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Keep warm campaigns: The key to converting applicants into students

By John Basker, Production Director at Bluestorm

In the education sector, one of the most vital marketing objectives is to convert applicants into learners. With increasing competition from other learning providers, budgets to keep to and targets to hit, further education (FE) establishments across the country are striving to turn enquiries and applications into enrolments.

Known in the sector as “keeping warm”, it’s all about keeping colleges in the minds of those who have shown an interest – and there are various elements to a successful campaign.

What’s the first step?

The first place to start is with data. It’s important to collect information from open events and taster days to use alongside application data, and to obtain the appropriate permissions. This data can then be used to interact with potential students and to provide them with bright, informative content, in a bid to ensure an enrolment when September comes around.

What messages should be included?

It’s not about hard-hitting, pushy messages. It’s about recognising that these school-leavers are about to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives, and supporting them with the choice they make. It’s about looking at what influences their decision-making process, and subtly bringing the college to the forefront of their mind. This could involve providing them with handy hints and tips for exams, or keeping them up-to-date with course news and developments, to give them a taste of what your establishment offers.

Encouraging interaction and engaging with interested candidates is also worthwhile and can help give some guidance to your campaign. Take time to build in response mechanisms on emails or post questions on Facebook and Twitter to garner thoughts, opinions and preferences. This can then be used to provide a really tailored and personalised campaign message.

For example, if someone has shown an interest in a motor vehicle course, you could include information on the specific courses you offer in this area, the facilities you have and case studies about past students who have gone on to successful careers in the field.

What is the best way of contacting our audience?

With every keep warm campaign, it’s vital to communicate through a range of media streams, including email, postal mail, social media and SMS text messaging, to ensure that your message reaches your audience. It’s also important to adapt the tone of voice to suit the demographic and type of media.

When is best to run a keep warm campaign?

Timings are key in any keep warm campaign. It’s always good to send out a mailer or email after an enquiry or application. This will make potential students feel valued and satisfied, so they are less likely to look at other options. It’s about creating loyalty. Around exam time, give them support and advice by feeding them with study tips and, when results day is looming, let them know you are there should they have any questions.

Although these are key times in the education calendar, it’s also vital to keep potential students warm inbetween these events. Give them positive stories about the college and past and present students. If you don’t keep in contact and stay fresh in their minds, another college will.

Who are keep warm campaigns aimed at?

The primary audience in any keep warm campaign is potential students – those who will be investing critical years of their life in a course. But there are different types of prospective students that need to be considered – and your communication tailored to.

You have those who are 99.9% certain they are going to attend a particular college. It could be that it has the perfect course for them, the best career prospects, is in ideal proximity to their home, or is where their friends are going. You also have those who are undecided. They like what a college has to offer and have shown an interest, but they are also tempted by other establishments.

And you have those who are reluctant – and you may need to be a little more persuasive. This is where the interaction aspect of the campaign comes in handy, as you can find out what may be holding them back and target messaging to either change their minds or answer any queries they may have. However, careful consideration needs to be taken with this group. Even if you want to enrol as many students as possible, taking on those who aren’t convinced that your college is the right choice for them could be a waste of time, money and resources in the long-term. As well as telling them you are the right choice, you need to make sure you are right choice. Keeping your data up-to-date can help segment these candidates for better targeting.

However, it’s not only students that keep warm campaigns are aimed at. Choosing which FE college to go to is a major life decision that requires support and students will be influenced by their peers, parents, teachers, siblings and advertising campaigns from your rivals.

Aim messages at parents, especially when it comes to postal mailers. It’s likely they will be the ones to have the first look at the day’s post. To keep them on-side, make sure your messages focus on support and pastoral care, as well as success levels and career prospects, as these are what matter to them.

Post-enrolment support

Despite the main objective of converting applicants to students, a keep warm campaign can also extend to post-enrolment events. First impressions count and those first few weeks at a new college are vital. Ensure support is on-hand and information is available, as you need to reassure them they have made the right choice.

How can the success of a keep warm campaign be fully evaluated?

There are a number of ways in which you can monitor the success of a keep warm campaign. The most obvious one will be the number or percentage of applicant/enrolment conversions achieved. However, along the way, you can gauge how the campaign is going by looking at URL click-throughs, data comparisons after each activity, contact methods (phone and email tracking), competition entries and social media responses.

These are all great ways to monitor results, but student feedback is also incredibly valuable. Evidence that your campaign was successful can be seen through positive comments from those who matter most, so ask them their thoughts and how the campaign could be improved for future prospects. You can also ask for feedback from students who applied and didn’t enrol with you.

Need some direction? Talk to us …

Struggling to plan your keep warm campaign? Bluestorm can plan and implement a strategic campaign based around your college that is researched, targeted and tracked. We listen to your ideas, discuss what you need and talk over what data is available. Email john.basker@bluestormdesign.co.uk for more details.

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