Four Predictions For Digital Marketing In 2015

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.

[Originally published on ICEF at http://monitor.icef.com/2014/11/four-predictions-digital-marketing-2015/ ]

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.

 

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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 analytic 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 inquiries 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 analytic. 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 inquiries 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.

 

How To Create An International Student Recruitment Action Plan

Worldwide student mobility has seen steady growth over the past several years and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon – in fact, OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 report projects international mobility to nearly double to 8.5 million students by 2025. The result has been intensifying competition, particularly among English-speaking colleges and universities, seeking the rewards of increasing and diversifying their international student populations. In this time of budget cuts and slowing domestic enrollment, internationalization has transformed from desirable bonus into institutional imperative, but achieving such goals is no straightforward task and resource efficiency is increasingly a necessity. – See more at: http://www.higher-education-marketing.com/blog/international-student-action-plan#sthash.P0cM2sRh.dpuf

While many admissions professionals continue to travel to distant corners of the world for uncertain returns, there is a growing understanding that emerging digital marketing techniques can deliver more effective results for far less of an investment. By embracing these new mediums, colleges can better control their communications and branding, reducing reliance on external agents while developing more flexible and customized management of the admissions process. Implementing these types of initiatives successfully requires a willingness to adapt to rapidly shifting student engagement expectations, understanding not only the continuous advances in available technological tools but the cultural nuances of various target markets. No small challenge!

Going global takes more than just talking the talk – many higher ed institutions passively court foreign students with little more than an international page on their website and perhaps some “one-size-fits-all” attempts at social media or PPC ads in other markets. While this might be enough for super-brands like Harvard, the vast majority of colleges and universities with international enrollment increases cite active recruitment as the reason for their success.

Creating a Culture of Internationalization

Making internationalization a true priority means taking a longer term, bigger picture view of its role in enhancing your institution. More and more universities are publicly declaring internationalization a key component of future success, embedded in strategic plans or elaborated upon in high level documents.

Example: The University of Calgary highlights internationalization as a “key strategic priority” in their pursuit of becoming “a global intellectual hub”, according to their recent International Strategy document. The 24-page report highlights their commitment to these goals by illustrating current activity, tangible targets and strategic goals, namely:

Increase diversity of our campus communities Improve global and cross-cultural competencies within our campus communities Enhance opportunities for international collaborations and partnerships in research and education Leverage our unique areas of expertise to engage in international development

These kinds of documents serve to galvanize key decision makers while providing a shared reference for different stakeholder groups to further the school’s mission.

Expanding strategic international partnerships, research collaborations, exchange and study abroad programs, and alumni relations can greatly enhance a university’s educational capabilities, student opportunities and participation, brand reputation and much more. Colleges can strive to improve the experiences of incoming international students, thus growing valuable word-of-mouth referrals among other benefits, by broadening orientation services and retention tactics. Promoting internationalization means providing the pathways for growth, including resources for increasingly culturally diverse students (and staff) on campus to learn from each other.

These are all long-term projects demanding visionary leadership – but what can schools do right now for more immediate results?

Feeling out Markets with Paid Search

International strategic enrollment management begins with establishing and communicating clear goals for the number and types of students desired, leveraging enrollment data to forecast trends and develop realistic targets. Focus initial efforts by choosing markets with the best potential for your institution – likely typical leading countries of origin (China, India, South Korea) but sometimes smaller nations that have an established presence at your school. Also consider focusing marketing efforts according to preferred academic discipline and degree type.

Unique cultural and language considerations add an extra layer of complexity when going global – choosing appropriate keywords is not simply a matter of direct translation. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is a tremendously cost-effective method of revealing insights about potential markets, since expense is only incurred when prospects actually click your link. It is a great way to learn which search terms are popular and which ads better convert, letting you see which combinations of keywords and messaging are more effective in a particular market. For an in-depth look at PPC for international student recruitment, our previous blog on the subject is an excellent starting point.

Google AdWords has a free Keyword Planner tool for searching keyword and ad group ideas, but keep in mind that Google isn’t the most popular search engine in several important source countries. Before launching a PPC campaign, it is essential that ad copy fits the requirements for the applicable platform, landing pages have been created on your website and analytics tracking has been established. Landing pages must meet expectations created by the ad copy and concisely convince prospects to take the next steps, such as completing an application or “request information” form.

International Search and Mobile Trends

Recent data analysis from Google shows a continuous increase in education-related search volumes, confirming that the student decision journey has indeed moved online. Non-branded search queries by prospective students uncertain of which school they wish to attend are rising at a faster rate. Google’s internal tracking revealed that queries including geo-specific keywords generated strong click-through conversions. Increasing specificity by promoting particular degree and academic programs in specific locations is recommended for better results.

Of course, going mobile has been another top priority for higher education marketing. Optimizing for mobile-device usage is even more important for international recruitment, since a majority of users in several source countries are mobile-exclusive. A negative mobile experience on your website is enough for 35% of prospects to move on to the next potential college on their list, according to internal Google research. Make sure you have your most important bases covered when developing for task-driven mobile searchers – top selling points of your school, programs and admission info, videos and application forms are among the most popular features to include. Shorter forms are far more likely to convert. International students will also want to know things like financial and study permit details.

Internationalizing Websites

One of the biggest challenges of internationalization is developing your website to appeal to multiple markets and languages. Although many options will technically work, using a top level folder on the same domain as your other content (rather than a subdomain or microsite) lets you develop a customized experience with fully translated paths while enhancing your SEO. Keep in mind that search engines won’t give your pages the same value if they think it’s only an auto-translation (or if content is out of date), and to avoid the issue of duplicate content you must create the proper links between translated content to alert them if it’s a translation. Alternate hreflang link tags let search engines know how content should be prioritized.

Right-to-left languages like Arabic require the appropriate fonts and additional “rtl” tags at the top level block element. Content using Chinese characters and other logographic languages presents the additional challenge of modifying the page layout and structure to accommodate the unique condensed properties. While providing content in multiple languages can be complex, it can go a long way to effectively communicating with foreign prospective students and, perhaps even more so, their parents. Ensure that users can easily navigate between available translations – the clearest way is to prominently display the language name written in that language at the top of the webpage. Even if you have multiple international websites, avoid auto-directing based on a user’s IP address as it will irritate prospects and inhibit Google’s crawlers from discovering your sites.

Content and Social Media Considerations

When developing any content for international audiences, it is vital to understand your target market as much as possible, including the local language (in the way that prospects actually speak), cultural norms and expectations, and priorities in education search. Try using student assistants to help develop or translate content and always test with various groups to ensure that messaging is clear.

Social media can be a valuable tool for discovering more about prospect groups through online conversations, informal surveys and the types of posts that receive greater interaction. Communication on these networks can serve to filter unqualified prospects and reveal insights about language proficiency, interests and your brand perception. It is an opportunity to showcase different sides of your institution and reinforce alumni successes.

International Lead Conversion

It is important that inquiries from all prospects, domestic or international, are addressed effectively and promptly. Students expect a quick email response, even if it is initially an auto-response with some helpful links – Hotcourses Abroad found that if given two similar universities, students from China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore would choose the one that responded fastest. Prospects prefer personalized responses signed by a staff member they can continue correspondence with.

Best practices:

Address the student by name Answer the question personally and in detail Provide helpful additional information, including social media and relevant links

Email drip marketing campaigns can efficiently track and manage large quantities of inquiries for the entire student life cycle, automatically triggering customized messages based on specific conditions that provide effective resources while minimizing staff requirements. Instead of leaving it up to prospects to continue correspondence as many colleges do, be persistent and frequent in your responses, varying the types of follow-up messaging and addressing potential concerns with multimedia supplemental information to increase the odds of making a connection.

Virtual Campus Tours and Hangouts

A campus tour is a big part of most students’ decision processes, providing the opportunity for them to envision if they can really spend their next four years there. International students rarely have the luxury of visiting a prospective campus ahead of enrollment but virtual tours can help bridge the gap, emphasizing a school’s strongest features and providing a glimpse of campus life. Google Maps Street View also offers interior virtual tours of some schools and a few US-based universities are already developing tours using new Oculus Rift virtual reality technology.

To get better personalized interaction despite the distance, more colleges and universities are adopting web-conferencing via easily accessible tools like Google Hangouts. These digital face-to-face tools not only allow admissions personnel to engage directly with international students, but also clarify solutions using whiteboards, share documents or slideshares, and guide prospects through relevant webpages via co-browsing. To make the most of these opportunities, school personnel should develop and rehearse a script to work from and test all equipment many times beforehand.

More International Recruitment Ideas

Digital marketing is advancing all the time, providing new tools for schools seeking a competitive edge in reaching prospects across the globe. Here are some innovative ideas for colleges and universities looking to access the world:

List with international portal sites Develop apps featuring application tips, sample lectures, campus videos/pictures English-language training (online modules and/or collaborations with other training facilities) or online language exchange Reach out to international alumni (through internal networks or tools like LinkedIn) to support recruitment activities

Whichever initiatives you pursue, improving your international student recruitment can best be accomplished when you have a thorough and accurate picture of your web activity. When managing several social media and other student marketing channels covering various markets, it becomes even more essential to have a clear system to reveal what is working where and monitor your ongoing reputation – software and student assistants can help. Google Analytics can help you to understand your student mix and top source countries so you can track and monitor your progress while effectively segmenting and customizing communications.

For colleges and universities seeking to move from passive to active international recruitment, Higher Education Marketing has created the new International Recruitment Action Plan with two service packages designed to generate measurable ROI improvements with immediate results.

What is your biggest international student recruitment challenge?

Five Ways Higher Education Marketing Will Change in 10 Years

marketing trends

(Source: www.oneproductions.com)

Initially published on http://www.evolllution.com/. It is no secret that higher education is more competitive than ever. The most competitive institutions frantically try to climb over one another to be the first to connect with a potential student. And it isn’t just the for-profits either. Many non-profit institutions are beefing up their advertising budgets and marketing departments in order to hold onto their corner of the market. Some non-profits are dedicating more than 20 percent of their annual revenues to drive their message to the masses. The force behind these changes is the ever-growing expectations of the student. Students want a program that is customized to fit their needs. Thanks to growing competition, they are often able to find it. With massive open online courses (MOOCs) entering the picture at a rapid pace, the need to customize the experience from website visit to graduation will skyrocket in the next decade.

The increasing variety of approaches to learning, combined with the vast array of student preferences, means institutions will need to respond with programmatic solutions and new services. However, it is crucial for students to clearly understand how these options align with their unique situations. Effective marketing will provide this, and for many non-profit institutions, this reality will mean a drastic overhaul of their current operations. Some of the changes will include:

 

1. “Post-click” personalization

Any highly competitive institution is likely using Constituent Relationship Management technology to send personalized communication to those with inquiries. Unfortunately, this personalization doesn’t often go beyond the level of program of interest. But we now have web analytics available to determine and anticipate the needs of prospective students before they even fill out the inquiry form. This means a shift from post-inquiry personalization to post-click personalization. Beyond this, we must anticipate our relevant audiences and align communication with their behavior before they even reach our website. Once they reach the website, that experience needs to be customized to the extent that it adjusts to their needs.

2. Real-time, data-informed decision making

The days of monthly reviews of campaign results to determine marketing resource allocation are over. Moving forward, marketing departments must have the technology and expertise in place to harness the data captured and pivot ongoing activities based on solid data analysis. This requires sophisticated technology, air-tight integration between systems, constant data analysis and reporting and activity-based logic that automatically adjusts the shopping experience as the prospective student advances through the process of researching the institution. Marketing departments must expand their analytical capabilities and align these functions with outreach and admissions activities.

3. Mobile-ready marketing

Postcards, viewbooks and mailings in general are going the way of the print newspaper. Marketers have to plan their communications to play nicely with mobile devices. This is true today, but heading into the future, it will be essential. Rather than viewing mobile as a nice-to-have feature for certain communication, marketers will need to develop all interactive elements to be fully functional on a variety of mobile devices throughout both the shopping and enrollment experiences.

4. Marketing through graduation

As completion rates and return on educational investment become more transparent, the separation between pre-enrollment communication and the post-enrollment student experience must be eliminated. Valuable data captured prior to enrollment can help drive relevant communication and services to students as they work to completion. On the flip side, student data has the potential to guide marketing decisions in a variety of ways. Systems, processes and staff will need to align effectively to produce information that can be utilized throughout the cycle. Marketing to the point of enrollment will need to shift to marketing to the point of graduation.

5. Know what you don’t know

Sometimes the higher education mentality of being steeped in tradition can carry into our marketing and related technology management. The result is a foundation of outdated practices and systems unable to support the agility that current marketing practices require. Moving forward, staying competitive will require an ability to quickly implement and pivot new approaches to outreach and communications. Rather than building upon an existing infrastructure that may have limited versatility, it is important that institutions look to marketing and technology solution providers with focused expertise to develop a framework of technology and an understanding of current best practices in their respective areas. This way, schools don’t start from scratch with new initiatives and end up implementing when it is simply too late. Some of the most important areas to avoid “do-it-yourself” approaches include marketing communication systems, website development and mobile content creation. However, the gaps are unique for every institution and should be handled as such.

The bottom line for the future of higher education marketing is: the utilization of data down to a granular level is vital. It is through the application of data to ongoing decision making that we are able to truly listen to our future and current students and respond to their needs. While these approaches may be new to higher education, they have been practiced and optimized by other industries for years. It is important that institutions look to the expertise of outside industries to hone their ability to execute more sophisticated approaches to marketing that will ultimately provide a more relevant, cohesive and informative experience for the future student. The result will be success both for the institution and the student.