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March 27

7 Essential Elements of an Education Marketing Plan


If you’re in higher ed marketing, chances are you’re busy. There are so many marketing channels to attend to and never quite enough resources to get it all done. 

That makes it all the more important to spend the resources you do have on the right activities with the best chances of producing results. How do you do that? You need a plan. 

In this post, I’ll explain the seven elements you should make sure your plan includes. Doing the work to create it will help focus your efforts so you can make sure the urgent doesn’t keep you from investing in the strategic. 

1. Develop a clear UVP

The first thing to get clear about is who you are as an institution. You can’t be all things to all people. Your unique value proposition (or unique selling proposition) is the way you articulate what your differentiators are, those characteristics that set you apart from other schools.

Don’t miss the value proposition part. You need to communicate the potential benefits your school represents to your audience. 

Consider this example from St. John’s College, a school known for its Great Books curriculum:

At St. John’s, great books—and great discussions—are the heart of the college’s distinctive liberal arts program. Students are part of an intellectual community and investors in their own education, from conversations around the seminar table to those that take place beyond classroom walls. Inspired by some of history’s most brilliant philosophers, scientists, musicians and more, students push themselves to think deeply, discuss intensely, and live boldly. They leave St. John’s with a passion that ignites distinctive career paths—and their world. 

We get a clear idea here both about what makes St. John’s College unique and the impact one might experience as a student. That’s what a UVP needs to accomplish. Having one gives direction to your marketing efforts both in terms of your messaging and your audience selection.

2. Define your audience

St. John’s UVP isn’t going to appeal to every potential student. Neither should yours. As you think about the defining characteristics of your college or university, you also need to think about the defining characteristics of your audience.

Your basic question is this: What kind of student is going to resonate with and benefit most from what we have to offer? These mission-fit students are your target audience.

You shouldn’t try to rely on your gut to answer this question. Instead, you need to gather some data. A good place to start is with the students you already have on campus. Identify the ones that love your school and are thriving. Find out who they are and what they most value about their experience as students. 

Use what you find out here to help you define your target audience. Looking back at the first element we discussed, you should also use this research to inform how you articulate your UVP so you highlight the things that matter most to those you are trying to reach.

A great way to distill what you learn about your audience into a form that is easy to use is to create marketing personas. These can make abstract data concrete and help you keep your audience in mind as you shape your marketing strategies and materials. 

3. Set goals

Creating goals brings several benefits. For one thing, it forces you to think very clearly about what you are trying to accomplish. In turn, that allows you to assess the extent to which a possible marketing activity either helps you get there or is a distraction. 

Secondly, goals give you a way to measure your efforts. If you don’t clearly define where you are going, you won’t be able to tell if you are making any progress. 

What are some examples? You might, for instance, try to hit certain metrics for engagement on social or traffic to your website landing pages. Other goals might focus on lead conversion from ad campaigns or a percentage increase in applications or deposits.

Just make sure your goals follow the SMART framework by being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound

4. Select the right marketing channels

The internet has brought with it a proliferation of marketing channels. Marketing teams sometimes feel the pressure to be active in all of them. Fortunately, that isn’t necessary. It is better to do one channel really well than five poorly. Your available budget and personnel will help you determine your capacity here. 

Which channels should you prioritize? The short answer: whichever ones are most used by your target audience. You want to connect with people where they are.

One way to think of this is that you’re looking for the “watering holes” where your target students hang out. Finding them allows you to focus your marketing outreach in places where it is most likely to connect.

Read more: Finding Your School’s Community Watering Holes

In general, the most important channels to consider are organic traffic through search engine optimization (SEO), paid ads, and email marketing. If you have the ability to take on more, you should also consider social media, events, and even guerilla marketing — which can be a great way to make a splash on a small budget.

5. Create a content plan

From emails to blogs to social media posts, digital marketing runs on content creation. Since producing content is resource-intensive, you will want to carefully plan to make sure you are getting the best return on your investment.

Questions to ask yourself include: What kinds of content will we use and on which channels? Who will create the content? How does our content support and illustrate our UVP? Which stories can we tell that will connect with our audience on an emotional level? What questions are our prospective students asking?

Remember to keep in mind the customer journey and create content that is relevant to the stage your audience is in as well as consistent with your brand.  

6. Plot a lead-nurturing strategy

Your expertly-planned content is generating traffic. Great. Now what?

You’ll want to have in place a way to both capture leads and cultivate a relationship with prospects. One of the most common methods of lead capture is through a form on a landing page on your website that receives traffic from an ad campaign or organic search.

You can also employ some kind of lead magnet where visitors give you their email address in exchange for a resource or to attend a webinar.

However you collect your leads, the nurturing process that follows is crucial. Aim to maintain engagement, answer questions, and build trust with content that is personalized and relevant. Email automation is your most powerful tool here. 

7. Measure and analyze your results

As all the elements we’ve covered to this point make clear, marketing demands a big investment of time and attention. You need ways to measure what you are doing so you can assess what is working, what isn’t, and how you can optimize your efforts.

There are many key performance indicators (KPIs) that could be tracked. Some common ones include website traffic, conversion rates, and cost per acquisition. Email has its own metrics like open rate and click-to-open rate, which is the percentage of people who opened your email and then clicked on a link within it.  

Read more: A Brief Guide to Content Marketing Metrics

As you track your data, use the insights you collect to make adjustments to your activities. Over time, you’ll discover the most efficient ways to spend your resources to hit your goals. 

The 8th element of an education marketing plan

A solid marketing plan is the foundation for marketing efforts that are strategic and have the best chances for success.

Creating such a plan, however, is a lot of work and some parts are difficult to execute if you don’t have a lot of experience.

That’s why I wanted to add one more element: a strategic partner for plan creation. I added it last because it certainly isn’t essential. But it can definitely be helpful.

If you’d like help creating the best plan for your marketing team, let’s talk.  

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Featured image by Monkey Business via Adobe Stock

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