The Higher Ed Marketing Problem

Over the past decade, Higher Ed institutions have embraced the digital marketing age.

Higher Education Marketing agencies have implored institutions to become storytellers, build a unique brand, and to align their web presence with key performance indicators like student enrollment. They’ve started to build CRM software into their admission’s strategy and employ modern marketing strategies.

The Myth

Marketing agencies promise to set a school apart from the others. For a hefty fee (in one survey, 61% of schools had paid more than $100,000 on brand strategy in the last few years1), marketing agencies promise to create a unique strategy that suits an individual school’s unique value proposition, with the ultimate goal of increasing student enrollment. Without implementing these strategies, schools perceive that their enrollment is at risk.

The perceived need to keep up with competitors has led to a marketing arms race in Higher Ed.

Here’s the primary issue - the vast majority of higher ed marketing strategies are not unique. They conform to industry standards on form, messaging, and style. Schools are spending six figures just to receive the same advice as everyone else. “Make a great first impression! Share what makes you different! Tell stories about real people!” In an analysis of school websites, many had similar information architecture, home and landing page styles, messaging, and content elements2

The Cost

College enrollment has been on a downward trend since 20113. Schools can’t afford for their marketing strategy to fail - higher education institutions are becoming more and more strapped for resources as enrollment decreases. 

Meanwhile, the investment to have a competitive marketing strategy is increasing in both money and labor costs. Implementing, managing and maintaining a marketing strategy takes work - and staff. Schools express a growing need for in-house technical and digital marketing resources to implement and maintain these new marketing strategies. 

If higher ed continues to spend more and more resources to carve up a smaller pie, the industry will exacerbate it’s lack of internal resources that these institutions need to adapt to the ever changing new world of higher education. Something needs to change. 

The Takeaway

As institutions grapple with the issue of limited resources, they’ll need their web presences and strategies to adapt. Marketing is the cost of doing business, keeping up with the competitors, and showcasing the core mission and values of the school. But if higher education marketing strategies are all so similar, is there a way to bypass working with an agency? Is there a way to jump to conclusions - spending less money and time in the process?

We think so - stay tuned for part two: Higher Ed Marketing Solutions.


http://clients.mstoner.com/white_paper/higheredbranding.pdf
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/02/why-colleges%E2%80%99-brands-look-so-similar
https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2019/05/30/college-enrollment-declines-continue