by Aden Andrus March 20, 2020

5 Ways to Use Marketing Automation for Higher Education Marketing

Higher education marketing is a real challenge these days. There’s been a downturn in student enrollment and a lot of schools are feeling the heat.

With the recent Coronavirus pandemic and economic slowdown, things are only going to get harder.

So what do you do? As a higher education marketer, your school is depending on you to get the word out, build interest in your programs and keep seats filled. That’s not exactly an easy task right now.

But, there is a bright side.

Economic uncertainty means that people will be looking for opportunities to improve their skills and earn degrees or other certifications. National emergencies leave your target audience at home surfing the internet and looking for ways to secure their future.

These are all good opportunities for higher education marketers—if you know how to take advantage of them. To help you out, we’re going to take a look at 5 ways to use marketing automation to set your school up for success in the coming months and years.

1. Centralize Your Strategy

One common problem that many schools face in implementing marketing automation is marketing fragmentation. Different departments have their own marketing budgets, goals, strategies and even marketers.

As a result, it’s hard to deliver a unified, consistent message. In addition, when your marketing budget is split between a dozen (or more) different departments—each with their own priorities and channels—it’s hard to give any particular channel the time and money it needs to succeed.

Right now is a great time to change all of that. With so much of higher education in limbo right now, you have a unique opportunity to centralize your marketing strategy, rethink your overall plan and get your campaigns organized.

It’ll take some work, but in the end, the results will be worth it. It’s hard to learn and improve when your marketing is scattered and decentralized. With how competitive higher education marketing is, that sort of inefficiency is something you literally can’t afford.

If this all rings true to you, take advantage of this unusual situation to unify and solidify your marketing strategy. It’s a critical first step in setting up marketing automation. If your marketing isn’t all under one roof, you can’t use marketing automation effectively.

2. Create a Buyer Journey

The journey from initial interest to signing up for courses isn’t a simple one. Higher education is a huge investment and your students will think carefully before they make any sort of final decision.

You need to be there for them at every step in their journey.

With marketing automation, you can track students and their journey at an incredibly granular level. You can nurture them along with specific email drip sequences, follow-up with helpful recommendations and ensure that your school stays on their radar.

Setting up a thorough, effective marketing automation program is a lot of work, but it can yield incredible results. For example, the National College of Ireland (NCI) increased lead volume by 247% after setting up marketing automation. Algonquin College increased leads by 71% year-over-year. Stanford Global increased leads by 50% and shortened their conversion time by 58%.

So, if you’re looking for a reliable way to improve lead volume and find yourself with a bit of time on your hands, setting up (or refining) marketing automation is a great place to start.

In fact, we believe so strongly in the power of higher education marketing automation that we recently covered this topic in detail in a webinar and eBook on how to nurture your prospective students.

3. Get to Know Your Students

One of the big advantages of marketing automation is the fact that you can customize your marketing to match your students’ personalities, interests and goals. If you set up the right flows and criteria, you can easily segment your audience to ensure that they’re getting the right content at the right time.

That’s important, because your students aren’t all motivated by the same things. For example, if you’re marketing for a university, odds are that your students fall into one of the following categories:

  • Aspiring academics. These are your “traditional students”: 18-to-24-year-olds with strong academic profiles and an interest in research or teaching.
  • Coming of age. Like aspiring academics, these prospective students are 18-to-24 years old, but they are still trying to decide what they want to do in life.
  • Career starters. These 18-to-24-year-olds are career-focused and see college as a stepping-stone on the path to their ideal career.
  • Career accelerators. This group of potential students is older than most “traditional students” and their primary goal is to advance in their field of work. Since they’re already working full-time, they’re much more likely to be interested in online courses.
  • Industry switchers. Like career accelerators, this group is older, but their goal is to change careers—rather than advance in their current field—due to boredom, lack of opportunity or some other factor.
  • Academic wanderers. These prospective students get into college later in life and often don’t have specific goals or career paths in mind—they simply believe that a degree will give them new opportunities. This group is often unemployed or underemployed.

An “aspiring academic” isn’t going to respond to the same sort of messaging as an “industry switcher”. If you try to create generic messaging that will appeal to both of these groups, you’ll end up with content that doesn’t work for either of them.

This is why it’s so important to get to know your students.

Depending on your school, some, all or none of your students may fit into the categories above. Your school is unique, so your student body will be, too. Get to know your students, figure out what motivates them and create your own list of buyer personas. If you don’t, you won’t be able to attract and motivate new students to join your program(s).

4. Set Up Chat Bots

One of the biggest challenges in higher education marketing is response times. Most students expect a response the same day they fill out a form.

That can be a tough expectation to meet.

Online chat can help, but even the best admissions team can have a hard time getting to every chat right away. That’s a problem, because if you don’t respond to chat requests within 5 minutes, your chance of contact drops by 10x.

The solution? Set up chat bots to respond for you. It’s not as good as getting potential students in touch with a live representative right away, but it’s a lot better than leaving people hanging without a response.

The good news is, there are a lot of easy ways to set up chat bots on your site. It’s a straightforward way to improve your response times and get better results from your marketing, so why not give it a shot?

5. Optimize Your Marketing Automation

A good marketing automation platform will give you a ton of options for optimizing your flows, drips and other automations. This is great news, because 76% of students would rather hear from you via email. With the right optimizations, you can ensure that you are sending them the right messages the right way.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • A/B test your emails/subject lines. No matter how good you think your emails are, there’s no way to predict what your potential students will respond to. The only way to perfect your emails is to test them.
  • Personalize your content. As mentioned earlier, the more specific you can make your marketing automation, the more effective it will be. Take a hard look at your student personas and the content you’re sending them and ask youself, “What can I do to make this more relevant and compelling?”
  • Optimize your timing. When you communicate can often be just as important as what you say. It doesn’t matter what’s in your email if the recipient archives it without reading it. There are a variety of tools you can use to identify the best times to send your emails, or you can simply test different send times and see how they affect your open rates.
  • Improve your lead scoring. A good lead scoring system can help you get the right content in front of the right people at the right time, but it takes a lot of time, thought and attention to optimize your lead scoring system.

If you’re going to put time and effort into setting up higher ed marketing automation, make sure you invest in optimizing it, too. Nothing is perfect the first time around, and you won’t get the full value out of your marketing automation without a little testing and revising.


Higher education marketing isn’t easy, and with the challenges the world has been facing lately, it’s only going to get harder. If you want your school to thrive, you need to take your online marketing game to the next level.

To do that, you need marketing automation.

Convincing someone to invest countless hours into higher education, put their lives on hold and spend large amounts of money is a tall order. It’s going to take time and thoughtful nurturing. Without marketing automation, that can be hard to pull off, but with it, you can get the results you need for your school to succeed.

By the way, if you’d like help figuring out how to set up and optimize marketing automation for your school, let us know here or in the comments. We’d love to help!

How do you feel about higher ed marketing automation? Have any helpful tips to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • Marketing

Aden Andrus

Aden Andrus

Over his career, Aden has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping Disruptive's internal marketing game. He loves to write, dance and destroy computer monitors in full medieval armor.

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