Engaging Higher Ed Prospects Through Content Personalization

Toniann Mendelzon, Digital Marketing Strategist

State of The Union University

According to a recent higher ed marketing study conducted by EducationDynamics, “keeping [prospective students] engaged is the most important challenge for institutions.” Colleges and universities across the country are simply struggling to capture the attention of their target audiences in ways that differentiate themselves from competitors.

Not unlike those in other public-sector industries, target audiences in the higher education market are made up of diverse customer groups, spanning from teens preparing to graduate high school, to parents and guardians guiding the decision-making of their students, to alumni looking to give back to their alma mater, and much more. Each customer group in this target spectrum has its own customer journey which, when mapped out properly by marketers, can dictate the type of content appropriate for each moment that matters.

At R2i, we consider moments of customer need and moments of brand opportunity to be the moments that matter, and in those moments, it is crucial for educational brands to serve up personalized content to increase the likelihood of customer engagement.

Let's Break It Down

Personalized content is content that is created with a specific customer persona, need, and journey stage in mind. At R2i, content personalization is viewed as the process of creating targeted content to suit the needs of customers—or in this case, students—at each stage along their customer journey.

For instance, if a student has already filled out an information request form on a university’s website, the next logical content piece to share with them would not be another request to fill out an additional form. Instead, a more strategic next step may be for the university to direct that student to an interactive, informational landing page in which that student could click through and customize to learn more about the school’s program offerings.

It’s important to note that personalized content is only effective when it’s optimized in the right channels and platforms. For example, according to the same EducationDynamics study referenced earlier, 82% of students do at least some college research on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, while 8% do all their research on mobile. By knowing this, higher ed marketers can optimize their content by creating a mobile-first website, and gain an advantage over competitors whose websites may be desktop-first with only basic mobile accessibility. Educational brands who fail to optimize the personalized content they are creating will likely not see their returns reach their full potential.

A myriad of studies have been done to demonstrate the efficacy of engaging, interactive content over static, irrelevant content. These findings further support the claim that relevance is a key building block to brand loyalty. To successfully become and remain relevant in the minds of their audiences, higher ed brands must generate personalized content that provides both interest and value.

How Can Higher Education Marketers Benefit From Personalized Content?

In a recent study conducted by Rapt Media which analyzes digital content consumption, “62% of customers said that if brand content was more personalized to them, they would be more likely to seek out other information or content to learn more about the brand.” Conversely, that same study showed that 66% of customers regularly take action to avoid seeing or receiving ads, even if the ads are personalized or targeted specifically toward them.

While this may seem contradictory, it in fact offers an interesting insight to human behavior. Customers and students alike are craving personalized content that they can discover organically and independently, rather than content that has been pushed toward them or shoved into their newsfeeds.

As a result, marketers are noticing a change in the digital winds as native content and advertising become more well received by audiences than paid, targeted social media ads. While this trend shift may temporarily stun marketers who have placed most of their eggs in the targeted social media ad basket, one trend remains firm: content personalization leads to increased engagement rates.

Higher education marketers and institutions can make the most of this trend by adopting the following processes:

  1. Gather audience data: This will help marketers identify their target customer personas, understand their needs, motivations, interests, demographics, psychographics, and more.
  2. Create optimized, personalized content: By utilizing what they know from their audience analytics, marketers can create content that is relevant and interesting to their target customer segments. By optimizing this content for the format in which customers choose to consume it, marketers will maximize their returns on each channel.
  3. Share and distribute native content: Millennials are wise to marketers’ tricks. Gone are the days of their willingness to accept ads thrown at them on every platform. Instead, marketers who make use of their native channels like university websites, blog pages, forums, and branded social media channels will provide the content prospects are searching for without taking away their ability to discover the information for themselves.

Universities that deliver personalized, relevant, and compelling digital experiences to their students are the ones that will command attention, gain market share, and drive results. This rings true for all types of higher education institutions because, while each university, college or other may have a unique mission for existing, they all share a common life-source: customers. And while optimized, personalized content is an integral piece of the puzzle plaguing the higher education industry, this trend is just beginning to scratch the surface.



About the author: Toniann Mendelzon

Toniann Andries Mendelzon is a Digital Marketing Strategist at R2i who moonlights as both a grad student of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and a butler to her dog. She is passionate about storytelling, content creation, and traveling the globe. When she’s not writing about digital marketing or branding trends, she can usually be found blogging about horseracing or anecdotal life experiences. She believes in working smarter, not harder, and hopes to one day write a novel or two.

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