June 21

3 Powerful Ways to Drive Enrollment with Personalized Content


If you write and create marketing content, I don’t have to tell you about the power of connection to your audience. Personalized content is about taking that concept to the next level.

You’ve probably heard the advice that you should “write to one person,” because if you try to create content for everyone you’ll connect with no one.

That’s good advice.

But how can we do it better than we’ve done it before?

Can you get closer to a true one-on-one connection before you’ve even met your prospect?

Let’s explore some ways to use personalized content to create deeper connections, nurture prospects and drive enrollment.

Here are the basics about the three ideas we’ll cover.

  1. We’ll start with an idea you can use today to improve your content, then
  2. Explore an idea that takes some effort but mostly just an investment of time to pull off, and finally,
  3. An idea that requires a more significant investment in new tools, but renders a huge payoff down the road.

Let’s Make Some Personalized Content

Think of these ideas as ranging from basic to moderate to advanced. I hope you’ll find one or more useful, whatever your level of experience and capability in content creation.

1. Create imaginary personas for your blog.

At its most basic level, anyone can do this exercise to make blog content more personalized. It requires no special software or a great deal of time, but can help a lot.

What are “personas” in higher ed?

Enrollment marketing personas are profiles of imaginary persons who represent your audience.

Start by generating one persona of a target student.

  • Make him or her feel real to you. Give your persona a name, an age, a grade, etc.
  • Take generational trends into account. Is your persona Gen Z? List common characteristics.
  • Pull in target admissions data. What’s your persona’s GPA? Extracurricular interests?
  • Incorporate demographics. Where does your persona live? What’s their household income?

Ask yourself some key questions and use your imagination to answer them.

What is your persona doing right now?

Are they on a mobile device? Social media? At work?

What are they seeing?

News stories? Nature? Other students in a library?

What are they thinking?

Are they wondering about the future? What questions are they asking?

Most importantly, what are they feeling?

Excited? Scared? Frustrated?

Use what you’ve imagined to come up with topics, keywords and imagery.

It helps to write all your answers down. Take a good look at what’s in front of you and consider how you can speak more clearly to this person.

TIP: The most useful keywords are the feeling words. Really focus on those.

List your persona’s questions and start answering them.

After you’ve done this exercise, it should become clear that your persona’s questions are not really about your school. Not at first. 

Your goal is to create a connection with them first – their questions about the future, education, etc. in general – then connect them with what you have to offer further down.

Do it again for other personas.

There are many examples of personas you can develop that are useful in enrollment marketing, including different types of prospects, influencers and donors.

2. Organize email newsletter content around real personas.

An email newsletter is a completely different animal from a blog. Your audience isn’t made up of strangers anymore. These are subscribers. 

Treat them like you know them, or lose them.

The problem with email newsletters is that they are typically one-size-fits-all content. It’s everything you want to say to everyone, period.

This is a missed opportunity to connect.

In email marketing, personalized content has to be built around more than your imagination. It needs to be driven by what you know about your subscriber … and if you don’t know anything, ask.

Email Segmentation

Periodically survey your subscribers to find out what they want to see. Anyone who doesn’t fill out the survey will continue to receive your general newsletter. 

But those who do will be much more likely to open future emails from you. The more surveys that are completed, the more segmented your list becomes – and it pays off.

‘Email segmentation is an effective marketing strategy that can increase your email open rates by 203%. According to HubSpot, “marketers who use segmented campaigns note as much as a 760% increase in revenue.”’

Neil Patel

Segmentation by Program

If you know your subscriber is interested in STEM, send them a STEM-heavy version of your newsletter. Musical theatre? Give them the arts version. And so on.

Segmentation by Extracurricular Interest

Maybe your personalized content is a lead story based on your subscriber’s interest in student government, Greek life, cultural clubs, or another area. The rest could be general information.

Segmentation by Athletic Interest Level

One way to do this is to simply have one newsletter for student athletes and another for non-athletes. 

Or you could be more nuanced, say with a “middle” category for students who are fans or have a high interest in intramural sports, but aren’t necessarily into participating in intercollegiate programs.

3. Automate personalized content blocks for email and direct mail.

In search campaigns, you don’t know your prospects yet, at least not well. It’s difficult to create a sense of one-on-one connection while you’re compelling them to act.

You can use the information you do have to create multiple versions of digital and print pieces, but how do you know if it’s worth the time and expense?

The solution is an automated process that will:

  1. Collect the data you need that informs how to communicate with each recipient, and
  2. Generate personalized content based on that data.

With the right tools, you can do just that.

Search Campaign Personalization

Consider the concept of email segmentation as a starting point. You ask them what they want, and you give it to them.

Now add some sophistication to that idea.

With advanced content personalization tools, instead of making multiple versions of whole content pieces, you can create templates in which you can automatically generate personalized components, or content blocks, that are responsive to prospect input.

Here are the basics in three steps.

(In reality, there are a lot more than three steps to this. Think of this as a simplified introduction to the process.)

Step 1: Create Your Variable Content

Obviously, you can’t create enough versions of content to connect with every possible data point. Creating variable content starts with establishing a closed set of options.

Open Variables

You can have an open (unlimited) set of options in some ways, like your prospect’s name. You can have a [NAME] space at the top that can theoretically be anything. That’s a common open set.

Closed Variables

But most of your content has to have a closed (limited) set of options. You can’t create content around every single career interest a prospect might have – you only offer so many programs. That’s a natural closed set.

In addition, you may want to refine your closed set. If you have 40 different programs, are you prepared to generate 40 different versions of every piece of content? Far more manageable to organize these into maybe 5-10 categories. That’s a refined closed set.

Once you’ve created all your variable content, you’re ready to trigger it. 

Step 2: Solicit Data with a Hook

You need to come up with a way to entice your prospect to fill out a form and give you the data that triggers your personalized content. 

It might be a quiz, a game, a discount on apparel in your campus store – whatever it is, it’s a hook to get them to interact with you.

Even a handful of basic data points collected is gold. 

If your prospect tells you they’re interested in playing soccer in college and their favorite color is red, you can now target them with soccer-themed messaging in big red letters!

There are many ways to use software like this to add an extra layer of personalization to your search campaign:

  • You already have your comms segmented by athletic interest. Now you can also swap out generic content blocks about academics with program-specific content.
  • Comms are segmented by program interest. You can also swap out content blocks with general extracurricular info with info about the student organization they’re most interested in.
  • Your text content is segmented, but you also want to add personalized graphics. You can create a GIF with a jersey or t-shirt that changes from their high school colors to your school’s to represent the transition you’re inviting them to make.

Step 3: Put it All In Motion

I routinely partner with ThinkPatented, whose Mail360 system allows you to set up automated personalization across comms, coordinating email with direct mail.

You can add other types of personalized content as well, including text messages and ringless voicemail messages.

Make a stronger connection with personalized content. If you need help, find it here.

If you’re interested in:

  • Setting up automation to power your advanced search campaign,
  • Segmenting your email comms for greater impact,
  • Sharpening your writing and content effectiveness,

Or if you would just like to start a conversation about your desire to create stronger connections with prospects, I’d love to meet with you.

Because personalized content works. I look forward to showing you what it can do for your school!

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content In this popular resource from Caylor Solutions, you’ll get…

    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
    • Guidance on how to use each one for best results
    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
Get enrollment results.
Get 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.
Download your copy today!

Featured image by Ricardo Ferrando via Adobe Stock

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