With 2015 almost upon us, it is high time that we turned our minds to predicting how digital marketing will continue to take shape in the year ahead. Digital marketing – search, social media, mobile, content marketing, and more – has certainly held our attention this year. Prospective students and potential partners are relying ever more on digital channels, and 2014 has in some respects been an interesting turning point in how many of us think about the place of digital in the overall marketing mix.
We believe that digital will take hold to an even greater degree in 2015 and we’re not alone. Forbes published a thought-provoking article earlier this month entitled, “6 predictions about the state of digital marketing in 2015.” We’ve been reflecting on it for a few days now and have reframed their six original predictions into the four that we think will have the greatest impact on international student recruitment marketing.
Content is (still) king
Forbes gathered responses from 20 experienced digital marketing experts to frame their predictions, and the first one they landed on was that content will be more important than ever in 2015. “As Google continues to get better at connecting related search queries, long, in-depth content will become more of a trend,” said Danny Tran, online marketing manager at digital marketer QuinStreet.
Adds Venchito Tampon, content marketer with Digital Philippines, “Content will make it easy for new and existing customers to locate and use the best products and services they intend to look for in various channels… Educating the target audience will now become the top selling point of many brands from whatever industry they are in.”
We’ve had a lot to say about content marketing over the last year or so. And it seems clear that an increasing emphasis on search optimisation, competitive positioning, and meeting the expansive information requirements of prospective students will continue to encourage institutions and schools to invest heavily in quality, original content.
In just one notable example, ILAC, an award-winning Canadian language school, has gone so far as to establish its own radio station, providing English language learning content along with music programming and a related series of podcasts and other rich content.
As the ILAC example illustrates, the point of content marketing is to promote the brand, and its products and services, by offering content that is informative or entertaining for the user. By providing something of value, the advertiser earns a share of the prospect’s attention and, in the best case, encourages them to engage with the brand.
“Internet users have become more cynical and ad-savvy, with interruptions to their online experiences unlikely to be rewarded and more likely to be ignored,” notes a recent post on the Euromonitor International blog. “The solution increasingly rolled out by marketers and online services is [content marketing].”
All together now
Forbes’ second prediction is that marketing channels – digital and non-digital – will become increasing integrated in 2015. “Content creation, search optimisation and social media will be less siloed as specific departments and treated more like skills that exist across the organisation,” says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing.
This is an important point and one that we wager many institutions and schools have begun to bump up against in 2014. Marketing and IT are distinctly separate functions and departments in many organisations. There might be a talented SEO specialist lurking within the marketing team but how connected is he or she to important IT processes or even decision-making or planning around web content?
This is a potentially culturally and structurally disruptive idea for many organisations but given the importance of digital marketing today, we may have reached the point where those traditional walls between marketing and IT need to be broken down, for the sake of providing a highly integrated experience for prospects across devices, channels, and media. And, more to the point, for the sake of driving conversions across an expanding range of both digital and non-digital touch points.
More mobile than ever
At the start of this year, we said that, “Marketers will focus on mobile more than ever before in 2014.” And we are saying it again for 2015.
Forbes has a broader view of mobile trends for 2015 and points to important upcoming developments in advanced analytics for mobile as well as the rapidly expanding “wearable” mobile category (e.g., smart watches, fitness bands).
But if we bring this back more squarely to international student recruitment, the implications of the mobile behaviours that established themselves over 2013 and 2014 are inescapable for education marketers.
Tracking studies indicate that 30% of international prospects primarily access the web via a mobile device, and as much as 71% have at least looked at a university website on a smartphone or tablet. These numbers naturally vary by market to some extent. But in China, for example, 81% of Internet users (in the world’s largest source market for international students) reach the web via a mobile device.
In other words, if you have not delivered a truly outstanding mobile experience to prospective students in 2014 – especially one that is closely linked to key conversion processes for enquiries and admissions – you really will want to take steps to do so in 2015. There are simply too many prospective students that now rely on the mobile web for some or all of their education search and application experience.
Data for breakfast
The final Forbes prediction that we will highlight here is their expectation that marketing campaigns will be more data-driven in 2015. This means many things to many people but essentially it anticipates a renewed emphasis on measuring campaign performance and adapting or refining the marketing effort on an ongoing basis and in light of evidence-based findings.
“2015 will be the year of data-driven marketing,” says Alex Harris, a conversion optimisation consultant with AlexDesigns.com. “All design, advertising and social media will be focused on driving measurable results using cutting edge tracking and predictive analytics. Websites will focus more on optimising conversion rates than increasing website traffic.”
This rings true to us. We have for some years now seen a lot of emphasis on high-level web statistics, such as user visits or page views. Similarly, it is easy to measure campaign success against social sharing activity or Facebook likes. Increasingly, however, with the pressure building to drive to key business goals we expect that emphasis will shift to measuring the effectiveness of the marketing effort against real business outcomes. In an international student recruitment context, that means enquiries generated, applications received, students enrolled, and, ultimately, retention levels and graduation rates.
Safe to say that this is a subject we will return to regularly in 2015, along with the other early predictions we have explored today.