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MarketingBest practices

8 College Marketing Campaign Ideas

by Sirley Carballo · Jun 27, 2022

Many colleges and universities rely on word of mouth, alumni connections, and social buzz to generate interest from new and prospective college students. Unfortunately, this truth most often applies to larger state schools and well-known institutions.

But what about the rest of the colleges and universities dispersed throughout the United States? How can these admissions and enrollment teams attract potential students and candidates while communicating the most compelling information possible about their campus?

A group of students with headphones, binders and backpacks.

This is where highly targeted, effective marketing campaigns come into play. Campaigns allow your entire team to focus on a single brand image that both attracts new students and creates positive buzz about your campus culture and brand identity. 

If you want to know which college marketing campaign ideas are the most popular this year, keep reading to discover our favorite campaign choices.

What is a Marketing Campaign?

A “marketing campaign” is a major building block of any new marketing initiative. The concept of a campaign revolves around a singular idea, goal, or objective. Important tasks are built around this goal for the purpose of marketing a specific product, service, or idea.

SproutSocial, a leading social media management platform, puts it this way:

“A marketing campaign is a promotional push or initiative carried out by a brand, typically tied to a big-picture business goal. Campaigns involve promoting content and creatives (think: ads, videos, photos, blog posts, copywriting) across various marketing channels (think: social media, email).” 

The exact goals of any given marketing campaign can be as unique and varied as a business, school, or service provider. Marketers can (and are encouraged) to use creativity and innovation to make new campaigns stand out from the pack.

Importance of Well-Planned Campaign Strategy

Marketing campaigns don’t just happen spontaneously. It takes work, effort, and diligent planning to see them through from the initial brainstorming steps to fruition. 

That’s why a thoughtful campaign strategy is so fundamental to eventual success. Marketing campaign strategies are important, because they:

  • Define responsible parties – Determine who is in charge of which aspects of a campaign, which reduces confusion and frustration.
  • Establish specific and measurable goals – Clarify the specific things that each campaign aims to achieve and provides measurable benchmarks.
  • Aligns individual campaigns to the overall brand – Separate initiatives should always point back to the overarching mission, purpose, and vision. Disparate campaigns may take away from the school’s primary marketing objectives.

8 Campaign Ideas for College Marketing

Fortunately, there is no “right and wrong” when it comes to college marketing campaigns. Although you should always map out and communicate your plan effectively, the possibilities are endless! 

For this year (and beyond), take a look at some of our top ideas for college marketing campaign inspiration.

1. Nurture Campaigns

Nurture campaigns are popular across many industries and fields, as they’re specifically designed to compel an audience with personalized offers and information. Most often, nurture campaigns involve time-based email messages that follow up with leads and strengthen a connection over time.

These campaigns are an important part of reminding prospective students about your school and why it’s a good fit. You can use these messages to educate, persuade, or present an offer. They are not necessarily sales-oriented, but they are meant to help a reader (in this case, a student) stay engaged and feel as though they’re benefiting from the connection. 

How to implement: To get started with a new nurture campaign, always identify your audience or segment and set up a specific objective to match. You also need to define the value of your messages and decide on the set time periods or intervals that are most effective for scheduling new messages. It may take a few iterations before you're comfortable with a nurture formula that works.  

2. Referral-Based Campaigns 

Referral-based campaigns are effective for colleges and universities because most have a broad network of alumni, community partners, and even student ambassadors. These individuals serve as personal touchpoints to future students who may be great candidates for admissions. 

A referral-based campaign needs participation and user buy-in since it depends on a connected individual providing a referral to someone outside of the school’s current network. 

How to implement: To kick off a referral system, you’ll need to build messaging that encourages the participation of current students, alumni, or others. Explain what you need from them and what you’ll be offering to new or prospective students. Then, plan to launch a targeted and engaging message to new referrals and recruits.

3. Trials, Samples, and Freebies

Many college marketers acknowledge the power of free gifts and other incentives when it comes to attracting new applicants. A marketing campaign built around trials or samples can cast a wide net at the top of the funnel and draw in a large number of prospects. 

For this type of campaign, you might consider activities like waiving the application fee, providing a free t-shirt, or offering a free subscription to an app or service that students enjoy. If any action is required in order to earn the incentive, make sure to clarify what is expected.

How to implement: When you’re offering something for free, be sure to build a creative campaign that is fun, modern, and highly engaging. You can accomplish this through outlets like email, in-person events, or virtual event sign-ups. The sky's the limit! 

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4. Targeted Discounts

Plenty of colleges and universities partner with popular service providers, technology resources, or local businesses. As a college marketer, you can use these connections to offer targeted discounts to future or current students who might be interested. 

Examples include offering a percentage off a laptop purchase after completing enrollment or providing a coupon to the local college bookstore after registering for courses.

How to implement: Consider the community and business partners that are already in your school’s local network. If you have larger corporate sponsorships, see which incentives are available for use in your marketing campaigns. Advertise these incentives through outlets like admissions emails, the school website, or social media posts. 

5. User-Generated Content Campaigns 

A user-generated campaign comes from working directly with your end-users. In the case of colleges and universities, this most often happens in the form of current students.

Take a look at where and how you can gather this content from students, whether that requires collecting email submissions or simply connecting with them on popular social media platforms. User-generated content may include anything from longer text submissions to images, to live video. 

How to implement: Collect written submissions, photos, and videos from students that capture the essence of what you want to accomplish in your marketing campaign. Combine and repurpose these with a polished look, so that you can release them under the school’s brand.

6. Educational and Informative Campaigns

Prospective college students (and their families) often have plenty of questions about the college enrollment process, financial aid, student life, and academics. As a result, it never hurts to construct campaigns that are purely designed to answer these important questions and make complicated processes more simple.

Not only does this type of campaign continue to spread the word about your school, it also provides exceptional customer service by offering practical guidance and solutions. In turn, you’ll build a positive emotional connection with students and families.

How to implement: Review some of the most common questions or roadblocks that your prospective students face on their journey to enrollment. Build user-friendly, knowledgeable content around these questions. Use an approachable tone and provide actionable next steps that make it easy for students to move forward.

7. Social Media Marketing Campaigns

Let’s face it—social media is one of the most significant paths to reaching this generation of students. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube, it’s almost impossible to envision an effective college marketing strategy that doesn’t incorporate at least one of the most popular social media channels.

A social media marketing campaign is a clearly defined plan of attack for reaching and advertising to students on social media. An official campaign goes beyond a simple post idea and outlines factors like engagement, content creation, advertising, and more.

How to implement: Decide which social media platforms you want to focus on, as it’s always easier to have a targeted and direct strategy when there are many options on the table. If you need help from different personnel, be sure to communicate expectations from the start. You may need to enlist the help of a content writer, graphic designer, communications manager, or social media manager to set the campaign in motion.

8. Student Life and Culture (Behind-the-Scenes)

Before deciding on a school, many future college students want to know what attending is really like—and not only from a glossy marketing portrayal. You can effectively accomplish this (while keeping your brand image in check) by creating student life and culture campaigns

In addition to user-generated content, life and culture campaigns advertise what it’s really like to live and learn on a specific campus. Here, you can also build content around extracurriculars, interpersonal relationships, and community values. 

It’s important that the perspective of these campaigns is story-based and realistic; new students should resonate with the messaging and understand its inherent value.  

How to implement: Think outside the box when it comes to content and imagery. Instead of stock photography, leverage content that’s captured from students, professors, or other staff members. For a refreshing viewpoint, you can even weave these snapshots into more formal messages or campaigns to create levity.

How Do You Know if Campaigns Are Successful?

In the same way that marketing campaign ideas can be varied, so too, can the results. What’s a win for one school may not be the same for a much larger or smaller institution, so it’s crucial to know which goals you’re aiming for when you measure campaign success.

To know whether your campaigns have been a hit (or a miss), you should plan ahead with the following steps.

  • Know which measurable business goals you’re aiming for at the beginning
  • Clearly identify the target audience (a specific higher education segment)
  • Decide on key metrics ahead of time (for example, if you want to gather a certain number of new enrollments for a nurture or drip campaign)
  • Identify a timeframe and an end dates for accomplishing your goals 
  • Have a plan in place for discussing campaign results and how to be proactive or make changes in future campaigns

Crush Goals with Your Next Marketing Campaign

College marketing campaigns are a main way to keep your marketing goals moving throughout the academic year. Whether you want to attract new prospects, increase student enrollment numbers, or educate your audience and community, solid marketing campaigns can help you accomplish those tasks. 

A powerful marketing and CRM platform like Element451 not only helps you visualize the big picture of each campaign, but it can also allow you to gather and analyze valuable data on campaign results. When it comes to driving sustainable growth, these are metrics that you simply can’t afford to miss.

Book your Element451 demo today to learn how the right CRM platform can help you automate and accelerate your email marketing strategy.


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