• Online Education Marketing & Higher Education

5 Insider Tips on How to Market Online Higher Education Degrees - From an Industry Expert

  • Jonathan Buffard
  • 9 min read
5 Insider Tips on How to Market Online Higher Education Degrees - From an Industry Expert


Studying online has gone from a small niche to the mainstream. Demand has grown exponentially. With more players joining the industry and bringing their degrees online, the challenge of effectively marketing higher education degrees has never been more critical. As an industry expert with extensive experience, I've observed a shift in the landscape – one that demands a strategic, innovative approach to connect with potential students.

This comprehensive guide offers five insider tips, gleaned from years of experience, to effectively market online higher education degrees. Each tip is a culmination of proven strategies and innovative approaches tailored to meet the unique demands of the digital age. From aligning course offerings with market trends to leveraging the power of highly targeted social media marketing campaigns, these insights are designed to help educational institutions enhance their online presence, attract prospective students, and achieve sustained growth for their online education programs.

Let's embark on this journey to explore these essential marketing techniques that are key to elevating online higher education programs in a competitive marketplace.


Tip 1: Align Degrees with Market Demand

Aligning online higher education degrees with market demands is a critical step in effectively marketing your online degrees. This alignment not only increases the attractiveness of your programs to prospective students but also ensures that the skills and knowledge imparted are relevant and in-demand.

Understanding Market Needs:

Begin by conducting market research to understand what prospective students and employers are looking for. For instance, if there's a rising demand for data science skills, consider how your degrees can incorporate relevant coursework or specializations. Surveys, industry reports, and job market analyses can provide valuable insights into current trends and skills gaps.

Curriculum Development:

Based on your research, develop or tweak your curricula to meet these demands. This might involve introducing new courses, updating existing ones, or even developing entirely new programs. For example, if digital marketing skills are in high demand, consider offering a specialized degree or certifications in this field.

Marketing Your Programs:

Once your programs are aligned with market demands, your marketing should highlight this alignment. Use case studies, alumni success stories, and industry endorsements to showcase the relevance and value of your degrees. For instance, feature a graduate who has successfully transitioned into a high-demand career field thanks to the skills acquired in your program.

Staying Current:

As we discussed before in this blog, technology has transformed learning. Similarly, the job market and industry demands are always evolving. Regularly review and update your programs to keep them relevant. Make sure you are using technology effectively to stimulate learning, discussion, and networking. Establishing partnerships with industry leaders can be a valuable strategy for keeping your curriculum up-to-date.

Go Niche:

As we discussed above, the offering for online educational programs has grown exponentially. This means that you will have to do more for your degrees and courses to stand out. This is when it pays to go niche. Unless you’re an Ivy League school or Cambridge or Oxford, your degree is not going to stand out on its own. That’s why adding a new MBA to an already saturated market is not a good idea. Think of how you can offer a niche program that aligns with market demand in a way that makes you stand out from other programs. For example, instead of an MBA why not an MBA with Leadership for Remote Organizations? There are a lot fewer programs catering to this new market reality, allowing you to find your niche without competing with another gazillion degrees for the same space.

By aligning your degrees with market demands, you not only enhance the appeal and effectiveness of your marketing efforts but also contribute to the overall success and satisfaction of your graduates. This strategic alignment positions your institution as a forward-thinking, responsive entity in the higher education landscape.


Tip 2: Create Marketing Personas for Each Degree

Creating marketing personas for each degree program is a strategic approach that personalizes your marketing efforts and significantly increases the relevance and impact of your communication. When it comes to Marketing for Higher Education, universities tend to think of marketing personas in terms of only application requirements. However, they should think about marketing personas vis a vis what needs these personas have, and how the programs can be shaped and marketed to fit those needs.

Understanding Your Audience:

Start by segmenting your potential student base into distinct groups. For instance, an MBA program might attract mid-career professionals looking to advance in their current field, or it might appeal to younger individuals seeking to enter the business world. Conduct surveys, interviews, and research to gather data about these groups' demographics, career goals, educational backgrounds, and motivations.

Developing Personas:

Create detailed personas based on your research. For example, one persona for an MBA program might be "John, a 30-year-old mid-level manager looking to enhance his leadership skills." Include specific details like John’s career aspirations, lifestyle, challenges he faces, and what he seeks in an MBA program. Remember that the motivation to study online is both rational and emotional. Make sure you cater to both types of needs.

Tailoring Marketing Messages:

Use these personas to develop targeted marketing messages. For John, you might focus on how your MBA program offers flexible scheduling for working professionals and leadership development courses. Your marketing should speak directly to the needs and interests of each persona, making your program feel like the perfect fit for them.

Practical Application:

Implement these personas in your marketing campaigns. Use them to guide the content on your website, in your email marketing, and in your social media campaigns. For instance, create blog posts that address common questions or challenges that "John" might have.

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By creating and utilizing marketing personas, you make your communication efforts more effective and efficient. This tailored approach resonates with potential students, making them feel understood and seen, and increases the likelihood of them choosing your program. Remember, the more detailed and accurate your personas are, the more effective your marketing will be.

As an education marketer, whether you're focusing on SEO for educational institutions, engaging in social media marketing, or orchestrating email marketing campaigns, it's essential to adopt a distinct approach. This approach should be tailored to address the specific challenges and opportunities inherent in marketing within the education sector.


Tip 3: Use Social Media Marketing to Generate Quality Leads

Social media marketing, when executed correctly, can be a highly effective tool for generating quality leads in the realm of online higher education.

Identifying the Ideal Student Profile:

Begin by defining what a qualified, successful student looks like for your specific programs. Consider academic backgrounds, career aspirations, interests, and behaviors that align with your institution's values and offerings. For instance, if your program is geared towards working professionals, your ideal student profile might include criteria like employment status, industry experience, and a clear intent for career advancement.

Tailoring Social Media Campaigns:

Once you have a clear understanding of your ideal student, use this profile to inform your social media targeting strategies. Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram offer sophisticated targeting tools that allow you to reach individuals based on specific criteria relevant to your ideal student profile.

If your targeting is quite open, I suggest you use Facebook and Instagram, and target users based on interests, location, and age. However, if your entry requirements are more strict, if you need a minimum years of work experience or if your program is only for people in a specific profession, the best platform to use is LinkedIn. For example, LinkedIn's targeting options can help you reach professionals who work for specific companies, have specific job titles, while having the seniority that they need to be a qualified lead. Choosing the right platform and targeting is also a question of keeping costs down so that your funnels can be profitable and scalable.

Creating Engaging Content:

Develop content that resonates with your target audience. This could include success stories of alumni, insights into the benefits of your programs, and highlights of unique aspects of your educational offerings. Engaging, informative content not only attracts potential students but also encourages shares and discussions, increasing your reach.

Monitoring and Adjusting Social Media Campaigns:

Regularly analyze the performance of your social media campaigns. Look at metrics such as engagement rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to understand what's resonating with your audience. Use these insights to refine your campaigns, making them more effective over time.

By leveraging social media's targeting capabilities and engaging content, you can attract more qualified leads, thus increasing the likelihood of enrolling students who will thrive in your programs and contribute positively to your institution’s community.


Tip 4: Generate a Balanced Geographical Target Mix for Lead Generation Campaigns

Crafting a balanced geographical target mix is crucial in global online higher education marketing. This approach ensures a diverse student body and optimizes ad spend across different regions. You would be surprised by how many universities get this wrong!

Understanding Geographic Diversity:

Each geographic region has unique characteristics, behaviors, and cost implications in terms of digital advertising. For example, advertising costs in North America might differ significantly from those in Southeast Asia. Recognizing these variances in costs and purchasing power are key to creating effective, region-specific campaigns.

Creating Region-Specific Campaigns:

Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Tailor your campaigns to address the specific needs and preferences of potential students in each region. This might mean varying the messaging, language, and even the digital platforms used. For instance, campaigns targeting European students might focus on different program aspects than those targeting students in Africa.

Balancing Ad Spend:

A common mistake is allocating ad spend uniformly across regions or focusing only on regions with lower costs per click (CPC) and impressions. This approach can lead to an imbalance, where your presence becomes negligible in higher-cost, potentially more lucrative markets. Strive for a balanced mix, allocating sufficient resources to each target region based on its strategic importance and potential return on investment.

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A well-executed geographical targeting strategy in your lead generation campaigns can significantly improve the quality and diversity of your student body. It ensures that your institution's presence is felt in key markets worldwide, attracting a wide range of students who can enrich the educational experience for all.


Tip 5: Use Email Marketing Automation and Holistic Content Strategy to Increase Conversion Velocity

In the context of marketing online higher education degrees, email marketing automation combined with a holistic content strategy is pivotal in increasing conversion velocity. This approach significantly reduces the decision-making process of prospective students, which can otherwise be very long. The longer the decision-making process, the more likely competitors can come into the picture, so it’s in your best interest as en education marketer to increase conversion velocity.

Implementing Email Marketing Automation:

Automated email campaigns are designed to engage potential students at various stages of their decision journey. From initial interest to application submission, each email should be tailored to provide relevant information, address concerns, and guide the prospective student towards enrollment. For instance, an automated email sequence might begin with a welcome message, followed by emails that showcase program strengths, alumni success stories, and application guidance.

Developing a Holistic Content Strategy:

Your content strategy should encompass a range of topics relevant to your prospective students. This includes detailed program information, insights into the online learning experience, career outcomes, and student support services. By providing valuable and comprehensive content, you maintain engagement and build trust with your prospects.

Accelerating the Decision Process:

A well-crafted email and content strategy can significantly shorten the decision-making timeline. Engaging content keeps prospective students informed and interested, reducing the likelihood of them exploring other options. Timely and relevant communication ensures your institution stays top-of-mind throughout their decision process.

Measuring and Optimizing Your Emails:

Utilize analytics to measure the performance of your email campaigns and content. Look at open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to understand what resonates with your audience. Continuously refine your strategy based on these insights to enhance effectiveness.

Applying email marketing for higher education best practices and a comprehensive content strategy are essential tools in the digital marketer’s toolkit for universities. They enable institutions to nurture leads effectively, leading to quicker decisions and higher enrollment rates, ultimately reducing the chance of prospective students choosing competitors.


In summarizing our exploration of marketing online higher education degrees, we've delved into five critical areas that can significantly enhance an institution's marketing strategy. Aligning degree programs with market demands ensures relevance and attractiveness. Developing detailed marketing personas for each degree allows for more personalized and effective communication strategies. Utilizing social media for targeted lead generation capitalizes on sophisticated digital tools to attract qualified students. Implementing a balanced geographical targeting strategy ensures a diverse and widespread student reach, optimizing ad spend across various regions. Finally, leveraging email marketing automation and a holistic content strategy accelerates the decision-making process, keeping prospective students engaged and reducing the likelihood of them turning to competitors.

These strategies collectively represent a comprehensive approach to the challenges and opportunities in marketing higher education in the digital age. By integrating these insider tips into your marketing efforts, you can not only increase enrollment rates but also build a strong, diverse, and engaged student community. As the landscape of online education continues to evolve, staying ahead of the curve with innovative and adaptive marketing strategies is key to achieving long-term success and growth in higher education.

Jonathan Buffard

Jonathan Buffard

Director of Cayman’s Digital Marketing Agency

Jonathan Buffard, is the founder and director of Cayman’s Digital Marketing Agency Bottom Line Marketing. With his deep understanding of digital marketing dynamics and a commitment to data-driven strategies, Jonathan has been instrumental in pioneering research in the field, particularly in the area of emotional ad copy in social media marketing. At Bottom Line Marketing, Jonathan applies his academic insights and industry experience to help brands around the world optimize their digital presence and achieve substantial growth.

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