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Ways to Create a Strong Brand Message to Attract Adult Learners

Sitafa Allen, MBA, PMP, SP, SA, SSM

The market for adult learners is constantly growing and only getting more competitive. Currently, about 80 million U.S. adults ages 25 through 65 have graduated from high school but don’t have a college degree (Abound). At the same time, a survey conducted by Abound member Champlain College found that 6 out of 10 adults have considered returning to school for a higher education degree. The interest is there, but it can be tough to attract adult learners to your school considering the competition from larger institutions with extensive marketing budgets (and why forging organizational partnerships to increase adult student enrollment is becoming all the more important). Fortunately, Abound has compiled a few tips and strategies to create a strong brand message for your school without breaking the bank.

Optimize & Personalize Your Website

Your website is going to be one of the first things prospective students see, and there is no doubt about how important it is to make a good first impression. Adult learners not only conduct most of their college search online, but they are also more likely to enroll in courses that are offered in a flexible online format. This makes an attractive and navigable website paramount, as it is the primary way by which you will connect with your potential students. Here are a few tips to build a marketable website that showcases your brand’s story:

  • Make It Easy to Find. Before students can fall in love with your brand, they’ll need to know who you are. By making your site easily accessible and visible in common web searches, you’ll be quick to attract more students. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a great tool to use toward this effort; keywords and terms that are most associated with your institution’s brand, academic programs and resources, and third-party recognition can ensure that your school appears close to the top of the search results on engines like Google or Yahoo.
  • Relate to Your Audience. You want the content on your website to be personable in the way it presents your brand as a partner in success. The images on your site, for example, should display successful adult learners and students who are actively entering the workforce. Abound member University of the Incarnate Word not only uses relatable images, but it also has a personalized subdomain name deliberately targeted to adult learners. Subdomain names like UIW’s use targeted keywords to let adults know that it has offerings and programs created specifically for them. Another way to connect with prospective students is to make prominent displays of genuine success stories. These stories show that your school produces real, tangible results for people with whom your audience can relate. Notre Dame de Namur University, another Abound member school, features student perspectives and success stories in a dedicated section of its website. Such a feature on the University’s homepage really showcases its close connection to students with an integrated, positive brand message.

University of the Incarnate Word

Photo: Screenshot Taken from University of the Incarnate Word's website

Notre Dame de Namur University Photo: Screenshot taken from Notre Dame de Namur University's website
  • Personalize It! Put yourself in the shoes of the prospective students you are seeking to attract. What kinds of resources and support would you be looking for as an adult learner? Just one great way to personalize each site visitor’s experience is to install a chatbot. Chatbots can quickly help users find exactly what they’re looking for while also interacting with your brand. They can also accrue such important customer information as frequently asked questions and popular search terms. This data can help you pinpoint what is really important to prospective students and how your brand message can align with their interests.

Social Media Strategies to Help Your University Survive the Digital Market

Get Creative on Social Media

With more and more consumers using social media to connect with their favorite brands, marketing in the digital sphere has evolved from a strategic bonus to a necessity. Leverage this mass shift online and establish a presence across social networking sites to showcase your institution’s brand. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Linkedin are prime platforms through which to run creative ads and campaigns for your unique audience—these can even be targeted based on location, interests, experiences, behaviors, and more.

Most of the sites mentioned above are equipped with helpful targeting and analytics tools that can make your campaigns noticeable to adult learners who are most likely to be interested in your institution. Mount Aloysius College, for example, regularly uses Facebook to advertise its student outreach events and show off the resources it provides. Its social media presence not only makes the College known and recognizable to future students, but it also maintains a continuous, supportive connection with those who are already enrolled. Notice that merely creating an account on social media is not enough; the most successful accounts are ones that interact with users who comment, like, and share their posts. Real engagement will make your brand familiar and appealing.

Mount Aloysius College Facebook Marketing

Photo: Screenshot taken from Mount Aloysius College's Facebook Page

Highlight What Makes Your Brand Unique         

The market for adult learners is extremely competitive considering the sheer number of schools there are for them to choose from. It’s up to you to emphasize what makes your school unique and distinguish your brand from the pack. What benefits or value do you offer that other institutions do not? Maybe you offer an uncommon degree program that isn’t available at most other schools. Or maybe you provide interesting scholarships for specific groups of people. Whatever is exclusive to your institution is what can most easily make you stand apart!

Just Tell Your Story

At the end of the day, a strong brand message for adult learners is all about how it tells your university’s story. Prospective learners want to know who you are and whether they can trust you with their success. Speak the truth of your brand’s story and integrate your message with the services that adult learners are looking for. Key benefits to think about include flexibility, financial support, supportive staff, and diverse learning options.

What’s important to remember is that the promise of a high-quality education gets little attention if it’s not supported by an impactful message. Building distinguishable brand takes time and effort, but it is ultimately what gets adult learners to know who you are and how you can support them. Hone these strategies, catch people’s attention, and foster an enthusiastic, trustworthy identity for students both old and new.

We at Abound know you have so much to offer, and we are honored to provide you our resources along your path to success.

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