Marketing automation 101: the ultimate guide for the education sector

– Nov 2, 2021
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Welcome to Marketing Automation 101. This guide will explain the power of marketing automation for attracting prospective students. We have provided seven lessons in total, as well as a practical assignment for the final assessment. By the end of this guide, you will have a comprehensive understanding of marketing automation for customer acquisition and a roadmap for successfully delivering automation.

Lesson 1 – Introduction and overview

There are three different types of education available after secondary school:

  1. Unaccredited courses – also known as hobby courses
  2. Tertiary education: Vocational training e.g. trades and diplomas. These are practical, competency-based courses that build and assess student skills
  3. Tertiary education: Higher education e.g. bachelor, masters degrees etc. These courses are rooted in theory, research and understanding concepts

There are three primary reasons why people decide to study one of the above available courses:

  1. To get a job
  2. To get promoted / for professional development
  3. To support a hobby, interest, or side hustle

Why are the above distinctions important? Because they impact how students will enrol, and therefore how educational institutions should engage with them.

Lesson 2 – Customer profiles

On average, a student will have approximately 80 touchpoints before they commit to enrolling in a course (write that down, it will be in the exam). These touchpoints are spread across the customer journey.

As always, the journey starts at ‘Awareness’, where the prospective students recognises they need to study for any of the three reasons we mentioned in Lesson 1.

The student then moves to the ‘Education’ stage where they may make an enquiry with an institution. At this stage, prospective students fall into one of three categories:

  1. Eagers: they are ready to apply – approximately 10% of prospects
  2. Procrastinators: they are procrastinating and need answers to questions or concerns (e.g. career outcomes, understanding a day in the life of a student) so they can visualise their future in order to convert to enrolment – approximately 30% of prospects
  3. Researchers: they have no intention to buy, either because they don’t want to or aren’t ready – approximately 60% of prospects

Lesson 3 – The role of marketing automation

Marketing automation allows institutions to attract customers who want to or are ready to enrol, while managing customers who aren’t ready to commit to minimise acquisition costs.

For the 10% of students who are ready to enrol, it is often the first person who connects with them via phone that has the highest chance of making the sale. Marketing automation can identify these customers and prompt your institution’s sales team to reach out to them quickly.

For the 30% of customers who are procrastinating, marketing automation takes cues from the content they engage with to then automate the delivery of targeted messages aligned with their interests. This ensures your institution remains top of the class for these procrastinator customers as they navigate their decision.

Marketing automation also allows institutions to manage their cost of acquisition per lead. Every enquiry is made through a Google search and every time a prospect clicks on a third-party lead will result in a charge. Procrastinating customers and browsing opposers may engage with your content numerous times over many months, which will continue to drive up the cost of your marketing campaigns. While these campaigns may attract more students, without careful management they can create a high acquisition cost on top of the additional expenses required to cater for an increase in students.

Marketing automation and sophisticated ad suppression tactics can minimise acquisition costs. Procrastinators can be nurtured with targeted content which will divert them from going back to Google repeatedly. Ads can also be hidden from customers who are ‘only browsing’, and then later retargeted to appear when a customer’s online activity signals they are ready to meaningfully explore their options (you won’t find strategies like these in any old marketing textbook).

Lesson 4 – Integrating sales and marketing efforts

Customers expect alignment between the content they receive and their enrolling experience. There are important triggers within the sales process that indicate the specific marketing materials and messages that should be delivered to a customer to successfully engage them. Prospective students have their own checklist of required information they need to obtain before course application, and these marketing messages must address those checklist items throughout the automation journey. For example, prospective students need to know the cost of a course as a first step, before they learn about the class structure or size. For this reason, it is important that sales and marketing efforts are connected throughout and beyond the customer sales journey.

Write this down and underline it: marketing automation must align with sales throughout the customer journey.

Lesson 5 – Marketing automation tools

There are number of marketing automation tools. Each tool has a different purpose and should be used to communicate different content that reiterates the same consistent key messages across the student journey.

Here are some examples of automation tools and how they can be used:

Email marketing – Drip feed campaigns to prospective students who’ve subscribed, engaged or requested more information from your institution.

Social media – Posts that provide social proof, showcasing student testimonials or ‘a day in the life of’ content. This channel is especially effective for students interested in vocational training.

Digital advertising – Retarget students who’ve visited your website through Facebook or LinkedIn ads when application deadlines are approaching.

Website – Publish articles with information about your university’s surrounding location or share detailed student testimonials to target prospects searching for a study-abroad destinations.

Marketing automation solutions (such as Salesforce’s Pardot) allow organisations to maximise the benefit of automation tools. They consolidate, track and (where required) extend the efforts of these tools.

Lesson 6 – Benefits

Here are the many benefits marketing automation can deliver to educational institutions:

  • Reduce administration burden
  • Deliver relevant and timely content through alignment with the sales journey
  • Create consistent and personalised messaging
  • Run scalable and affordable marketing campaigns
  • Optimise content to attract the right students
  • Personalise content to suit each stage of the customer journey
  • Support the speed-to-contact approach to help the enrolment process i.e. no response lag with automatic follow-up
  • Nurture leads through the enrolment funnel – from prospect to applicant
  • Streamline onboarding
  • Support recruitment and the subsequent student journey
  • Measure ROI and refine marketing strategies

Lesson 7 – Marketing automation examples

In our final lesson, we will work through scenarios of how to adopt marketing automation to engage and attract prospective students.

Example 1 – Gated content for early prospects

Gated content is ideal for top-of-the-funnel prospects because it doesn’t require much commitment. Blog posts and eBooks offer easy-to-read, actionable advice and can target multiple customer personas. For example, posts about time management are equally helpful to both school leavers and mature age students who have work commitments to juggle.

Example 2 – Targeted content to maximise engagement

A prospective student has registered for an open day event. This is an important milestone for an institution. Content should be shared that prepares the student for this event and allows them to get the most out of the interaction. This content could include how to plan their day and what events they should attend.

Example 3 – Converting prospects who have applied but not paid

The prospective student has enrolled but not yet paid or received funding for their course. Content in this part of the customer journey needs to encourage the prospect to take the final step and should address any remaining concerns. Such concerns could include student support, affordability, maintaining study/life balance and integrating into student life.

If you have access to learning analytics, try to address the areas of concern or delight that students have reported. For example, if students love the classroom spaces you have, make that part of your automation messaging to students.

By the time the prospective student has applied for a course, you should have a good idea of their persona and their interests. Stating the positives of the course relative to their interests will mean they are less likely to withdraw early.

Practical examination – Implementing marketing automation

For your practical examination, we have outlined the steps you must follow to implement marketing automation in your institution. Please follow the instructions provided below. The results will speak for themselves.

  1. Select a course and define all the customer personas Personas differ across courses and types of education, so it is important to spend time on this step to get it right.
  2. Create customer journey maps Use each different persona to define their unique customer journey. Document every touchpoint that each persona has with your institution across the entire journey. Customer touchpoints are key opportunities for your institution to influence customers. Document behaviour-based triggers e.g. website enquiries, event registrations, collateral downloads etc. These will determine the messaging, targeting and tactics for marketing at each stage of the customer journey
  3. Identify pain points, questions and challenges Prospective students have an informational checklist they want to complete before they apply for a course. They want to be confident that the cost, duration, virtual vs. in-person study, travel time from home, flexibility of classes, job pathways, internship opportunities, etc. all suit their needs and preferences.

    Here is an example of checklist items a persona may want to explore at different stages:

    • Awareness: Course cost
    • Education: Course types, location
    • Selection: Course guides, career outcomes, financial support, student testimonials

    • Identify the applicable checklist items to each of the personas and then confirm the stage that each checklist item is relevant throughout the sales journey.
  1. Create content Craft compelling content that aligns with persona needs (see step 3) at each stage of the customer journey. It should be tailored to the marketing automation tool that is most appropriate to deliver the message.
  2. Build lead nurturing sequence Map the content and accompanying tools to each stage of the journey. Use this mapping to create a lead nurturing sequence that follows the student journey and the sales process from enquiry to enrolment.
  3. Review your work If engagement rates remain low after implementing the nurture sequence, it could mean that the course isn’t the right fit for the prospect, it isn’t the right time for students to enrol, or the course too expensive. Spend time figuring out the root cause and then change the automation content and approach to address the reason(s) students aren’t applying.

Congratulations! You’ve just graduated from Marketing Automation 101. In addition to your A for attendance, you’ve now earned the knowledge required to create and implement your own marketing automation strategy for your educational institution. Contact us with any questions or for support to implement your own marketing automation program.

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