Any successful marketer would tell you that the basis for success in most marketing endeavors is segmentation. If you start with segmentation (i.e., breaking your audience apart into discernible groups), a lot will go right with your program.

When thinking about becoming more successful in adult student recruitment, the first and most obvious consideration is that they are not the same audience in virtually any way to the teens and even early twenty-somethings you’ve been trying to attract to your traditional undergraduate curriculum. They’re a completely different segment from their demographic attributes, to their behaviors and attitudes, to the media they consume… so reaching them will require a different approach. In marketing terms you’re now talking about “acquisition marketing strategies” as opposed to brand and awareness building as part of more traditional “senior search” strategies and programs.

A second consideration is that the adult student segment generally cares less about your brand than you may think. Sy Syms, that pioneering discount retailer from the 60s and 70s used to say, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” I hate to break the news to you but most adults, especially those going back to school for an advanced degree are already educated consumers. They will generally do more research on your website and other education-related sites and be looking for different content then the traditional undergraduate. They will value time and convenience over the beauty of your campus and the liveliness of student life.

Prospective undergraduates may explore content ancillary to majors and minors, such as sports and study abroad opportunities, while the adult student generally wants just the facts to start (e.g., programs offered and duration, accessibility geographically and by time of the day or evening, and of course cost). They will also start their selection process with established perceptions about your brand already in place.

So why then do so many schools focus the preponderance of their marketing activities in adult student recruitment on positioning and building brand awareness? The unfortunate truth is that while branding is extremely important and a necessary step to success in adult student recruitment, it is not the silver bullet that will fill your graduate and other nontraditional programs over the short to medium horizon. Branding’s role in the adult student recruitment equation should be to inform your advertising and messaging strategy, so your brand appeals without losing its meaning to all the segments you’re focused on attracting. Now think about the majority of the marketing and messaging you have in place today and consider how relevant it is to the adult student.

Looking past considerations around segmentation, brand and messaging relevance, consider the media needed to reach the prospective adult learner. Historically, many school’s media strategy has consisted of deploying a branding campaign on the side of a bus or on a billboard, and maybe across a host of radio stations playing pop music or the news so the campaign doesn’t completely overlook parents. If this is your media strategy for filling your nontraditional programs from graduate to online, you’ve failed before you’ve even started. You need to begin swaying your thinking from brand positioning and promotion across broad base media (billboards, bus panels, and newsprint), to targeted marketing based on features and benefits. If you can aggregate your audience, there will be a way to reach them across digital and traditional direct media.

The bad news you will soon discover in pursuing targeted marketing is that you not only need to segment your target audience, but you will need to segment the programs you plan to market and develop often a completely different set of targeted media tactics for each program. You will find you can bring in the class solely using direct mail for some programs that aggregate around a profession, like nursing for example. Other programs like non-distinctive MBAs won’t allow you to aggregate, so you will need to call upon a litany of inquiry generating activities such as pay per click on Google, or Bing, digital display advertising on vertical sites focused on certain professionals or social groups, and lead aggregation sites like gradschools.com and Zinch.

Results from these various media tactics will change over time, so you will need to be constantly assessing the return on investment (ROI) from each tactic and shifting your media spend to the highest performing strategies and tactics to reach the educated consumer that makes up today’s adult student market.

For more information or help sorting through the adult student marketing equation, contact Stamats today!

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