Marketing for Every Moment of the Student Engagement Lifecycle | npENGAGE

Marketing for Every Moment of the Student Engagement Lifecycle

By on Aug 23, 2019


Higher education, student recruiting

Higher education marketers have herculean missions! Your work attracts new students, engages current students, and delights alumni and donors. There’s so much ground to cover when you’re planning an engagement strategy for much of your target audience’s life. Here’s where to focus at every stage.

Attracting Students

Potential students are excited and nervous all at once. They’re looking for an institution that catches their eye, so your technique for becoming their first choice needs to have a fresh, new spin each year. As marketers, we’re always trying to stay on top of the latest trends—and college-age students are a discerning audience.

Start the connection online

Nearly 2/3 of teens use social media to inform their college decision.  If you’re not putting your best foot forward on social media, you’re not reaching them! Use an editorial calendar to help manage what you want to share with prospective students and their families. Use interns to help you retain your edge. Current students can help you get the platform and the messaging right for peer audiences.

“Let me google that for you!” A full 67% of applicants use search engines as their first source of information for higher education institutions. What does this mean for admissions marketing? Your institution probably has competing SEO priorities but ranking for words and phrases common to college seekers is a strong way to get noticed (and land on the first page of Google search results).

Is your website fully mobile optimized? The average smartphone conversion rate is up 64%—this means that people are making decisions to fill out forms, download more information, and buy things all from their phones. If your site still requires someone to sit in front of a laptop for the best experience, you’ll shed all but the most motivated mobile phone users.

Follow up with mail

Direct mail is still a closer. Its response rate is 5-9x more than email, paid search, or social media. While mail is expensive and old-school, it has earned its continued place in your admissions strategy. If you aren’t finding this to be true, I’d love to hear what methods you are using instead below in the comments!

Hold Students’ Attentions

Make it intuitive

Up to 1/3 of high school graduates with plans to attend college never arrive on campus that fall. Sometimes students’ plans change, but marketing plays a key role in keeping students excited and on track to start their first semester.

Your first task is to help make on-boarding less painful. Students are stressed and overwhelmed when facing questions about tuition, loans, housing, books, and classes–not to mention the personal stressors they’re experiencing as they transition to this next chapter of life. Being there when questions arise makes the transition more successful. Use automation to remind students about deadlines and forms. Create online resources for them: how-to videos, blog posts, answers to frequently asked questions. Social media activity can keep the excitement alive over the summer and offer friendly advice for navigating new experiences.

Deliver on your Promise to Educate

Reach students where they are & deliver what they need

Once on campus, effective communication helps students have a great experience and navigate any difficulties they might be facing. Two million first-time, full-time students who begin four-year colleges each year will drop out before earning a diploma. A thoughtful strategy can help chip away at that statistic.

A strong internal marketing plan helps students find what they need, whether it’s finding food, housing, or childcare, or discovering scholarship applications, tutoring opportunities, and job placements. Integrated marketing efforts from all areas of campus make this happen.

If they’re having a good experience as they work toward their degree, students begin to build affinity for their institution. Events, activities, and a relevant social media presence help solidify their affection and the memories they carry with them after graduation.

Engage Alumni for the Future

Grow your audience

It’s no secret that new graduates are tough to connect with—especially if you’re trying to develop a donor relationship with them.  A full 87% of higher education institutions report struggling with young alumni engagement. Even formerly engaged students become harder to reach once they’re off campus.

For many institutions, alumni engagement is a means to an end—donations. But your alumni can tell if you’re primarily interested in their checkbooks. The experience has to be a two-way street. To help build value for their alumni, UCLA has successfully experimented with life-stage specific programming and events. When alumni feel their alma mater still has something to offer them, they’re more inclined to make a donation whether they’re 25 or 50.

The Takeaway

Engaging people throughout the student lifecycle takes the work of many different marketers working across departments. However, a common focus on meeting students and alumni needs will help you maintain the engagement necessary at all stages. Need more ideas? Here are 3 High Impact Ways to Increase Marketing Engagement.


As the Director of Vertical Marketing and Strategy for Blackbaud’s Higher Education Solutions group, Tiffany is accountable for leading the strategic management and execution of the team’s go-to-market strategy across the entire higher education landscape in North America. Key areas of responsibility include the strategic planning, commercialization and go-to-market execution of launching solutions and services to meet the ever-changing needs of Higher Education institutions. Additionally, Tiffany leads the team that evaluates and introduces new solutions to the market to affect the entire income stream on campus through partnership and acquisition- one recent example is the acquisition of AcademicWorks scholarship and award management solution into the Blackbaud portfolio in April 2017.

Tiffany maintains a strong commitment to nonprofit leadership and has served on a number of nonprofit boards and steering committees supporting her alma mater, mentorship programs for women beginning careers in Marketing and Technology as well as organizations combatting the many issues that arise with hunger and homelessness in our community. Tiffany currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Lowcountry Food Bank.

Comments (4)

  • Amy D. says:

    You can never say it too much: MAIL IS NOT DEAD. Thanks for the reminder!

  • M. Kominars says:

    Great content as a professional as well as a parent to college bound children. Thank you!

  • Susan Swann says:

    Makes good sense – need to form a relationship with them from the very first meeting, not just later when you want something!
    And pay attention to where their interests lie through they involvement with the organisation – identify their passions.

  • Karen says:

    My daughter is a senior this year. She is struggling. Your article is a great read and I am going to look at some of the links you have included. Thank you.

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