Marketing online education, whether it's promoting career bootcamps, universities, or K-12 online education, possesses distinct characteristics that set it apart from marketing other products and services. While the core principles of marketing remain relevant, there are unique challenges and considerations specific to the educational landscape. In this first article from our series on marketing online education, we will explore unique student profiles, building credibility, and setting entrance requirements as three factors that differentiate marketing online education from marketing other products and services.
The challenges of marketing online education may appear daunting, but to give the reader inspiration to read on and conquer the challenges, I’ll offer two optimistic quotes from educators.
- "Online learning expands the possibilities for personalized, student-centered education, catering to diverse learning styles and needs."
(Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. Source: American Federation of Teachers)
- "Online learning can be a lifeline to those who have obstacles, such as geographical distances or physical disabilities.”
“Online” Changes the Ideal Student Profile
The opportunity for online education is vast. Changing the traditional delivery mode from the classroom to online breaks down traditional geographic boundaries. Educational institutions can now reach a greater market compared to just those students living close enough to travel to the class. On the other hand, it can also break down social interactions, student camaraderie, and the emotional commitment that comes with seeing likeminded people committing to a long-term educational investment the same as yourself.
These opportunities and challenges change the profile of who is most likely to be successful in an online program. It’s clear that students who need more emotional support will be disproportionately likely to drop out of the program or let their grades slip. Those tend to be younger students and students who may be less convinced about their future career path.
On the other side of the equation, the opportunities expand with students who have commitment, but previously lacked access. One example would be single mothers who may have the support of their extended families to help with childcare. They often have the driving conviction to better their economic opportunities for the good of their children and can now more easily attain economic success via online coding bootcamps and adult career learning courses. Young married students who have a more established social support system at home can also more easily handle the comparatively isolated online environment because they have less need to find relationships with other students.
Building Credibility and Trust
Education is an industry built on credibility and trust. Prospective students want assurance that the educational institution or program they choose will provide a quality education and deliver on its promises. Marketers must focus on establishing the credibility of the institution through accreditations, rankings, faculty qualifications, industry partnerships, and alumni success stories. Incorporating testimonials and case studies can further strengthen the trust factor and provide social proof to potential students.
One of the more popular ways coding bootcamps have established that trust is to stand behind their students’ performance using income share agreements. The details vary by program, but the basic premise of most income share agreements is that the student pays a small down payment, or sometimes nothing upfront, and will only start paying for the cost of the coding bootcamp once they’ve completed the program and secured a high paying job.
Universities, career bootcamps, and private K-12 schools have entrance criteria aimed at screening for the most successful candidates. Demonstrating student successes after completing degrees has always been a validation of the importance of education. And with the rise in popularity of income share agreements (ISA) at coding bootcamps, this only accentuates the importance of screening candidates. Because without graduating students meeting the income goals of the ISA, the bootcamps don’t get paid.
These high entrance requirements create a very real problem for marketing. Obviously the higher the entrance requirements the harder it is for marketing to find the right applicants. Less obviously, it creates a difficult measurement challenge. When a school screens out a high percentage of applicants, have they done a good job at screening, or a poor job at attracting the right kind of applicants? Did they screen out only poor candidates or did they exclude a lot of students that would have gone on to be successful?
This makes tracking student success and understanding which advertisements are attracting which students more important than ever. Digital media tracking is declining in effectiveness with the rise in privacy laws, adblockers that can block the tracking of ads that do get shown, and the elimination of third-party cookies. Because of this, companies are leaning into other methodologies such as “how heard” surveys and statistically based media mix models that rely on the timing of advertising and the subsequent changes in sales to infer advertising impact. Even so it’s safe to say that media attribution has become more complicated than ever just when rising selection criteria have made it more important to know. One solution many educational providers are turning to is media agencies that incorporate media mix models as a part of their services but that’s a small set of providers that are often hard to find.
Marketing online education presents unique challenges and considerations when compared to marketing other products and services. Marketers must navigate the targeting of changing student profiles, establish emotional connections in a disconnected environment, and manage their sales funnel like never before. By understanding and embracing these distinct factors, educational institutions can create effective marketing strategies that resonate with potential students, expand their geographic footprint, and drive enrollments.
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