2021 is an era of uncertainty, especially when it comes to education. We’re in a period of rapid change led by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For some companies in the education sector, it’s an exciting opportunity to discover new business opportunities like virtual learning. For others, it’s a race to modernize old delivery models as enrollment drops. As it stands, 75% of households changed their college plans in the last year — a frightening statistic for major universities, but an opportunity for disruptive startups to grab a larger chunk of the market.
With so many uncertainties, prospective students also need to feel reassured about where they’re investing their money and time. For this reason, many of the top education marketing trends of 2021 are focused on delivering transparency and ensuring confidence in the minds of the most qualified leads.
Leading with COVID-19 transparency
The COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread school closures as districts and universities faced student and teacher outbreaks — but even today, as pandemic restrictions ease, the guidance is murky and ever-shifting. Some schools are poised to require vaccinations and/or masking, but others are not. Some schools will limit certain activities and require testing. Other schools have already shifted to a virtual learning model, which upset students who were paying tuition but felt cheated out of the full learning experience.
With all the unknowns, the American Council of Education expects enrollment in higher education to drop by 15% among all students and 25% among international students throughout 2021.
During this time, the best thing companies in the education sector can do to market themselves is offer full transparency to prospective and returning students. How will admissions, courses and campus living be affected? How will you respond to outbreaks and changing guidance? Sharing your company’s policies that address these and other questions is particularly important if your educational institution largely relies on in-person learning.
Using a lookalike audience
This marketing tactic transcends the education sector — it’s actually a valuable method for most B2B and B2C businesses who plan to market on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. In short: a lookalike audience is an audience that’s similar to your current audience. Basically, you’re targeting people who look and behave like your existing customer.
You can build upon a lookalike audience by incorporating data from users who have previously shown interest through inquiries, information requests and by submitting forms. This will help you focus on marketing to the prospective customers that are most likely to show interest.
It’s hard to call SEO optimization a trend. At this point, it’s a tried and true baseline digital marketing strategy, and in 2021, it’s of particular importance to the education sector. Why? Two simple reasons: online learning is up, but search clicks are down.
The truth is, people are looking online for education — not just to research curriculum, but also for their actual learning. By 2026, the online education market is projected to have ballooned by 110%, but this extends far beyond the regular old online degrees that have been advertised on television over the last decade. This is innovation: think interactive learning platforms, language training, apps, functional skills development, spanning the gamut of higher education, hobby courses and corporate training.
You need to reach virtual students where they are — online. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that as many as 49% of Google searches end without a single click. This figure is part of a downward trend, particularly as people increasingly search on mobile devices. SEO optimization can help combat this by bolstering organic growth and ensuring that those looking for your services actually find them.
Getting a little less personal
Personalization is no longer a trend in marketing for education — it’s a prerequisite. Think of it as a core course, rather than an elective. So, where are we seeing personalization? It’s in:
● Segmented email campaigns: Would you really want to send the same marketing messages to prospective, current and past students? Probably not. Some research shows that segmented campaigns increase email marketing revenue by as much as 760%.
● Custom website content: For example, a commuter student at a state university has different needs than an international student, so using customized web content or landing pages will allow you to target both the most meaningful messaging.
● Dynamic social ads: This type of ad changes based on actions a user has previously taken elsewhere on the web. So, for example, if a user clicks on a course without enrolling, it could trigger an ad that promotes that specific course.
But that’s not to say personalization is always the right way. We’re in the midst of a cultural privacy shift where both Google and Apple seek to limit or completely eliminate the use of tracking cookies (i.e. the code widely used to create personalized ads). Luckily, there’s still proven value in contextual ads, ads based on website content rather than user behavior. In 2020, at a time when ad revenue historically sunk, a study found that contextual ads provided a steady increase in ad revenue over the course of six months.
What’s this look like in the world of education? Marketing courses along with content that’s similar in subject.
Embracing short form video
Video courses have long been rising in popularity, but video — particularly short-form video, is increasingly important to marketing in the education sector. Did you know that 50% of people who watch short-form videos tune in for the whole thing? That’s a wildly low bounce rate, and modern social media platforms have made this type of marketing more accessible to brands who previously didn’t have the technical knowledge.
Over the last year, we’ve seen businesses in the education sector use short-form video to:
● Showcase short tours of physical learning facilities
● Explain niche topics to draw interest
● Promote coursework through brief technical tutorials
● Highlight campus life and company culture
● Showcase student testimonies
● Answer common customer questions
● Host live Q&As
In addition to short-form video, education businesses that serve Gen Z have found increasing success by marketing on YouTube and TikTok. For example, one study found that 27% of prospective teen students admitted that YouTube videos played a major role in helping them decide where to enrol. Nearly 70% of prospective students used social media to help them research colleges and universities. At the end of the day, social media — and especially social video, remains an integral aspect of a modern education marketing strategy.
Since there is so much uncertainty in all industries, a suggestion – ‘and education is no exception’, or something like that.
Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services
From legacy Fortune 100 institutions to inventive start-ups, Ryan brings extensive experience with a wide range of B2B clients. He skillfully architects and manages the delivery of integrated marketing programs, and believes strongly in strategy, not just tactics, that effectively aligns sales and marketing teams within organizations.
Ryan is known for taking complex marketing and business challenges and developing solutions that simplify processes while driving customer outcomes and business value. He also thrives on guiding Elevation teams toward the execution of strategies that help companies succeed in new verticals while staying true to core values and brand integrity.