Can Marketing Automation Bring College Enrollment Numbers Up?

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Universities operate a business at the end of the day, and attracting prospective and current students and alumni are integral in keeping the school afloat.

San Mateo, CA-based marketing software company Marketo announced today a growth of 44 education customers who have signed on, renewed or expanded their agreements from January to July 2016. From January to July 2013, Marketo had 28 such customers, according to a Marketo spokeswoman.

Organizations include GLOBIS University in Japan, The Ohio State University’s Max M. Fisher College of Business, University of Nevada, Reno and University of Wollongong in Australia.

Marketo claims declining enrollment and competition from online alternatives have made recruitment more challenging—so better engagement and customer relationship throughout a student’s education may increase enrollment and donations.

Enrolling students, however, is only part of the larger problem at U.S. colleges. Getting students to graduate remains a greater challenge: In 2014, 60 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college in 2008 completed their degrees by 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Hanover Research’s 2015 Trends in Higher Education Marketing, Enrollment and Technology report suggests institutions are devoting more attention and resources to branding and marketing than they did years before. And increasingly, colleges are shifting to digital marketing strategies, social media outreach and mobile platforms.

According to the report, the number of organizations using marketing automation from 2011 to 2014 grew 11-fold.

Australia’s University of Wollongong, for instance, used Marketo to engage with prospective students and saw a 15 percent increase of leads turning into applications in the first year. Algonquin College has reported seeing increased lead generation by 71 percent year-to-year and increased sales by 18 percent on Marketo.

"With Marketo, we can show that we’re a revenue-generating team, providing insights into the number of prospects in the pipeline, how many are likely to enroll, and how long it takes to move them through the process,” says Nicholas Manojlovic, digital manager of student recruitment at University of Wollongong.

While numbers aren’t exact on which platforms colleges use, many higher-ed marketing teams have turned to leading platforms on the market. Software review site G2 Crowd ranks Salesforce Pardot, Marketo and HubSpot as leaders in marketing automation in the market. Others like Adobe Campaign and Oracle Eloqua are contenders and niche players.

HubSpot lists as education customers Tufts University’s Gordon Institute, Florida Institute of Technology and University of Southern California.

Some institutions rely on hiring outside marketing services, and those budgets are growing, too. Hanover’s report found 63 of survey respondents spent more than $100,000 on marketing and branding, and 31 percent spent more than $200,000 in 2015. Sixty-one percent of administrators said they started implementing branding strategies in the last five years.

But colleges are using marketing platforms like Marketo for more than upping enrollment—automation software works to maintain email lists, manage social campaigns, as well as website call to actions. Customers, or students in this case, expect multichannel engagement via email, mobile alerts or social media updates, and colleges are trying to stay on top on those channels with solutions like marketing automation.

According to Hanover Research’s 2015 survey, 36 percent of respondents said the main benefit of marketing automation was minimizing repetitive tasks, and 30 percent said the benefit was better targeting of customers and prospects. Another 10 percent said marketing automation helps improve the customer experience.

Still, marketing automation is not a perfect practice. Some colleges have come under fire recently for unethical marketing tactics and ended up paying for it.

In January 2016, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against DeVry for misleading students about their employment prospects and graduates’ wages. And In April, Attorney General Maura Healey sued ITT Tech for inflating job prospect data for its computer network systems program.

Though more a human error than a platform error, academic institutions have learned to approach marketing practices with caution—even if automation can make life easier.

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