Content Marketing Stealth Applicants

If you’ve ever been to a beach along the East Coast, you’ve experienced them. Just as you’re enjoying a beautiful day of surf and sand, you suddenly notice something—a burning feeling. You look around, and you see nothing, but red welts begin to appear. You’ve just met the famous genus Culicoides, otherwise known as the no-see-um bug.

Stealth applicants may leave footprints

If current reports are correct, for most of you, over 47 percent of your current applicant pool falls into the category of no-see-ums, otherwise known as stealth applicants. Their application is the only sign that they’ve been around. But chances are they’ve been there, trolling your web pages, reading reviews, looking at rankings lists.

And now you’ve been “bitten” by someone you know nothing about. Who are they? What do they like? What will get them to choose your institution over the others (sometimes numbering over a dozen) who will accept them into their programs, give them scholarships, and woo them with shiny new facilities? Small wonder that yield rates at most schools are down.

Build brand preference through content marketing

The real solution to no-see-ums in your applicant pool is to begin building brand preference early in the decision-making process. Sure, “spray and pray” search efforts and traditional advertising can put your institution on a student’s radar, but they do little to move the student closer to matriculation. Content marketing (utilizing a combination of both “push” and “pull” strategies), begun early in the decision-making process and carried throughout the student’s enrollment journey, gives your institution its best shot at engaging a prospective student and building a preference for your brand that will dramatically increase the chance that you’ll actually enroll that student.

Offer real and practical content; not just marketing messages

Here’s just a quick example of how this can work: I consulted recently with a college that wanted to build enrollment in its master’s in social work (MSW) program. As you probably know, there are lots of competing MSW programs, and the occupational outlook isn’t nearly as strong as it once was. Working closely with the faculty, we created an e-book that offered 25 Things You Can Do with a Degree in Social Work. We then promoted this book via paid and organic media, on their website, and via email. As individuals requested the e-book, they identified themselves as prospective students, giving us permission to engage them in further discussions. We also entered them into “nurture streams”—timed communications really—where we offered additional content based upon where the applicants were in the cycle.

You’ll notice a few interesting things about this e-book. It wasn’t a program brochure. It didn’t talk about course hours or faculty or facilities. It offered something that returning graduate students wanted—security that their investment in an advanced social work degree would lead to a better job. Instead of selling a program, our client became a trusted advisor. Instead of marketing messages that would be met with cynicism, we offered practical tips.

The result? More applications to the program. But even more importantly, a significantly higher proportion of accepted applicants actually chose to enroll into the program. Another great benefit was that the content (because it was sprinkled with important keywords) helped the program improve its rankings on search engines

Find out about how a strategic content marketing program can help your institution turn no-see-ums into enrolled students. Email me at or call me directly at 518-591-4640. I’d be happy to chat.

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  1. Excellent article Randy.

    My last consulting gig discovered the client’s Stealth Applications were completed (over a four-year history) at a rate 25% lower than source identified Applications, .i.e., 79.33% versus 54.58%. And that Stealth applications made up 28% of all applications received.

    If the Stealth Application completion rate were to increase by 1% (1034 Stealth Apps received), the projected increase in first-year net revenue would be $41,500; four-year projected net revenue (taking into account the average discount rate, annual increase in tuition, and four-year retention rate) would be $132,000 +.

    Small changes in the Stealth Application completion rate can have very large impact on total enrollment and net revenue.

  2. Also, tracking the % of Stealth Applications as part of the overall Application count is another pivotal point in developing communications strategy. If a college has experienced a 23% drop in Stealth Applications (from 2013 to 2014), and a 1% decrease in overall Applications received (over one year; 10% over four years); red flags should be waving. Segmented, targeted communications to Stealth visitors is a major area of potential improvement within your communications strategy.

  3. Great Post Randy! Thanks for a great example of where smart content marketing helped “pull” the stealth applicants in.

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