3 Ways to Overcome Higher Education Marketing Challenges

By Sim Samra

Higher education marketing challenges

For academic students, picking the right higher education establishment can be as difficult as choosing which show to watch next on Netflix — albeit significantly more important. 

As a higher education marketer, you have your work cut out for you, trying to stand out among the crowd. With digital marketing revolutionizing the field, many institutions are under pressure to adopt new technologies and use emerging platforms, to remain relevant, creative, and tech-savvy.

Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, and implementing new outreach strategies for the first time can be met with some resistance. 

With that in mind, we’ve identified three significant challenges for higher education marketers to focus on to win over the likes of Gen Z and bring more alumni into the fold.


Getting institutional buy-in

Universities often require cooperation from more than a single team or department to innovate strategically, operationally, and technologically. Before you think about shaking up your school’s marketing plans, the first step is to form a united front. 

Whether that means getting approval from your board of trustees or your finance department, every function must be aligned to ensure your institution will move forward to facilitate this new plan.

Take Université de Moncton, for example. They needed to transition to something more interactive, did their research, and came to the conclusion that “PDF was not an option” that worked for them. 

They started researching solutions that would allow their team to publish the magazine online. Doing so, meant they’d be able to cut the costs of producing a physical product, and they would be able to gain the readership insights they so desperately needed.

“I was doing research because we have a board of directors, so I needed to actually present the project and make a comparison of different solutions,” says Amélie-Anne Gauthier, Development and Communications officer with the Alumni Office of the Université de Moncton.

“We decided to make the transition once we’d found a product that we could really get behind, where we could say, “Yes! The quality will still be there, and in fact, it will be even better.”

"It’s been three years since we switched — I’m still waiting for a bad comment from someone. We’ve only had positive feedback from staff, faculty, alumni, and the wider community.”


Université de Moncton aren’t the only ones to successfully get stakeholder buy-in. University of California Merced also managed it after struggling to get the attention of their alumni with their content. 

Christy Snyder, Communications Director at UC Merced, says: "The CIO and I were talking about possible solutions, and she mentioned that she had always wondered if we could do this on something like a web page. She sent me an example from a university that had created a static page with very few moving pieces.” 

“It was the longest web page that I’ve seen in my entire life. I liked the concept of it, though, because I’m a little bit more digital than print personally. So I started Googling around, searching for solutions or products that would let me build something similar. I understood what Foleon could do as soon as I saw it, and I said, “This is going to be the thing.” 

Instead of buying a single license and project for her projects, Christy partnered with some other key departments to purchase a broader license with more seats and publication types."

"As I started putting things together, my CIO, in particular, was really happy with it. When we published, people were sort of like, “Wow, that’s a big departure."

Discover: 4 Trends Shaping the Future of Higher Education Marketing and Design


Slow tech adoption

Any large organization that has relied on legacy technology and tools for a long time can be susceptible to slow technology adoption, and universities are no exception. Transferring old information to a new system can be time-consuming. 

Not to mention, people generally don’t like change. Of course, an overwhelming variety of solutions, and cost are also barriers to adopting new tools. 

Since most institutions are slow to adopt new technologies, this provides an opportunity for your school to have a unique advantage in executing marketing plans for the new generation. 

Not sure how to work with reluctant adopters? 

What you need to do is first explore what it is that’s stopping them from implementing the proposed change. While it might be frustrating to spend time convincing people to move forward with new technology, the time spent working to reduce barriers can help ensure positive relationships.

Also, showcasing examples of the benefits of adopting technology can also help sway people. 

Take a look at some of the universities that are setting themselves apart with future-forward tech and content:

  • Washington & Lee University included a tuition estimation calculator to help prospects figure out whether or not the school is the right choice for them.

  • Babson College created testimonies of successful alumni and their entrepreneurial pursuits as part of its “The Entrepreneurs” campaign. Edited in the style that’s reminiscent of those used by film trailers, these 2-minute videos have a unique edge, unlike the standard video Q&A.

  • Dartmouth College has included an interactive map of its partner institutions around the world for prospects who are interested in study abroad opportunities. They can hover on hotspots for more information about each institution.

  • Rhode Island School of Design created its website to look like a fashion brand’s website. For RISD, this is an excellent thing because it shows their design consciousness as an art school. The colorful images stand out against the black background. Minimal use of text makes the information easy to process, and the website a breeze to navigate.

You can learn more about how to keep up with innovation as the rules of engagement change in our 2022 Complete Guide to Higher Education Marketing


Making your mark

Higher education marketing has its aesthetic. Taglines such as “more than an education” and “start here” is commonly used to promote an institution. Admittedly, it’s hard for your university to stand out if you’re making general statements that sound like any other institution. 

These statements will not work on Gen Z, who have the most refined lie detectors of all generations and will see right through irrelevant information. 

Growing up in the age of social media, they crave authentic storytelling and digital experiences, so don’t be afraid to dive specifically into what makes your school unique.

Discover: How to Make an Effective Education Brochure

3 traits of an unforgettable brand

Your university must stand out and be more memorable to stay top of mind with younger audiences. For your university to be unforgettable, your brand should be:

  • Based on values rather than attributes
  • Connect with audiences on an emotional level
  • Tell stories with rich details that bring them to life

If you want to stand out from the "start here" language that dominates most university marketing, your brand manual is the first place to start. 

A brand manual allows you to have a centralized resource to refer to when creating marketing collateral and ensures you have guidelines. 

Take a look at the Foleon Brand Guide for inspiration. 


Don’t fall behind 

Without a driven, forward-thinking marketing team, universities will fall behind in their skill sets, understanding of technology, and ability to run performance-based marketing programs. So, what do you think higher education marketing teams should be doing? 

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Sim Samra

Sim is a seasoned Content Marketer. When she's not traveling or dog-sitting, she's usually hard at work unearthing headline-worthy content marketing trends. LinkedIn profile

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