A search campaign—the multi-channel outreach campaign targeting students from purchased lists who have yet to inquire officially about your school—is typically the first time your institution has a chance to make an impact on a prospective student. One of the best times to launch a search campaign is January of a prospect’s junior year in high school—a campaign we refer to as Junior Search. Let’s take a look at some best practices for managing the critical 20-month period from that January to senior matriculation and what it takes to keep quality prospects engaged until it is time to apply and enroll.
A Junior Search Campaign: What Sets It Apart
For campaigns targeting Seniors, where timelines are compressed, direct calls to action move students through the enrollment conversion funnel as quickly as possible. For Freshmen and Sophomores, the principal task for admissions departments is to build a relationship through deliberately paced messaging that keeps students engaged during those early years, and perhaps to guide students towards course selections that will help them become college-ready.
Campaigns targeting Juniors can take advantage of both tactics. Those 20 months provide ample time for relationship-building and direct calls to action. Still, Juniors are being deluged with college marketing from competing institutions, so first impressions must be compelling, lest they become nothing but last impressions.
Getting Personal: Preparing Your Junior Search Campaign
Today, reaching out to students in a personalized way has proven to be more effective. The function of search, however, is to acquire data you can use to personalize your message. As a result, many schools end-up using a generic message during this early—and critical—phase. However, by using a few simple data points from your purchased list, you can create a flexible, personalized search campaign.
Many schools buy lists from College Board, from vendors like Cappex or Christian Connector, from NRCCUA, and others. Beyond baseline demographic information, these lists often contain other information, such as a student’s academic interests. Using these data points can help you create more personalized messaging. Here are a few things to look out for:
Location, Location, Location
If your school offers different tuition rates or specialized incentives for in-state students or students from particular counties, parishes, or other regions, you can highlight these financial advantages in your messaging. Faulkner University includes specific information about a scholarship to qualified students living in a particular region of Alabama. Franklin Pierce University segments their search even further by overlaying attendance motivation patterns with location to understand what prompts students from particular areas to attend their university.
Channel Academic Interests: The Major
Used with discretion, a student’s indicated major can be an effective messaging point. Remember though, rather than indicating a strong academic preference, students may just be checking boxes. If you single out a student’s major too much, your academic programs can appear too narrowly focused. The good news, for schools who are focused by design, like Milwaukee School of Engineering or Green Mountain College (environmental studies), students may be attracted to direct messaging about their field of interest.
Acing the Exam: Test Scores and Academic Benchmarks
If you purchase lists that provide test scores or other academic benchmarks, you can offer incentives to students who’ve exceeded your threshold in your first contact with them. You’ll also find that you can use messaging about their superior performance to talk about your school’s competitive character. Grambling State University bases many awards on ACT scores, which would be easy to communicate in a search campaign.
Mining the Demographics
Volunteered information, while sometimes unreliable, can still be used to personalize your message. For example, names from Christian Connector are almost certainly Christian students—if you have faith-based incentives, this could be a valuable point of personalization.
Contingencies and Content: Planning For Your Junior Search
The primary focus of search is to have a student ‘raise their hand’ and give you a better idea of their intentions. Prospective students aren’t likely raise their hands at the same time, so contingency planning helps maximize yield for every student schedule. That means having a good content plan.
Many students will inquire after your first touch—have something prepared to respond to these early inquiries. Other students will remain cold to outreach for several months simply because they haven’t committed to the college hunt yet. Meaningful and consistent outreach can often prompt these late-cycle students to inquire and enroll.
For students who are late to inquire, make sure your content doesn’t preclude important information that you’ve already sent to students who inquired months ago. Assess which of your communications are absolutely date-contingent (invitations to visit campus or application deadlines for example), and which are free from date contingencies. For these latter communications, build a schedule based on a status change rather than a calendar date. Ensure that all students get your best information, regardless of their date of inquiry.
As for the content itself, that quality of message and design are critical. Offer the student dynamic content and opportunities to interact. Personalized microsites can be used as individualized enrollment environments that provide new information to students as they perform different actions. Students who attend a campus visit, for example, might find information that recaps the event the next time they log into their site. You can also use the microsite as a way to collect information to further personalize messages. Lubbock Christian University collects information about Christian Youth Groups from their students on secondary forms and they use that information to contact group leaders about special campus events. Finally, as students move through different stages, be sure to keep content fresh so that they have a reason to return.
Keeping the Cadence: Pacing Your Junior Search Campaign
The pace at which a student receives collateral can make or break a Junior Search campaign.
In January of their senior year, students haven’t yet received the bulk of college marketing materials—that means you can capture their attention through quality publications. Providing students with a personalized brochure that prompts a series of automated next steps (call to inquire, presentation of a personalized microsite, emails thanking them for their inquiry) is an effective pathway for capturing a student’s interest and for nurturing a relationship.
Chart when outreach will arrive at a student’s inbox on a calendar. Ideally, outreach should be evenly paced. But remember that you might need to encourage students at different stages in the funnel. Identify your key deadlines and make sure students are being contacted frequently if they haven’t completed tasks.
Pulling It All Together
Twenty months is a sweet spot for yield—long enough to develop an informed relationship but not so long that students get tired of your materials. Schools employing our Junior Search Campaign tactics experience great results, including meeting enrollment goals earlier in the cycle, and saving time and money on late-cycle pushes. If you’re looking to develop or refine your Junior Search campaigns, give yourself a head start by using high-quality sources that help with personalization, creating a responsive content plan, and building flexibility into your pacing so students receive good content consistently, regardless of their date of inquiry.