Thought Leadership

Strategic Marketing Considerations for an Online Program Launch

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With nearly 60% of all postsecondary degree seekers in the US enrolled in some form of online educational offering in 2021(Forbes, 2023)  and over two thirds of colleges in the US adapting to meet the demand of online education by including online courses as of January 2023 (Higher Ed Dive, 2023), the challenge is now: how can institutions launch new online programming with intentionality to build awareness and drive enrollment?

We gathered our Town Hall higher education, media, and creative   experts to develop a holistic approach for building awareness, growing engagement and driving enrollments for new online learning experiences.

Higher Education POV

One of the most crucial, if not the most crucial, considerations to make in developing and launching a new course or program is to understand the target audience and the value of the learning experience to the potential student. Higher education marketers must collaborate closely with academic departments and product development teams to understand exactly who the curriculum is tailored towards and to identify the market demand. 

Evaluation of market demand should be a foundational step in the development of online education programming. Search auction insight reports are an essential tool for detecting market demand by revealing search volume of competitive keywords related to the degree name or course content. This helps marketing and product development teams ensure that their offerings are tailored to stay up to speed with audience interest and demand. Search auction insight reports will also be useful in developing search keyword lists and search ad copy when preparing paid search campaigns for the program’s eventual marketing launch.

Marketers can  collaborate with academic departments to build organic promotion of the new course launch through social media accounts and live events, such as webinars or information sessions. Faculty engagement with future learners through these events can help with building organic engagement and a retargeting audience to flow into lower funnel campaigns.

Once the online education product is developed, it’s the marketing team’s responsibility to be attuned to the program course list or individual course curriculum. Marketers should leverage the curriculum and learner profile to inform the customized paid media and creative strategies, where they will apply their strong grasp of who the audience is in order to identify where, how, and when they should speak to that audience. 

Digital Media POV

It’s highly unlikely in higher ed marketing that you’ll get a user from awareness to enrollment in just 1 or 2 touchpoints, and even more so for a brand new course offering; therefore upper and middle funnel media campaigns should come first and foremost with a new program launch, with the goals of impressions, reach, and page views.

Upper Funnel:

While challenging to measure, upper funnel placements are essential to get the program name out into the world and build awareness among the intended audience, using platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Spotify, or programmatic native display. YouTube and TikTok are recommended for learner audiences, as they are common search mediums among students. Furthermore, video ads typically have the highest impact for brand awareness and recall. Podcast ad placements may be more suitable for add-to-cart style online courses than online degree programs; we are launching a test campaign in the coming weeks to evaluate this hypothesis. 

Middle Funnel:

This is where we want to communicate value propositions to the audience and show how the educational experience will benefit them by engaging users with multiple touch points, across a variety of platforms, placements, and types of content. Middle funnel offers the perfect opportunity for test & learns. There is so much to be learned about a new course audience; a large spread of content and placements equips your team with valuable data around what resonates with the potential students. You can later use these insights to continue refining your targeting and messaging approaches.

Lower Funnel:

Lower funnel campaigns should be leveraged to drive users from consideration across the finish line to apply & enroll. Investments should be made in retargeting campaigns in paid social platforms and display to meet the audience where they are with a clear call to action reminder to apply or enroll by a given deadline. Understanding lead times for programs similar to the new offering will inform how far out to flight campaigns, and at what point in the enrollment cycle to forecast peak number of applicants.

Creative POV

What you’re communicating to your audience and the content that reflects the educational offering is just as important as the medium in which the content is served. Visual and messaging strategies should be optimized for the platform that the asset is running on.

Identifying the following program elements will help unveil the value propositions of the program and to include throughout asset messaging:

  • Course structure: How is the online learning offering delivered (ie. discussion board style courses vs. live instruction)?
  • Course content: What topics are covered, and how are they directly applicable to career growth opportunities?
  • Professors & Faculty: Who are the experts delivering the course content and how, if at all, will students have opportunities to engage with professors?
  • Learner community & networks: What in-person events, virtual networking events, online job board, or community engagements are offered exclusively to enrolled online learners?
  • Pricing: How is the price of this product comparable to competitors, and are there discounts available to increase accessibility?
  • Duration of program/course: What is the length and overall time commitment required of students in the program?
  • Application process: How easy is it for potential students to enroll in the program and what potential barriers are there to enrollment?

These elements are ideal creative testing opportunities to learn what resonates most with your various audiences. Taking the above into consideration will help with formulating a messaging approach that speaks directly to how the course(s) may appeal to and benefit the specific audience. 

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