personal language
— Permission

The engagement type of interaction with a potential applicant will keep your university at the forefront of their mind because of the value of your thought-leadership and resources, which is inherently different that the traditional recruitment method. It is based on permission from your prospect, rather than the potentially negative experience of redundant “sales” offers that don’t take into account all of the data that reflects prospect behavior. In short, it is the “nurturing” aspect of content that makes all of the difference.

Click "Get the Guide" to access a downloadable copy of this page as an eBook to reference and share with your enrollment marketing team.

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Ready to learn more about how to launch an Inbound Enrollment Marketing strategy for your institution? Let’s chat!