Higher Education Marketing for Adult Learners: 7 Key Messages You Can Learn from SNHU

May 07, 2015

Do you want to know the secret messaging strategy of one the most recognized non-profit online schools in the country? It isn’t confidential. It isn’t stolen. It’s right out in the open – on YouTube:

This 30-second spot from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) hits almost all of the top decision messages that prospective adult students want to hear. The messages in this commercial align with our findings from the past eight years of prospective student research. In that time, we’ve talked to hundreds and surveyed thousands of prospective students as we have created higher education digital marketing plans.

I’ll break down the spot message-by-message so you can craft a results-driven higher education marketing strategy.

Message 1: “We have really busy lives.”

Prospective adult students want to hear about flexibility. Most are working full time. They need to understand how they can fit school into their already busy lives. Norwich University Online created this great week in the life to show how different student types fit graduate programs into their lives.

Message 2: “They had the exact program I wanted.”

The program is paramount for prospective adult students. Every higher education marketing plan needs to include a budget to build out a robust program section for each program that includes:

  • program overview
  • faculty information with terminal degrees
  • tuition
  • start dates
  • admission process
  • outcomes

Graduate and adult students care less about the overall student experience and more about the quality and rigor of the classroom experience. If you’re designing a new website, make sure that you have a quick pathway from the homepage to programs like this example from Cambridge College.

Message 3: “It was accredited and non-profit.”

Prospects like the credibility of an accreditation seal – even when they have never heard of the accrediting body – and the non-profit moniker helps prospects feel comfortable that they won’t be taken advantage of and that the school will offer a quality education.

Message 4: “So many of my credits transferred.”

Transferred credits mean lower tuition to the prospective adult student. In our research, prospects tend to “mentally discount” published tuition costs because they expect to receive some credit. They rarely expect to pay full tuition, and they love to be reassured that their credits will transfer.

Message 5: “The fact the SNHU has a campus.”

A physical campus is another credibility-building proof point for prospective students. A campus means that the school is not a “fly by night” institution and therefore it can be trusted. If your school draws mostly from a local radius, the campus means offers a means of recourse if there is a problem. Prospects think: “If I have an issue with my bill or enrollment, I can always get in my car and go see someone in person.” A higher education marketing plan should always highlight the campus.

Message 6: “Over 200 online programs”

It’s all about choice. Prospective students like to know that there are lots of options for them and they can find the one that fits their career goals.

Message 7: “Classes starting soon”

Prospective students don’t want to wait. They want to start their degree quickly, finish quickly and get onto the career (and higher salary) that the new degree will provide for them.

Bonus Message: What’s the One Message SNHU Forget?

Outcomes. This ad focuses on the experience of choosing SNHU, but it doesn’t focus on the outcomes and ROI of getting a degree. For adult learners, outcomes illustrated by alumni testimonials, job placement numbers, or career advancement are a top decision criteria.

Apply these strategies to your graduate program pages

All of these messaging strategies apply to your adult and graduate marketing efforts – from print brochures to television to your website. You can feel confident using these research-tested messages as a starting point for forming communications to adult learners. From these message starters, you can find the unique stories at your school that function as proof points.

Related Reading

a hand touching a phone with social media icons leaping out of the phone like whisps of water vapor
Measuring Social Media Success in Higher Education

What’s considered a “success” in social media? 

OHO Interactive Second Annual Higher Education Digital Marketing Bootcamp
Recap: 2019 Higher Education Digital Marketing Bootcamp

In 2018, OHO Interactive held the first Higher Education Digital Marketing Bootcamp to help higher ed professionals understand how other colleges and universities structure their marketing departme

lane merge road signs
7 Ways Your College or University Blocks Effective Content Strategy (and How to Get Around Them)

Content strategy succeeds best not as an individual crusade, but as a group effort across your organization.

Level Up Your Digital Marketing at the OHO Bootcamp 2019

Building digital marketing capacity in-house is the top skill college and university web teams want according to