Enrollment Insights Blog

Don’t Propose on the First Date: 5 Steps to Nurturing Prospective Students

What is enrollment marketing’s number one priority? Is it to enroll students? Sort of. Is it to increase visits? As a byproduct. Is it to control the brand and implement advertising? As a means to an end. 

The number one priority for an enrollment marketer should be to build affinity and excitement in an audience. All your success flows from that, so your tactics should support it.

The first stage, which rarely gets the attention it deserves, is prospect nurturing. Prospects and inquiries have different needs and levels of interest and awareness, yet they’re often given almost identical comm flows. Let’s change that. Here are five simple tactics to adopt in order to give prospects the unique treatment they deserve.

Step 1: Know who your prospects are and how they got to you

Before you can effectively nurture your prospects, you need to know who they are and how they got to you. This means understanding their demographics, interests and behaviors as well as their source. All of this should be accurately and consistently input into your CRM.

For example, imagine a prospect who was purchased expressly based on their location. By knowing how your prospects came to you, you can tailor your communications and messaging to better resonate with each prospect source.

Step 2: Gather information about what is enticing students to inquire

Understanding what motivates students to inquire about your institution provides crucial and valuable insights that can help you adapt and optimize your engagement strategy. To mine these insights, you’ll need to analyze data on students’ interactions with your marketing channels, such as social media ads, open-house events, webinars or your school website. Dive into the specifics of their engagement—what content are they interested in? What questions do they have? Are there specific programs, scholarships or career outcomes that they consistently mention? 

By identifying common patterns and interests, you can refine your outreach and create materials that highlight the aspects of your institution that resonate most with your prospects. Then you’ll have messaging and materials that are most likely to convert prospects into inquiries and build affinity.

Step 3: Segment that information with personas

Alright, let’s chat about personas. Personas are sort of like character profiles for a school play, but these characters are your prospects. When you create personas, you’ll be able to write content that’s relevant and personal for each one—and your prospects will feel like you’re talking to them directly instead of via mass communication. That’s the magic of personas in segmenting your communications. 

Enrollment marketers can create these personas by identifying similar traits among their prospects based on interests and behaviors and grouping them. Think of “High-Achiever Harper” with a 4.0 and aiming for scholarships and honors programs. Or “First-Gen Freddy”, navigating the waters of college applications with less family support than his peers. Building personas and crafting personalized messaging for each one will make all the difference in your outreach, guaranteed.

Step 4: Build comm flows intended to build affinity (not apps)

Yes, you read that right. Your goal for prospects should not be a visit or an application. I’m going to throw a little professional terminology your way and see if it sticks: Proposing on the first date. Proposing on the first date is when you ask for a commitment way too early. When you buy the name of a student, they don’t know who you are. If you immediately start asking them to visit and “Apply today!”, you’re essentially bringing the ring and your grandma to a blind date. Pump the brakes!

By understanding your prospects’ unique challenges and dreams first, you can create content that speaks directly to them. It’s like when someone knows your coffee order—it makes you feel special, right? 

Looking back at our personas, when “Harper” gets emails about research opportunities in her field of interest and “Freddy” gets a helpful guide on the A-Zs of college life and lingo, it’s no wonder they’re more likely to engage. Personas help you funnel the right message to the right prospect, ensuring that every communication feels personal, not just a shout into the void. Isn’t it neat when things get personal? It feels like someone really gets you.

Step 5: Test, measure, optimize, repeat

More popular and appropriate than TUMOR (Test, Utter expletives if it doesn’t work, Measure, Optimize, Repeat), TMOR is a mindset to nurture in operations and enrollment marketing. Once you have your basic tactic built, you can start experimenting by changing up CTA language or subject lines, adding more differentiation—anything you want to test. Then, measure the results of your experiment, identify what is (or isn’t) working and make changes accordingly. Then, continue testing so you can improve your prospect nurturing over time rather than annually rewriting everything.

If you notice that the emails to “Harper”s aren’t getting the conversion rate you wanted, you might reevaluate your persona and find that it’s too broad. You could decide to further segment into “Scientist Sam,” “Humanities Henrietta” and “Professional Patty” to focus on differing behavior by intended major, and maybe you’ll see better conversions as a result. You won’t know until you TMOR.

Final thoughts

So there you have it: the five steps to boosting your prospects’ interest in your institution. All in all, it’s a little like picking just the right movie for a first date instead of proposing right off the bat. You know your “Harper” and “Freddy” need that personalized nod that says, “We see you, and hey, we’ve got your favorite rom-com.” Remember, when nurturing your prospects, the secret sauce is to test, tweak and repeat until we’ve got the perfect tactic. Little by little, you’ll see your prospects clamoring to move forward and enroll.

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.