Marketing Automation: Strategies for Higher Ed Marketing

Students today have high standards for the communications they receive from colleges and universities. They expect information relevant to them at just the right time. Meanwhile, college admissions offices are trying to reach thousands of prospects while keeping the human element to their marketing. When done right, marketing automation can meet those needs.

So, what is marketing automation and how can it be applied to higher education? Marketing automation is a strategy that uses software to send highly personalized marketing pieces, including microsites, print pieces, emails, text, and voice messages, to prospects and continues to send follow- up communications to these leads. Once these pieces are sent, the software will track, analyze, and store the students’ responses. It can see how many students clicked a link in an email and completed a form or which students applied after receiving a priority application.

For the most accurate results, students are always directed back to their Personal URL (PURL) page or microsite that is tied to the marketing automation software. These school- branded pages automatically include their intended major and a sport or club they may want to join. The software will also track their activity once they’re on their PURL page. The representative can then see what interests them the most. For example, one student may spend most of their time on a page about studying abroad, while another spends more time reading about scholarships.

Marketing automation allows admissions offices with a relatively small staff to manage messaging and informed contact with thousands of students, with around-the-clock response to engage students. There are five specific times when the right marketing automation strategy keeps students involved: a new search list, a new inquiry, a time to visit, an incomplete applicant, and after they’ve been accepted.

The Newly Acquired Search List

It seems difficult to make a meaningful connection to a student with limited information. However, with just their email and mailing address or intended major, we can send out an automated nurture track with more information about programs being offered, awards that distinguish your school, or events on campus. Each email or print piece has a direct Call to Action (CTA) that sends them to their PURL page. This can be a way they request more information or raise their hand to say they are interested in your school.

The Inquiry

Once the student shows interest by submitting a quick inquiry form that generates their PURL page, it becomes easier to send them the right information at the right time. In addition to emails and postcards, you can start sending brochures and text messages with stronger CTAs, such as information on applying, and send automated responses for any additional forms they fill out. Using the student’s information and careful planning can allow your nurture systems to run, hands-free, without antagonizing the recipient with excessive information to the point of an opt-out.

The Visitor

Opportunities to visit campus are a great time to use automated marketing. The first step is to send out emails and postcards with personalized information and details about the event. The CTA would be to register themselves and any guests they are bringing on their PURL. Once they do, they’ll move into a different track where they’ll receive reminders and any additional information they’ll need. Finally, after the event you can send them a thank you email for attending, or if they missed it, information on how to schedule another visit.

The Incomplete Applicant

Once a student begins an online application on their PURL, marketing automation software can track their progress and send them email or text message reminders. This could include items they have left to complete, such as submitting additional forms, or the deadline to complete the application. It also gives their admissions representative specific information to follow up on. Not only does this remind students to complete their application, but it acts as a courtesy that reflects well on your school’s dedication to working with students.

The Post-Accept Appeal

One of the most important times to send a student relevant information is once they’ve been accepted and are considering enrollment. This is a perfect time to use marketing automation via emails or postcards to send them anything they need to deposit, join a private social network, or answer questions about financial assistance. At this point, you can also use the software to set up a unique track for the parents of the accepted student, since they will play such a large part in assisting the student during the enrollment process.


Marketing automation for higher education is not limited to these five instances while a student is making their enrollment decision. It can be used when they are juniors in high school, to get their parents involved, or answer other questions they may have concerning your school. It allows a small staff to reach a giant pool of prospects, without taking away the human element. Marketing automation can streamline many of the processes, but still make them meaningful. Representatives can make significant connections when they use marketing automation to its fullest potential.