It’s no secret that connecting with Gen Z is challenging. Not only do they have high expectations when it comes to digital communication, but they’re also engaging with more colleges than ever before, so a growing number of schools are competing for their attention at any given time. In this increasingly crowded landscape, it’s not enough to send a handful of generic emails to your prospective students: you must nurture them thoughtfully over time.
But what does good lead nurturing look like in today’s environment?
I recently sat down with Michael Koppenheffer, EAB’s VP of Enroll360 Marketing and Analytics, to learn more about how admissions offices should think about lead nurturing and how to do it well.
Q&A with Michael Koppenheffer
Q: Let’s start with the basics; what is “lead nurturing?”
Michael Koppenheffer: Lead nurturing is the idea of taking a prospective customer and engaging them over time to increase their affinity with your product or service. Think about your own experience with brands or influencers who do this well; they probably share timely content that captures your attention and adds value to your life in one way or another. For college enrollment teams, this means communicating with prospective students and parents regularly about the topics that matter most to them, including academic programs, extracurricular offerings, campus diversity, and affordability. It also means customizing this content as much as possible given your technical and creative capabilities.
What is the first step in building a quality nurture campaign?
You must first map out the journey that you want students to go on: what are they experiencing when they first come to you, what do you want their experience to be over time, and how do you want them to feel about your school at the end of their college journey?
For instance, in our Enroll360 Cultivate campaigns, we begin communicating with students as early as fall of their sophomore year, meaning we have to think about the mindset of a student who begins to engage with a college at that point in their life. Ultimately, you want to take each student on a journey from interest to application, but you have to decide the best way to nurture their interest as they age from high school sophomore to high school senior. How does their experience and mindset shift over time and what do you need to accomplish in that time span to build the strongest possible affinity?
After you map out the overall experience, what is the next key decision?
Once you establish what you want prospective students or parents to experience at a high level, the next step is to figure out which channels to engage them on.
Do you want to appear in their email inbox? Do you want them to find you while scrolling their social media feeds? Do you want them to find you in the mailbox? Do you want them to get text messages from you? (Spoiler alert: you want them to find you in all of those places!)
Of course, there are channels that are more popular than others, but our philosophy at EAB is that you can’t predict which channel someone is going to prefer. Therefore, you should try to engage with them in multiple places. Likewise, you don’t know when they will want to hear from you so, ideally, you should design a campaign that engages prospective students across many months or years, depending on when they become a lead.
Just because students do not engage with your initial communication, that does not mean they are a lost cause.
How frequently should you be communicating with students or parents?
The answer, as with so many things, is “just enough.”
You must remember that by and large, you’re talking to fifteen- or sixteen-year-old high school students who have a lot going on in their lives; a lot of change and a lot of new stimulation. If you interact with them once during sophomore year and they don’t hear from you again for two years, the chances that they’re going to forget about you are pretty high.
Certainly, don’t be so present that you become annoying, (every day is too much!) but you also don’t want to let your engagement with them go dark for so long that they begin to build affinity with another institution. So typically, when we look at nurture campaigns, we think about a couple of touchpoints per month across a long span of time being a good middle-of-the-road target for frequency and intensity.
What are some common mistakes schools make when they start communicating with new leads?
Not communicating enough.
Most of the institutions that we work with tend to put a lot of resources into students’ senior year because that period of time has greater proximity to the application itself. While I certainly understand that logic and believe in the power of a senior application marketing campaign, when looking at the opportunity to nurture students before their senior year, most institutions aren’t doing enough.
Beyond that, I would also say that parents don’t get nearly enough attention even though they want to hear directly from colleges and universities. Unfortunately, even schools that do some sophomore and junior nurturing, often don’t have the additional capacity to identify parents or develop dedicated communications for them.
There’s also not enough attention paid to the topics and types of content that a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old might want to hear about. Sometimes, schools choose the wrong topics or the right topics at the wrong time. For example, while affordability and cost are important subjects, putting them too early in a nurture campaign for a high school sophomore is not likely to land. That type of content is better placed closer to the application submission or decision release periods.
In some cases, we also see colleges reaching out to students or parents without a specific reason for contacting them. It’s nice to establish a personal connection, but sometimes nurture campaigns are just outreach from the admissions counselor saying, “Hi, I’m your admissions counselor, let me know if you have any questions about my college.” It’s important to complement the personal outreach with offers and content that a student or parents would want to hear about.
How can enrollment teams learn more about what students and parents want to hear about?
At EAB, we do extensive surveys about student communication preferences, parent communication preferences, attitudes of Gen Z students, and so forth. I would strongly encourage anyone who is embarking on building a nurture campaign to familiarize themselves with those survey insights. We find that the best performing campaigns are the ones that creatively address the wants and needs of Gen Z students and their parents.
The truth is, you need a lot of content to populate a long-term nurture campaign and sometimes, teams get overwhelmed and quit before they get started. I have seen several schools map out a potential nurture campaign, only to realize that they do not have the capacity to execute. But remember, producing something is better than producing nothing – so don’t give up. EAB is also here to help if you decide that you would benefit from some additional support on your nurture campaigns.
Get the Latest Tips on Engaging with Gen Z
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