Research carried out by Tudor Collegiate Strategies, mentions that even though 90% of students say their parents have a significant role in choosing their top university, some parents are frustrated by student recruitment that disregarded them as a target audience.
Inspired by Higher Education Marketing’s piece “Targeting Parents for International Student Recruitment”, we’ve created five tips to help Swiss universities better engage with parents before, during and after students come to study.
1. Creating personas
Understanding the decision-making process for parents and students, from application to enrollment, draws on understanding their cultural background, academic motivations and concerns. Knowing these factors helps create a comprehensive targeting strategy.
Building personas starts with your current base of students and parents, and the recurring questions can pinpoint relevant topics and stages in the student’s life where there is room for improvement. The next step is understanding the social, economic and political considerations that affect a prospect’s choice. Once these personas are clarified, it will help adapt your messaging and marketing tactics for each target.
2. Aligning digital marketing strategy with parent search behavior
Higher Ed Marketing states that “a growing number of prospective students and parents interact with schools exclusively online to conduct their searches and admission process.” This reinforces how SEO is an essential component for a university to show up on Google’s first page of results, since it is common knowledge that no one goes beyond page one.
First, identify popular search terms among your target audience and those used by the competition that trigger reactions. Pay-Per-Click campaigns are ideal to test combinations of keywords, messaging and call to actions to see what converts the best. Once that’s done, your team must find ways to integrate them as much as possible throughout your website, social media platforms, and marketing campaigns.
3. Making sure your website answers parents’ questions
Universities capable of making their website’s navigation and messaging more “parent-friendly” tend to gain a competitive edge as it is simply more satisfying when the answers to their questions are easily accessible. It’s not just about proving that you thought about them, but also about making them feel like part of the journey by encouraging conversations and providing clear “parent guides”.
Parent testimonials are a great way to kill two birds with one stone. It involves parent participation while covering topics of interest for parents, answered by parents. In addition, testimonials, or word-of-mouth marketing, is considered one of the most trusted sources of information. Major topics of interest for parents include safety, academic rigor, and career services, as well as providing complete transparency when mentioning tuition fees, payment options and scholarship opportunities.
So where to store all this information? As shown in the following picture, the École hôtelière de Lausanne website has a section titled “Parents’ Corner”. This part of the website is clearly catered to parents, easily findable, and covers major topics of interest for parents.
4. Opening your (virtual) doors for parents
Swiss campuses may not be on the same scale than those found in the U.K or the U.S., and campus culture is definitely not a core element in most Swiss universities. This does not mean that it should be disregarded, since parents still care about the state of the facilities, the security measures put in place, and spaces that make universities stand out. Higher Ed Marketing states: “prospects who are able to attend campus visits, usually with a parent or two, are far more likely to apply.”
The trend of virtual tours is growing, and will often feature content catered to a variety of personas, parents included. In order to specifically answer parents’ concerns, some establishments split the content during parts of the visit. From highlighting landmarks to showcasing meaningful statistics, universities are working to make these tours as interactive as possible by embedding short stand-alone videos and providing engagement features like a chat box.
The tours are also a perfect time to highlight “outstanding” statistics; stories or infographics that will help alleviate your university’s reputation. The content can also come under the form of podcasts, videos or even “parent-generated” blogs.
5. Developing long-term relationships with parents
Like any other marketing strategy, the biggest achievement is the ability to maintain long-term relationships with your audience by keeping them engaged throughout the student experience, at least.
In terms of content, it includes providing handy “parent guides” and granting them access to an up-to-date academic calendar throughout their children’s studies. This can be executed through the form of webinars, podcasts or simple PDF files. When it comes to keeping parents up to date with current news, guides, important dates or even fun facts, an automated newsletter can be a very efficient way to send out that information as long as it is consistently monitored.
Finally, if parents have recurring topics of concern or repetitive questions, a curated blog is a great way to communicate. The articles can also cover student and parent testimonials related to their experience, success stories, or pieces of advice for peers and/or fellow parents.
These methods are only base outlines of strategies that universities can put in place, but are not specific to the identity and specialization of universities in Switzerland. This means that at the end of the day, testing them out through trial and error is the only way for each institution to concretely understand what works best for them and why. The most important factor is to make sure all components are comprehensively aligned with the characteristics that make your university different from all others.