Content Strategy

The Future of Higher Education Marketing: 3 Major Trends Seen at Salesforce’s 2019 Summit

By Kyle Harper on May 20, 2019

For four days in sunny San Diego, attendees of Salesforce Higher Ed Summit 2019 got an exclusive glimpse at key trends defining the future of higher education marketing. And across every session, workshop, and mingle session, two things were crystal clear: content which encapsulates and facilities the student journey is where the focus should be, and to deliver on that, marketers will need to embrace technology.

But just like any other summit, there's a lot to take in and process after the fact. Even as I'm writing this, my email inbox is pinging with notifications from vendors I visited and salespeople I spoke to briefly. So for those of you who are still playing post-event catchup like me-or who couldn't make the trek to California-I'm breaking down the three key themes from the summit that any marketer in the higher education space would do well to consider.

It's true: Some of these trends may not be feasible right away for every university. But even if your organization is bound by technology or budget constraints, with a little creativity and savviness, your team has the potential to overcome these common higher ed marketing challenges and support some of these promising trends.

Centralizing the Student Online Experience

The first major theme from the summit is technologically bound, and one we've seen gaining steam for some time now. A couple of years ago, Georgetown University introduced its take on a fully centralized student portal called Georgetown360. They weren't the first school to present critical student information in one all-encompassing space, but the robustness of Georgetown's approach was particularly impressive. So impressive, in fact, creating something similar seemed out of reach for many higher ed marketing teams at the time.

Today, it's a whole different story. Just this year we've seen a load of universities present centralized student portals, signaling this may be the approach that many-if not all-universities will be moving toward into the future. This trend presents an interesting position for content marketers, however. What happens to the blogs and content hubs that you've been building for years? Will your content make it to the portal, and if so, how will it be accessed? These, along with a collection of technical concerns, might flood your mind. But using technology to centralize the student experience comes with plenty of valuable opportunities which should outweigh any of these concerns.

Firstly, these student portals can help inform, streamline, and improve your entire content creation strategy as well as boost your brand's reputation. By providing informative content in a convenient hub, it shows that yours is a university which cares about the quality of the student experience. And based on which content performs well here, your team can repurpose winning themes in other ways across each and every platform. Additionally, by offering this useful utility for students-and doing it well-you'll gain the attention of stakeholders and potentially earn a place at the table during key portal implementation discussions.

Speaking of doing it well, the better this resource is, the more valuable it'll be for your team. The best student portals have a dynamic based on student account information-grades, course enrollments, and other key information. This information, when connected to the portal through your institution's customer relationship management (CRM) software, can be used to dynamically change what content is served to each student. By working early with your development team, you may be able to identify ways of tagging, storing, or otherwise organizing your content in such a way that it can play into a dynamic service scheme. This further improves your content's utility and can help create feedback loops for audience interests and interactivity, which can ultimately serve your broader marketing personas and targeting strategies.

Image of a college student holding books

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Scale Happens with Unlikely Partners

A common theme at Salesforce Higher Ed Summit 2019 was the tenacity with which understaffed or under-resourced teams are able to accomplish their goals. Universities are massive and costly institutions, where it can be rare to find the support, worker power, or resources needed to execute projects-especially when it comes to sustaining a lively content flow.

A number of schools have been able to meet this problem head-on by enlisting other compatriots from around the university to supply creative content. At its most successful, this approach makes for a steady stream of user-generated content from teaching staff, students, and administrators, which only requires editorial overview from your team to be deployed. For most institutions, your team will still bear the weight of content creation, but this weight can be eased by enlisting the support of your broader staff and student populations.

This is where creating content that highlights the student journey is key. Take advantage of interviews and highlight everyday experiences to give your content an authentic feel of what campus life is really like. This approach will also save you a bit of work on the production side. The efficiency of this model depends, however, on your team's ability to coordinate these resources-whether this means finding time to speak with faculty or getting someone to snap new and inviting photos of your campus. Designating a person or team to project management and logistics may make all the difference.

Remember, by reaching out to other members of the university to help with these projects, they'll feel valued and in the end, you stand to produce valuable content, too.

Everything is a Journey

The last, and perhaps largest marketing theme I saw at the summit, was the idea that every student's interaction with their university is a journey.

This is an idea that marketers are typically familiar with. We have a hundred and one models-from funnels to life cycles-that describe the idea of nurturing relationships with our audiences. The key difference for higher education is the amount of trust placed in that relationship. Schools collect enormous amount of data from students, and expect much from them in terms of academic performance and financial outlay. In return, there is some unspoken expectation that the university will use these resources to give back an edifying experience to the student. Good content can do just that.

Mapping out the student journey is becoming an increasingly common practice with higher education admins, and is a trend which presents an enormous opportunity for marketing teams to support communication efforts. Both because this is a practice that is, in many ways, native to marketing, and also because our marketing tech stacks are often the best options available for supporting dynamic journeys in an automated fashion.

Unifying the many disparate offices in your institution that send out communication isn't going to be an easy task. But doing so is necessary to meet the needs of student populations who are beginning to pursue these education relationships, which may extend well beyond a traditional four-year path. Any part of your communication process that requires targeting and initiating communication with your student population will require increasing amounts of overhead, that is unless your team is able to begin thinking now about unified, dynamic, and automated communication journeys.

Highlighting student journeys through content marketing.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A Bright Future for Marketing

The future of higher education marketing is looking bright according to Salesforce Higher Ed Summit 2019. The line between communications and marketing continues to blur, and the emphasis on creating a unified, experiential student journey is beginning to take hold with a broader swath of stakeholders.

Facilitating that through engaging and creative content types still comes with its fair share of technical challenges, though. Teams may need to reconsider the spaces and formats of how we host our content, how our teams are composed, or what technology is supporting the back end of our efforts. Whatever your particular institution's case may be, success will rely primarily on keeping rewarding student experiences at the center of your tech and mission.

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Kyle Harper

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?