From prospects to enrolments: direct marketing in international recruitment

Today’s post will look at the all-important task of communicating directly with prospective international students – something that has changed monumentally since the days when sending out a glossy brochure was the main thrust of a marketing campaign.

Who is on your macro list?

Despite the amazing capacity of today’s digital databases, it doesn’t follow that your institution’s list of direct marketing recipients should be endless. It should be limited to students who might realistically enrol with you as well as students you actually want to see enrolled at the institution. Each of these potential pools of student will limit the size of the eventual list you will use.

Regarding the second criterion – desirable students – this will rely on your institution’s overall strategic goals. You’ll need to ask certain questions such as:

  • Are there key target markets the institution is focusing on? Are there markets that are currently overrepresented (and that should thus be limited on the list)?
  • Do you want fewer students requiring financial aid, or is this not a consideration?
  • Are there certain programmes in need of more students?
  • Do you want to attract elite students or simply more students?

All of these questions will impact the characteristics of your list, and may help to eventually segment your list.

Segmenting lists is a key aspect of direct marketing to students because it helps to make the marketing offer more specific, and more tailored to a student’s profile. The student will end up seeing marketing that he/she is more likely to find interesting.

For example, if I am a student with limited personal funds but high grades, I would want to see messaging that shows me how I can afford to go to a certain school and that other high-achieving students also go to that school.

You should also segment the list according to priority: send out your best efforts to the students you most want to attract, but reserve some of the campaign for secondary prospects in case too few primary prospects respond to the campaign.

Invest in the best lists you can buy – and remember that more (good) lists will produce a better pool of prospects to target. There are more and more lists to consider when marketing to international students: check out this new one using TOEFL scores as a qualifier.

But however many lists you buy, an essential part of the international student marketing function at an institution should involve securing “opt ins”: prospects who formally agree to allow you to send them communications, and provide their contact details (usually an email) to facilitate this.

Opt ins can be gathered from events, social media, the institutional website, or any other inquiry processes at the institutions (e.g., “Thanks for your inquiry, would you like to receive updates on our French language camps throughout the year?”). These opt ins have already had direct contact with your institution, have asked you to contact them, and are thus more likely to fall into the “likeliest to enrol” segment.

When are you communicating with students, and on what platforms?

The schedule you use to communicate with students – as well as the platforms on which they can be reached – is critically important. It is not enough to send an email blast to your list twice a year, no matter how good your list is. Consulting group Noel-Levitz recommends three times a year: autumn, late winter, and late spring. They also note:

“Successful campaigns use multiple contacts through multiple mediums – mail, e-mail, your website, social media – to reach prospective students. You want to target students with multiple messages because you’re almost certainly competing with many other campuses for their attention.”

Another important tip is to consider that your prospects are not all at the stage they can act on your messaging by enrolling.

A sometimes-overlooked segment for schools trying to enrol at the post-secondary level is students who are not yet old enough to consider enrolling at your school. Capture their interest and that of their parents with content that establishes the value proposition of your brand; even consider a mini-tour of the campus geared to their age or a fun videotaped Q & A session with current students about what they love about your school.

By doing that, you’ve caught their attention before the real heated competition among institutions begins – and you will thus have a better position from which to compete down the line.

What are you saying to prospects?

Having a good list is one thing; executing the marketing based on it is another.

Direct marketing gets a bad name sometimes because the worst efforts are so transparently impersonal and/or unsolicited: there is no sense that the organisation or institution knows whom the recipient is and what they’re interested in. Good direct marketing relies heavily on making things personal – it doesn’t seem like a horrible “blast,” and it interests rather than offends the prospect.

The cost of customising messaging is well worth it, since the alternative – too many general “blasts” – can lose you valuable prospects forever and tarnish the institutional brand. Moreover, customised communications have a better chance at converting prospects from merely being interested to actually enrolling. One MarketingSherpa case study found a 208% higher conversion rate for targeted emails versus “batch-and-blast” ones.

Once you have crafted content that touches directly on the interests of a segment of your list (e.g., news about your new MBA programme), it’s time to add a sense of urgency to the message.

Say you had obtained permission from a group of students attending an educational fair to contact them (i.e., they had opted in to receive emails and newsletters from your school), your message could include a deadline for responding in order to get a tuition rebate, or to have an application fee waived, or something else along that line. The idea here is to prompt action rather than have your email sit in the prospect’s inbox to possibly be forgotten.

How are you following up?

An email newsletter can be an excellent way to communicate with students who have indicated they’re interested in your school by opting in to receive communications before enrolling or by actually applying.

The latter group is important: just because students have applied doesn’t mean that they are sure bets – they have likely applied to at least a couple of other schools, and likely need more convincing to pick yours as the final choice.

The University of Chester’s marketing blog explains that a prospect-targeted newsletter enables institutions to:

  • Inform and interact with their applicants;
  • Demonstrate the real value of their courses through real-life examples;
  • Delve deeper than other marketing posts and explain what they mean;
  • Engage the reader through interesting content;
  • Bring courses to life, making them more tangible to the reader;
  • Validate any assertions made and consequently make them sound more credible and believable.

In general, as the enrolment deadline approaches, it’s a good idea to tailor marketing to the psychological profiles of your prospects. Consider the following:

  • What do they need to hear before they will enrol with you? Or, feel?
  • Do they need to see how happy current students are (possible marketing response: testimonials and increased reliance on student advocates on social media platforms)?
  • How successful graduates are (possible response: increased reliance on alumni)?
  • How much they will be supported as international students (possible response: more offers of live chats, Skype conversations, one-on-one calls with current international students)?
  • More certainty that they can afford to study with you (possible response: last-minute offers – and deadlines – for accommodations, transport, meal-plan savings)?

At the start of your direct marketing campaign, you will have a list. By the end – by the time you have a pool of students who are demonstrating real interest in your school – you should have sufficient knowledge about your strongest prospects that you can tailor messaging to prompt that final stage of conversion – enrolment.



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