Our Thoughts.

4 Ways to Use Empathy to Enroll More Students

If you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, you know it contains a million takeaways for today’s modern marketer. After all, the whole thing is essentially about getting other people to do what you want them to do—the marketer’s basic function.

That last sentence isn’t exactly a fair representation. Because what makes Carnegie’s book so great is that his whole strategy for influencing people is never even remotely self-centered. Instead, the point he makes over and over again is that in order to win people over (to win their loyalty or their business) you must pay careful attention to their needs and then figure out ways to meet them.  

When you do this—when you follow empathy with relevance—you gain allies, customers, and yes, even prospective students.

Here’s how you can use empathy in your enrollment marketing to help more students find their way to your door.

1) Talk to students about their interests. (Say the stuff that matters!)

The number one mistake we see colleges and universities make in their enrollment marketing efforts is talking in generic brand platitudes about themselves. This behavior takes many forms, like filling up precious email space with agency-crafted taglines and “who we are” info that would be better suited to their website’s “about” section.

Instead of this self-centered approach, we help schools operationalize the data we already know about students (like major of interest) to make our first email and web interactions about them and what they might be interested in.

After all, if a high school junior has never heard of your school, what do you think is more likely to connect with them? The fact that you were founded in 1836 or the fact that they can study business, their first-choice major, on your campus, in a city they’ve always been curious about exploring?

There’s plenty of time for the brand stuff after you’ve begun the conversation, but keep it to yourself until after you’ve extended the common courtesy of showing true interest in them first.

2) Learn more about their interests (and fears and hopes and dreams).

We’ve pointed out in earlier blog posts that the purchasable data available to higher ed undergraduate enrollment marketers is supremely rich and makes our jobs much easier than they would be if we worked in different industries.

But the data you can buy from the College Board or ACT isn’t everything. It’s just a start.

Similarly, empathy will take you only so far. You can put yourself in a compassionate, other-centered frame of mind, but that doesn’t always help you know what you should specifically say to individual students in your marketing outreach.

“Early in your outreach you’re battling for attention, and the best way to get someone’s attention is to say something relevant and helpful to them.”

Here at Waybetter, to ensure that our outreach efforts continue to be unselfish, student-focused, and helpful, we build campaigns that allow us to learn. When we understand more about students’ primary concerns (e.g., cost, internships, outcomes, student life offerings) we’re then able to respond with specific information that’s relevant to them and that meets their needs.

Again, you can follow up with the brand talking points later. But early in your outreach you’re battling for attention, and the best way to get someone’s attention is to say something relevant and helpful to them.

If you’re curious about how we’re able to learn about individual students’ needs so we can market to them in relevant and meaningful ways, go ahead and fill out our contact form. We’ll talk you through our strategy and show you the live campaigns we’re running for our university clients.

3) Give the gift of time.

The enrollment journey is a function of time, and students face different pressures as time passes. We can help alleviate their time-driven anxiety in a couple ways.

The first is by simply reminding students when it’s time to do stuff. Nudges to apply,  to visit, and to make a deposit can be clarifying and illuminating—so nudge away. Of course, you don’t want these nudges to be pushy or transactional, but you also can’t nudge just once and expect that to be enough. Empathetic persistence ensures that you’ll be present in a student’s inbox when they’re finally ready to take action.

The second way you can help students avoid the tyranny of time is by giving them plenty of time to get stuff done. Hosting a big celebratory bash for accepted students? Then be sure to invite families at least a month in advance (and remind them as the event nears) so you can get on their calendars. It’s good manners and it’s good marketing.

Similarly, consider modifying your calendar of events and timelines to better suit the needs of prospective students and their families. If you pushed up your accept announcements, would that better serve the population you’re trying to reach? If so, why not do it?

Don’t be unreflectively devoted to your history or past processes—that’s a subtle form of self-centeredness and a potential lost opportunity.

4) Be clear about cost.

Financial anxiety is a fact of life, but cost-of-college-anxiety is in a league of its own.

Our best advice on cost is to start communicating about the true cost of attendance before students apply and are admitted. Whether it’s about your low in-state tuition or about the specific amount of merit aid an individual student is eligible to receive, tell them sooner rather than later.

This is 1) the right thing to do, and 2) a great way to generate interest in your school. Here at Waybetter, we’re consistently amazed at how talking about cost—in a specific, intentional way—drives activity. Prospective students who have completely ignored a school’s marketing efforts for a year (or longer) will suddenly pay attention when they’re alerted in the fall of their senior year not only that they qualify for significant scholarships, but exactly how much those scholarships are likely to be.

Put yourself in their shoes: When you go shopping for a car or a house, do you ever start looking without having a good idea of cost? Of course not—your understanding of the costs in play shapes your entire approach. So give prospective students and families the same info that’s helpful in your big life decisions.

As is frequently the case with empathy, it will help you both.

Interested in working with an enrollment marketing agency that puts students’ needs first? Get in touch.

Share this article