Why is Higher Education Lagging in Marketing Automation Adoption?

Why is Higher Education Lagging in Marketing Automation Adoption?

Inbound Marketing changed the rules of the game for marketers in many industries. Traditional outbound marketing efforts that had enjoyed the lion’s share of marketing budget were replaced by Digital Marketing tactics. The adoption rate of marketing automation (MA) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools reached an all-time high. Marketers were thrilled with the ease with which they could segment their customers and engage them. This revolution also changed the frequency, medium, and process of consumers’ information consumption and interaction with an organization.

The digital marketing space, however, is an ever-evolving field of work. With new technology disruptors popping up every quarter, the strategy that worked a year ago might be completely obsolete today. The same features which were delighting the customer are gradually becoming industry norms (Kano model). MA platforms have been stepping up their game in recent years to stay relevant in this continuously transforming world. Marketing Campaigns are becoming more customized and personal by the day. With the help of these new features and tools, marketers are evolving from the ‘Segmentation’ strategy which was revolutionary a decade ago to ‘Personalization’ strategy.

With most of the application and admissions processes taking place online or off campus, higher education is an ideal industry for Inbound Marketing. However, the industry is also one of the late adopters to the inbound marketing revolution. This gap has left a larger segment of the customer under-served. A recent survey by Marketo stated that 60% of candidates prefer a school whose digital communications are tailored and relevant. In this landscape, it is vital for institutions to adopt a seamless digital strategy.

Recognizing this opportunity early, many higher education institutions invested in CRM and MA tools during the first wave of the Inbound Revolution. These forward-thinkers sought to differentiate themselves from competitors in the industry. However, MA and CRM tools are not silver bullets and many of these early-adopters did not see the desired results from these tools. This has resulted in two peculiar scenarios: First, higher education marketers are skeptical of the effectiveness and ROI of these tools. Second, some higher education marketers are heavily invested in the wrong tool.

Despite the challenges and criticism, marketing automation tools have withstood the test of time. Based on our research and experience with higher education clients, we understand why most MA efforts fail or don’t have desired outcomes. Below, we outline some of the key challenges:

Failing to recognize student personas:
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Prospective Students Survey Report 2017, prospective graduate students can be categorized under the following seven student segments:

  1. Respect Seekers
  2. Global Strivers
  3. Balanced Careerists
  4. Career Revitalizers
  5. Socio-Economic Climbers
  6. Skill Upgraders
  7. Impactful Innovators

Marketers can not only utilize this information to design the overall representation of their incoming student pool, but also get insights on their target segments, like their motivations, career background etc. This can be further utilized into customizing and personalizing the marketing campaigns.

Analyzing the conversion funnel incorrectly or incompletely:
Institutions fail to analyze their existing marketing funnel before identifying a marketing automation tool. Unless an institution identifies the stage of its marketing funnel that is suffering, it might end up adopting the wrong tool. Some common mistakes include attempting to use a CRM tool for bottom-of-funnel marketing automation efforts, or focusing on the wrong stage of the funnel entirely, usually the top of the funnel (TOFU).

Believing that marketing automation is a silver bullet for all problems:
Most marketers use MA tools as a magic pill. What they fail to understand is that buying an MA tool is only the first step of the process. A successful marketing automation implementation requires careful strategy. Though MA tools have robust feature sets, these features are largely useless out-of-the-box. All automated tasks must be configured according to the unique strategy. Institutions that do not dedicate time and resources to strategy and implementation will see a poor return on investment from these tools.

Underutilizing the tool:
According to survey report by HubSpot, which analyzed the usage of its tool stated that 68% of subscribers only use the email automation tool. Besides email automation, marketing automation tools provide blog scheduling, social media publishing & monitoring, search engine optimization (SEO), website engagement monitoring, and more.

Failing to validate and iterate:
It is critical to revisit your overall digital marketing strategy, as well as the MA content and segmentation strategies over time. Personalizing messaging to a diverse audience is a process of trial and error. No matter how up-to-date, all research gets old. Realities about an organization, its processes, or its audience will change over time. It is important to understand these dynamics and test any marketing automation strategy on a regular basis.

Confusing Marketing & Admission goals:
Many institutions work in silos when it comes to their marketing & admission efforts. Before adopting a marketing automation tool, write clear descriptions of the roles and responsibilities for team members in each department, as it relates to candidate admissions. At what point in the process is Marketing involved? How will Marketing’s efforts support Admissions goals? Define a clear handoff point between the two departments.

Not using the right tool for the right job:
This particular challenge is an extension of the previous one. In many instances, marketers try to use CRM tools like Slate, CollegeNet to solve their marketing problems. Slate is a great tool to use for admission purposes. Although, Slate has several marketing automation features, these features do not suffice the requirement of implementing customized/personalized marketing campaigns. Features like, lead scoring, personas, tracking website engagement activities, social media monitoring etc. are critical for a successful digital marketing Instead of investing time and resources onto using Slate as a marketing automation tool, it is advised to employ a marketing automation tool, that is designed to overcome these specific problems.

Although these challenges might seem overwhelming, there are many tactics higher education marketers can employ to overcome them. Lucid Agency has helped several higher education institutions develop high-performing MA strategies. Our work with these clients has provided us insights and tools that allow us to tackle these challenges head-on. If the research above resonates with you, or if you need more information regarding digital marketing automation, feel free to contact me at [email protected].



“3 Ways Marketing Automation Helps Higher Ed Marketers Succeed”. Marketo, Accesed 19 Jan, 2018

“2016 trends in higher education marketing, enrollment, and technology” Marketo, Accesed 19 Jan, 2018

” Prospective Students Survey Report-2017” GMAC, Accessed 12 Jan 2018

“Connecting With the Core Motivations of Business School Candidates” GMAC Accessed 12 Jan 2018.

“Inbound Marketing for Higher Education“ Ecity Interactive , Accessed 12 Jan 2018

“Enrollment-Engagement-and-Donations”. Marketo, Accessed 14 Jan 2018

“Target students throughout the admissions process”. HubSpot Accessed 23 Jan 2018

“Is Marketing Automation Worth the Hassle? New Data Raises Questions”. HubSpot Accessed 19 Feb 2018.


[email protected]

As a Business Analyst, Gaurav plays a strategic role in technical management leadership including high-touch client management and critical problem-solving. Originally from India, Gaurav is an Engineer by trade. He is certified in Pardot, HubSpot and SharpSpring and looks over the marketing technology projects here at Lucid Agency . Gaurav has an extensive experience in Engineering Service, Social Impact Entrepreneurship, Real Estate as well as the Higher Education industry.

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