Why quitting marketing during a financial downturn means quitting on your audience. 

If you're going through tough financial times – keep going.

When financial constraints loom, marketing budgets often face the first cut. However, this short-term saving strategy can lead to long-term visibility and enrolment problems. A university’s decision to reduce its marketing efforts can result in a significant decrease in its ability to attract new students and maintain its reputation.

In an era where competition among universities is fierce, staying visible is not just a choice; it’s a necessity. Read on for some pointers on how to make your marketing strategy more streamlined and cost-efficient.

Assemble the team.

Before we can really get into the nitty gritty, it’s essential you open the conversation up to the other departments of your organization – most specifically, recruitment. It’s time to get on the exact same page as the VP leading recruitment so you’re being 100 per cent purposeful with how you’re communicating with audiences.

Smart collaboration like this will have a positive impact on everything you do here on out. This means stronger messaging, faster processes, and higher morale. Read that sentence again. All those attributes possess the potential to save your institution money in the short term and to positively impact enrolment in the long term.

Readjusting > Retreating

You might be reading this and thinking, “Oh look. A marketing agency is telling me to continue to promote my brand. Real surprising.” And yes, that’s exactly what’s happening.

But when times are tight, going dark on your marketing can only make a bad situation worse. So rather than disappearing altogether, a better course of action would be pivoting to the most cost-effective way of sharing your story. 

It starts with a digital approach. Less big budget, ‘look at us’ stuff. More targeted, streamlined and direct. Spend money on the people who are most likely to return the investment (ROI) for you.

Social media platforms, along with other digital channels, offer unparalleled opportunities for universities to reach potential students. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook allow for creative and engaging content that resonates with the younger demographic. Furthermore, these platforms provide valuable data and analytics, enabling universities to understand and adapt to the interests and behaviours of their target audiences.

And more than that: that data can prove the ROI, something that will be under intense scrutiny if you’re spending on marketing during a financial nadir. 

Digital analytics play a pivotal role in refining marketing strategies. By analyzing engagement, click-through rates, and conversion metrics, universities can identify which tactics are most effective and adjust their strategies accordingly.

In the face of budget constraints, universities must employ creative and cost-effective marketing tactics. Repurposing content across multiple platforms can maximize reach and impact without additional expenditure. For instance, a video made for TikTok can be adapted for use on Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. This approach not only saves resources but also ensures a consistent message across different channels. 

Eyes (only) on the prize. 

Recruitment marketing in particular is not just about attracting your next matriculation class; it’s about building a pipeline for future years. An interruption in marketing can lead to a significant lag in rebuilding brand visibility and student interest, ultimately costing more in the long run. 

The key lies in targeted messaging. When budget constraints limit your marketing mix, universities need to tailor their communications to address the specific needs and interests of different audience segments – even more than you normally might. For instance, messaging for parents might focus on safety and academic excellence, while communications aimed at international students might highlight global opportunities and support systems.

Use analytics, audience background, sales and strong creative to carve out possibilities for your brand to stay connected with both new and current students.

Your brand should be an umbrella in the storm. 

Ideally, this can be done in the brand voice in which you’ve previously invested. In fact, occasions like this are exactly why universities should proactively invest in branding: Your brand is an umbrella in the storm. But when the clouds roll in, those ‘big-brand’ messages might need to wait until the financial storm clears. 

Silence is deadly. And it stinks. 

In marketing, we like to think of brands as people. They have voices, attributes and values to live by.

They also have loyalty. And just like you wouldn’t bail on your close friends on tough times, you shouldn’t let your brand bail on your customers. It’s crucial to stay visible and communicate with people to let them know you’re still doing the great work you’ve always done at your post-secondary institute. Trusted brands and products can provide a sense of comfort, but it is crucial for businesses to continuously remind consumers of their presence and support. From global drops in enrolment, to regionalized tuition hikes, to international enrolment caps: things have changed drastically for post-secondary institutions. But marketing smarter and better creates more success than it does harm.

Keeping marketing activity active is key to not only getting through these tough times, but surviving them and becoming stronger for them. 

Smart marketing is an investment for your future. Don’t cut it. Cure it.

If you’re feeling the squeeze in your marketing investment, and need guidance on how to make your dollars stretch further – reach out, and let’s see how we can help. 

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