3 Can’t-Miss Data Innovations in Higher Ed Marketing


Janelle Penny

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Contributions to this article by Anna Heinrich

In more than 60 years of higher education branding and marketing, we’ve never seen a decade of such rapid innovation. The way we gather and use marketing data is changing all the time, and advanced technologies are evolving alongside a deeper understanding of decision-making behavior.

As such, the way we reach prospective students and their families must also evolve. What worked 10 years ago is, in many cases, secondary or even obsolete today.

Looking ahead to 2020, we expect these three innovations to drive advancements in higher education marketing – and drive results for savvy organizations that embrace positive change.

1. AI and Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) – when machines handle tasks traditionally requiring human input – has emerged as an important tool in marketing. In fact, 37% of organizations have already implemented AI in some form, such as speech recognition and language translation.

In higher ed marketing, AI can take many forms:

  • Chat bots that answer questions and help prospective students
  • Software that analyzes prospective students’ online behaviors and engagement
  • Text analytics software that can identify marketing trends from questions posed to students

In machine learning, a subset of AI, computers are “trained” to understand data through inference and pattern recognition. This process gives marketers insight into their targeted audience’s behaviors. For example, machine learning can sort through data to tell us what types of prospective students are engaging with our brand, what pain points they’re experiencing, and even how likely they are to apply or enroll.

2. Voice Search Strategy and Implementation

Being able to tell a powerful story about a college or university is critical, and the way we tell these stories is changing. Millions of prospective students are asking Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant to find the best colleges in their state rather than typing a phrase into Google: 59% of 18-24 year olds and 65% of 25-49 year olds are using voice search daily.

Higher ed marketers must capitalize on this phenomenon by optimizing content so it’s easier for voice search to find. A student may type “nursing school” into Google but will ask a voice assistant, “What is the best nursing school?” Longtail keywords and conversational language will better position your website to answer a student’s voice query.

It’s estimated that half of all online searches will be voice searches in 2020. Content strategies must evolve, both in optimization and governance, to keep up with voice assistant technologies. Google Home, for example, can now manage multiple commands given at once. The old method of “set it and forget it” no longer works in today’s digital world.

3. Imaginative Decision-Making with System 3 Thinking

To entice prospective students, we need to understand them. Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman created a decision-making structure with two tiers: System 1 and System 2. Consumer market research delves deeply into these systems to explain and predict behaviors:

  • System 1 decisions are the instinct-based decisions that we make when we first encounter a conversion opportunity (such as an Apply Now button on your website).
  • System 2 decisions are the brain’s attempt to rationalize and deliberate over the right choice (Do I have time to fill out the application? Do I have all my transcripts and other documents handy?).

Now a new tier, System 3, integrates imaginative thinking to understand student behavior. Imaginative decision-making involves envisioning an experience you’ve never had. Targeting System 3 requires a thorough understanding of your audience and the creativity to put yourself in their shoes: Can a prospective student picture themselves in your lecture halls? Would non-traditional students feel a sense of community?

As marketers, we want to tap into System 3 by creating an unforgettable experience for our prospective students, instead of providing only static information or transaction points. This means using data to understand their interests, motivation, needs, and goals. By doing this, we can create compelling marketing materials and real experiences that allow them to fully connect with our school.

Ready to implement these marketing innovations? Schedule a free consultation today

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