SMS, Email, and Digital Marketing Tools to Personalize the Student Journey

Higher education is about nurturing students to realize their academic potential for application toward a fulfilling career. But first, colleges and universities must get students to enroll in programs that map to their desired career paths and are best suited to prepare them to achieve their goals. That task is becoming increasingly competitive given the rapid growth of online education and its increasing importance to many postsecondary institutions. 

Enrollment in online higher education institutions rose 2.2% in the spring 2021 semester despite overall undergraduate enrollment declining 5.9% for the same period, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Across the United States, 279 colleges and universities offer fully accredited online degree programs — all competing for nontraditional distance learners, who are expected to make up  39% of college enrollment by 2026. As such, applying expertise in lead nurturing will be a key differentiator between institutions that achieve enrollment goals and those that do not. 

Higher education institutions need to effectively leverage SMS and email marketing, combined with digital experience tools, as part of an omnichannel lead nurturing approach to better personalize the student experience, engage prospective students, and drive them to enroll.

What is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of developing and reinforcing relationships with buyers — or students, in the case of higher ed — at every stage of the sales funnel. This involves serving prospective students with timely, relevant information to help them make educated decisions at each phase of the journey, from inquiry to graduation, and keep them moving forward to achieve their goals. 

To productively communicate with prospective students and build trust during the lead nurturing phase, higher education institutions must provide compelling content that students find valuable and interesting to stand apart from the noise. Effective messaging involves “taking a lead’s hand” to walk them through the steps toward enrollment, assisting in the decision-making process, and offering relevant information that guides students through the stages of the funnel. 

Let’s take a closer look as to how you can achieve this type of messaging.

Do’s and Don’ts of Lead Nurturing

When communicating with prospective students, DO use:

  • Personalized, dynamic messaging based on specific actions
  • Efficient and automatic processes
  • Improved data-driven approaches to the student journey

DON’T use: 

  • “Old school,” linear processes
  • Heavy manual processes
  • Processes that lack insight into the individual student journey

Chart comparing do’s and dont’s of lead nurturing

Neglecting to implement cutting-edge solutions to engage prospective students throughout the student journey can result in confusion, lack of trust, and ultimately, loss of students. Let’s dig into some specific tools that you can use to deliver a well-rounded, immersive lead nurturing strategy. 

Tools for Lead Nurturing: SMS Text, Email, and Digital Experiences

SMS and email marketing serve as indispensable strategies to enhance an institution’s lead nurturing experience. However, simply implementing these systems with siloed messaging is not enough in the highly competitive higher-ed landscape. To stand apart from the pack and get students to take a desired action, institutions must use a blended omnichannel approach that aligns messaging across email, SMS text, digital experiences, phone outreach, and other methods. 

Email Lead Nurturing 

Email lead nurturing is most effective for communicating the steps to enroll, assuring prospective students that an online program can help them to reach their goals, and addressing critical questions that help them to make a final decision. Remember to tweak messaging based on your specific lead audience, have a prominent call to action, and deliver content that feels organic. 

Every email that you send should prompt prospective students to take immediate and specific action — whether that be clicking a link, opting into another channel of communication, or submitting a response. Keep in mind that if your goal is to receive a response, you need to reply to inquiries quickly — preferably within 15 minutes. 

SMS Lead Nurturing

SMS lead nurturing varies from email in that it allows for more immediate, personalized communication. Texts should be short, sweet, and pungent, ending with a specific and short call to action such as: 

  • Call us 
  • Learn more 
  • Schedule an appointment 
  • Apply now

Text messages can also be highly effective in getting students to schedule one-on-one consultations with a representative or prompting them to engage in other digital offerings. 

Digital Experiences

In addition to leveraging SMS and email marketing, integrating digital experiences can significantly enhance student engagement. At Archer Education, for example, we utilize an interactive visual learning tool that directs prospective students to an avatar experience that asks them questions to help us understand their goals. This allows us to obtain data for marketing efforts, capture information about leads for our university partners, and personalize the student journey to cultivate a greater sense of immediacy for the consumer. 

Digital experiences can give colleges and universities a competitive edge to better understand their audience and potential pain points in the student journey. Consider implementing tools such as the digital student experience or employing other methods such as phone calls from admissions reps, chatbots, webinars, and video material. 

How Is Higher Education Lead Nurturing Different From Other Types of Marketing? 

Prospective students are a unique audience. Their habits and behaviors differ from those of traditional buyers. Higher education institutions recruit two primary audiences: recent high school graduates considering college and working professionals looking to return to school to advance their education or career prospects. 

Therefore, distinguishing between these two audiences is important, as is conducting thorough research into what these groups are looking for. In an online context, recent high school grads are typically in search of immersive, hands-on programs that deliver some elements of a traditional college experience. Working professionals, on the other hand, are likely more interested in flexible scheduling, transfer policies, and specific career outcomes. 

Make sure to tailor your messaging to your intended audience with value propositions that are important to them across your omnichannel marketing. Including the recipient’s first name in the subject line doesn’t cut it anymore — you have to speak directly to the concerns and emotions of your consumer base! 

Our Gold-Standard Approach to Online Program Recruitment

At Archer Education, we work closely with our online program recruitment (OPR) partners to personalize omnichannel messaging based on what audiences care about most. Backed by data integrity, our gold-standard approach engages students at every milestone of the student journey: 

  1. Inquiry 
  2. Starting and completing an application for enrollment 
  3. Application submission and approval 
  4. Enrollment 
  5. Retention 

We leverage our expertise to identify opportunities in a partner institution’s funnel. Then, we discuss key measures of success with the partner institution to launch an immersive, branded digital experience designed to boost engagement and conversion rates, all while sharing our proprietary engagement intelligence to present data on how individual users engage with SMS and email marketing

Flow chart of admissions process for the student lifecycle

Our unique digital tools — such as the digital student experience platform — enrich our text and email signatures. By parallelling these digital tools with SMS and email marketing, we can interact with prospects in a more meaningful way by posing questions throughout the experience, responding to concerns, and providing customized content based on the actions they take. It also allows us to gather key insights for marketing, share those insights with admissions reps to facilitate more informed one-on-one discussion, and showcase the right type of content for a prospect’s specific stage of the student funnel. 

This innovative approach uses data and continuous learning to inform the improvement of our partners’ student engagement efforts. We not only help you to recruit students to enroll but also help you to retain students with the promise of an exceptional student experience through email and text combined with supportive one-on-one engagement. 

Reach More with SMS and Email Nurturing 

In a remarkably competitive higher-ed landscape, taking an omnichannel, personalized approach to online recruitment is vital for any institution dedicated to meeting enrollment and retention goals. Using SMS and email marketing, along with unique digital experiences, creates the opportunity to provide information and gather important insights into each student’s needs and goals to further personalize their journey to a rewarding educational experience. 

If you’d like to learn more about SMS and email marketing or the integration of digital experiences to better personalize the student journey, explore our lead nurturing and digital student experience services. For a more personalized discussion, feel free to drop us a line. We’re ready to help your digital marketing stand out! 

Kim Drath