Top FAQs for Marketing Online Degree Programs

04/24/17   |  
Ryan Segovich & Daniel Baresic

The world of online education is expanding every day. About 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in fall 2014 – up 3.9 percent from the previous fall, according to U.S. News & World Report.

For prospective students, choosing online education appears to be an easy decision to make. But for traditional institutions looking to expand into the online space – particularly when partnering with a third party to help bring it all to life – there can be a number of questions that need to be answered.

To help shed some light on exactly how Keypath Education helps institutions attract nontraditional students, we spoke with Daniel Baresic, Keypath’s vice president of marketing. Here are his answers to the most frequently asked questions about marketing programs online.

Q:  How is marketing online programs different from marketing ground programs?


Daniel:  There are many similarities for marketing ground and online programs, and there are shared differences in how undergraduate versus graduate programs are marketed in both delivery types.

Marketing ground programs may inherently include marketing the campus as part of that experience, so the amenities and other factors play into it, while marketing online programs may focus more on the program details (curriculum, cost, completion time, faculty, accreditation, graduate outcomes), the online learning experience, networking opportunities and the school’s brand.

The most obvious difference is that to market ground programs you are advocating for the prospective student to physically go to your campus at set time intervals. For online programs, you are marketing the program in a (typically) asynchronous format via an online modality. Additionally, online programs can be more practical choices for working adults who cannot attend a campus full-time or part-time due to work constraints, personal commitments and/or geographic location constraints.

Q:  Will marketing online programs cannibalize interest in my ground programs?


Daniel:  The short answer is no. In fact, it’s often the opposite. What we have seen for many years working with academic partners is that even if a prospective student resides right next to the campus, they may choose online because they want or require an online delivery option. That may be because of a personal preference, or more likely, due to work and family commitments many adult learners have. Additionally, there is a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats-effect in terms of brand awareness. By marketing your online programs, you’re enhancing and increasing knowledge of your institution’s brand overall.

Q:  How does a program-focused marketing approach differ for online programs vs. ground programs?


Daniel:  Typically, it’s a scaling challenge for ground marketing teams to hyper-focus marketing efforts by program. Whereas online programs are by nature heavily marketed digitally and can be more easily marketed programmatically.

One of the biggest benefits of a partnership with an OPM (online program management) provider like Keypath is that we provide the robust marketing budget, expertise and internal staff required to optimize various digital channels.

Additionally, we have built a proprietary B2B network, also aligned programmatically, which our university partners gain access to. By connecting universities and corporations/organizations, we are able to bring our partners’ quality education to prospective students who are motivated and interested in pursuing advanced degrees, often with financial support from their employer.

Q: How do you decide what channels to invest in for different programs?


Daniel:  There are many variables that define the go-to-market channel (and sub-channel) media mix, from general ones such as the school’s brand/reputation, the total cost of the program and the competitiveness vs. comparable programs, to the program vertical, or any unique requirements for admissions or field placements.

Even with that, it isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it arrangement. Once in market, functional experts monitor and optimize these efforts daily through campaign management, continuous SEO, content development, social boosting and more.

For example, some programs may require more traditional, corporate, military or event/outreach marketing due to the audience and where they work. While other programs may rely more heavily on foundational digital channels such as SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (pay-per-click) across various engines including social networks, PPI (pay-per-inquiry) with various educational directory websites, paid display across various vertical-specific websites and email list purchases. Continuous monitoring and testing allows us to home in on the optimal mix for each program and institution.

Q:  What kind of investment should I expect to make to market a new program?


Daniel:  The efforts don’t stop at just inquiry generation, but continue with inquiry nurturing and cultivation through email marketing efforts in tandem with the recruitment team.

You should expect to invest in staffing, inquiry generation marketing budgets, technology needs such as a CRM and ESP, content development costs for copywriting, photo/video production and surveys, graphic design and developers.

Having insights into inquiry pipeline metrics is critical in reviewing and optimizing inquiry sources and channels. A robust referral generation plan is also critical and must be adopted by the recruitment team, the student services team, as well as through marketing to alumni and matriculating students.

Lastly, once you have students in and graduates of the program, the development of student experience testimonials and graduate outcomes is critical to reinforce the marketing program’s credibility.

Q: How do you find success with online programs?


Daniel: By finding a school’s inner unicorn. In our experience, an institution must be differentiated in at least two of these areas to see program growth and scalability. For example, a mid-ranked institution that offers in-demand programs with relatively fast completion time, an ethically driven curriculum and a competitive price, can win in their market, even if they have less brand recognition than a higher-ranked competitor. 

If you’re interested in launching and obtaining marketing support for your institution, contact us to learn more about how we can help.