storytelling and technology in higher education cover

In a recent webinar with LeadSquared titled “Attracting & Engaging Prospective Students with Storytelling & Technology”, Sharon Aschaiek from Higher Ed Communications and Bob Derr from Marketing Edge discussed on how higher-ed institutes can combine storytelling and technology to boost their recruitment efforts.

If you’d like to view the recording of the webinar, we got you covered. :)

Sharon says “In today’s highly crowded and competitive space of higher education, various universities out there are grasping at straws to capture the interest of prospective students and to sustain their interest. Your ideal prospect – Gen-Z are constantly targeted by increasingly sophisticated marketing messages from your competitors.”

Now, the question is – How do you set your institution apart to convert these prospective applicants into your students? Even though recruitment technology and storytelling seem like opposites, when used intelligently together, can help you gain the attention of your prospects. Let’s Dive in.

Battling the headwinds

The day in a life of an admissions officer and higher education marketing executive is very challenging. I’m sure that the following problem would ring a bell for you:-

Admission Officers Problem higher ed

Increasing Competition – Higher education is growing increasingly competitive. The number of institutions has increased by nearly 30% between 1980 and 2015. Students now have more choices than ever; and, with the creation of tools like the Common App, they can apply more easily, too.

Understanding Gen-Z – Known as the “instant generation”, Generation Z is the first group in our society raised entirely on technology. They’re mobile-based and expect immediate answers to their questions.

Doing More with Less –  I’m sure you would have come across this situation where your administration reduces your year over year budget and at the same time expectations from you to surpass previous goals grows exponentially.

Creating Meaningful and Personalized Connections – With so much noise out there regarding social media, email, texts – admission officers need to personalize their messages so as to stand out from the all the messages which are being bombarded on their prospects by other institutions.

Knowing What’s Working – At times, higher-ed marketing officials carry out multiple campaigns across different channels, unaware of what’s working and what’s not. Focusing maximum efforts across the most profitable channel seems like an impossible task when you are unaware of which source works best for your higher education marketing and why.

Too Many technologies to Choose From –  With a lot of tools available out there which only solve only one problem at a time like lead management tool, student information system etc., these higher-ed officials have a hard time implementing each solution to boost their recruitment success.

Storytelling and technology combined can be a potent weapon to battle these challenges and also to achieve your targets.

Storytelling in Higher Education Marketing

Numerous institutes carry out generic marketing campaigns to engage prospective students. To set your institution apart, you must be more creative with your marketing efforts. Storytelling is what would make your institute the white swan in the lake. Your marketing team should excel in telling stories about your institution, the aim of your institution and about the people you serve.

Why Storytelling?

Stories inform us – Storytelling is the oldest form of education. We have shared information and passed on knowledge from one generation to the next through storytelling. It’s a key part of our history, evolution and human nature.

Stories unite us – Stories help us understand each other. The more we understand each other, the more empathetic we are towards one another. So, storytelling is a fundamental social and cultural activity that can strengthen our relationships.

Stories inspire us –  It is also a powerful form of entertainment that stirs our emotions and fires up our imagination. A good tale engages us more than any other type of advertising and is very effective at inspiring us to act.

Higher-ed institutions can leverage storytelling to achieve the above mentioned and to inform prospective students about their educational programs, create familiarity and closeness by sharing examples of current and former students and inspire prospects to pursue education at your institute.

How Can Storytelling Help Your Institute?

Your prospects are in the middle of their own epic story – they’re deciding on what kind of person they will become, and what kind of future they will have.

(Georgetown University has a marketing campaign which features brief videos of students sharing their stories about being accepted to the school. This video, from March of this year, features a woman named Deidra telling her acceptance story and what it meant to her)

Where higher education marketing is effective is when it reflects those journeys back to students, and then positions school guiding them on that journey and helping them accomplish their goals.

Storytelling helps you accomplish the following objectives: –

  •  It illustrates a deep understanding of your prospective students and what is important to them – their dreams, motivations, needs, and goals.
  • Storytelling demonstrates that your institution understands key industry trends and issues. It supports your story and demonstrates your relevance to your audience.
  • It paints a picture of what your institution is all about – your mission and values, program outcomes, and importantly to this audience, the outcomes of your graduates.

(Private, co-educational college in New York. This is their 2017-2018 view-book, which won a Best in Show distinction at this year’s Educational Advertising Awards.)

Not only storytelling fulfills the above objective, but it also gives you the extra edge over your competitors by: –

Helping You Distinguish Your Institution from Others – It helps your school stand out in the marketplace and differentiates you from the competition.

Improves User Experience – Prospective students will have a more enjoyable time browsing your website, social media channels or literature because the stories will make it more interesting and relatable.

Builds Trust and Loyalty – Telling authentic stories about your institution, programs and initiatives and the success stories of students and graduates helps prospective students really get to know your school. This helps in developing a relationship with your prospects.

Increases Engagement – Authentic, compelling stories have the potential to increase engagement with your school because it increases the probability that prospects will explore other stories on your site. This eventually helps broaden your school’s engagement.

Lowers Acquisition Costs – Marketing campaigns with compelling stories have the potential to go viral, resulting in having to spend less money on paid marketing campaigns.

Anatomy of a Strong Story

Checkout this example of storytelling in marketing outside of higher ed that I think you will find very instructive. This brief marketing video by AirBNB demonstrates how the company helped a family heal the divide caused by the former Berlin Wall. The video was released in 2014 during a Berlin unification event.

When you write a story for your higher education marketing, make sure that it includes the following: –

A Hero – The hero for your story will be a current or past student. It will help your prospective students identify with your institution. You can also use a narrative that explicitly positions your school, or a specific program at your school, as the hero that solves the student’s problem.

A Journey – This would refer to the journey of a former or current student at your school, highlighting what it’s like to attend your school, their experience and how your institution helped them achieve their goals.

A “So What” – In your story, should provide information that is meaningful to your prospective students making relevant and interesting to them.

Tension/conflict – Prospective students may face challenges such as too many school choices, price, location etc. – you need to reflect their pain points by using the example of a current or former student, you can reflect on how they faced and overcame these types of obstacles to be successful at your institution.

Resolution – Last but not the least, your stories should act as the light at the end of the tunnel, which are the programs and services your school provides to help them achieve their academic goals and prepare for their career.

Now that we’ve understood how storytelling can be helpful and what creates a great story to attract students to your institution, let’s look at how it can be combined with technology to help your higher education marketing soar high!

Technology in Higher Education Marketing

Ever evolving technology has played a vital part in helping admission officers with their day to day challenges.

Tools like LeadSquared, have helped admission officers by simplifying and automating their tasks allowing them to focus more on bigger responsibilities thereby boosting your enrollment success.

An ideal platform should address the following problems which your admissions team faces: –

Capture Inquires from Multiple Channels

In today’s multi-channel world, your institute will receive inquiries from many sources. Often, keeping track of these sources can be very difficult. Further, managing these inquires using spreadsheets and manual data entry can be very time consuming and error-prone task. You run the risk of losing track of these inquiries. With the help of lead capturing platform, you can capture, track, nurture and engage your prospective students on a single platform.

Route inquiries to appropriate team members

Another great platform which great boon for multiple higher-ed institutions is lead management systems. These platforms have been helpful for in routing every incoming inquiry to the right admission officer based on parameter like course of interest, campus, location etc. Immediately responding to the right inquires not only helps in reducing the response rate for an instant generation audience but also eventually results in higher conversion rate.


Get source and campus performance reports

While it’s good to know the sources of the leads, it’s even better to know the relative effectiveness of those sources. With a lead capturing platform, you can evaluate the impact of different sources on your higher education marketing efforts. These platforms provide you with data helping make more informed marketing budget decisions.

Tracking, scoring and notifying

Marketing automation systems can help you track and score the behaviors of applicants. So, you can not only see the journey that a prospective student is taking but you can also assign a quantitative value to a set of activities.  Plus, once a score exceeds a pre-determined limit, a team such as admissions can be automatically notified.

Identify the “best- fit” students for your institution

Not all applicants or inquiries are great fits for your school. By tracking, scoring and assessing behaviors, you can decide which applicants may be worthy of your limited time for one to one follow up. In essence, lead scoring can be used to identify the best students to which you should reach out.

Know your applicants inside out

Prior to reaching out to this applicant, you’ll have quick and easy access to all interactions such as the web page visits or the messages they opened, plus with the pre-built connectors, you can take a quick look at their social profiles to identify their interests. This info or insight may be woven into your follow up communications.

Automate your day to day task

An admissions officer has a very limited time in their day and there’s a lot of inefficiency in having to take time to create a message to respond to a predictable inquiry or request or having to manually upload every information of your students into your student information system.
Many leading marketing automation tools out there enable you to automate your daily tasks by sending inquiry responses based on different triggers or sending automatic follow-up e-mails for different scenarios etc.

Convert Applications to Enrollments

If you are looking for a platform which is a combination of all the above-mentioned tools you should evaluate LeadSquared. Here’s why: –

  1.  It is easy to use and learn – there’s very little need for IT support
  2.  Data access is simple and can be centralized
  3.  Automation and scoring can provide prescriptive intelligence
  4.  You can stay connected with great student applicants and share your powerful stories

A great story along with an efficient platform will not only help your institutes marketing team in attracting and engaging with prospective students and will help you over-achieve your admissions target. Wishing you a great admission season ahead!

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