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Marketing To Parents In Higher Education

One of the more incredible shifts in culture is happening in higher education. Just recently attending college was an expectation for many students. Now, a complex mix of factors, from inflation, to rising tuition costs, to fierce battles for attendance, to crushing student debt, to degree timeframes stretching past four years, to companies devaluing university degrees, has created pause and forced many students and parents to ask what was once unthinkable: “Is college worth it?”

Most colleges and universities are aware of this tension and have introduced aggressive omni-channel marketing to attract students. However, many overlook a parallel omni-channel strategy for one of the most critical sources of influence for students: their parents/guardians.

The majority of parents/guardians are emotionally and financially invested in their child’s decision to continue their education, and if so, which college or university is the best choice. However, most are not prepared to help their oldest child make one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

Parents/Guardians whose oldest child is exploring higher education generally fall into two buckets: those that attended college themselves, or those that did not. The former’s understanding of higher education was likely shaped decades ago and is rooted in a personal, historical experience. The latter’s understanding may be little to none, as they did not experience it first-hand.

This context is not news to most colleges and universities. Many have a wealth of information for parents/guardians whose child has shown very high interest and/or has been accepted and agreed to attend. The majority take care to speak directly to parents/guardians in collateral, during virtual and on-campus tours, the application process, and many create communities for parents of incoming freshmen.

However, many colleges and universities have overlooked the importance of helping the parents/guardians of prospective students guide their oldest child appropriately during the critical upper and mid-funnel exploration process.

Digital offers the optimal suite of touchpoints and channels to introduce parallel “parents marketing” as work can be created, measured and optimized at the speed necessary to drive results. Messages and imagery that has proven successful online can then be confidently applied in offline marketing channels targeting parents, such as direct mail.

As your audiences for marketing continue to diversify and fragment, and the results become more critical to annual operations, it is imperative that in-house and agency partners are able to address and answer four keystone topics:

  1. Audience: Who is the specific audience we are marketing to? Can we confidently state if this audience shares any overlap with other marketing targets, or if it is mutually exclusive?
  2. Channel: What channel(s) are optimal to reach this audience in the right phase of the Decision journey? Do other audiences consume these channels as well?
  3. Message: What is the message we need to deliver to this audience? Is this bespoke to this audience, or is there “spill-over” effect with other targets?
  4. Delivery: What is the most compelling experience to engage our chosen audience? Would other groups also find this compelling?

This simple but powerful framework has enabled Zozimus and our higher education partners to confidently introduce, measure and optimize marketing for parents/guardians across select digital channels. Initial results have proven successful enough that we have begun the process of creating formal digital marketing budgets specifically for parents/guardians across the funnel, thereby increasing volume of interest and amplifying the effects of parent marketing tactics across other channels.

Contact Zozimus if your institution is looking to learn more about digital strategy for higher education and increase interest and attendance of the best and brightest families and students. We are well versed in the nuance of today’s Decision Process and all the sources of influence who need just as much guidance as those you hope to see next fall.

Please contact Erin at emartin@zozimus.com

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