Summary: The market for MBAs is stronger than ever. Learn how your school can capitalize on this new interest and develop a digital marketing strategy that encourages MBA enrollment.
The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the oldest business degrees standing, with origins that date back to the early 20th century in the United States during the industrialization boom. Since then, it’s been a staple of the business world, the signature degree of a go-getter who is out to make their mark in the business world. Yet not so long ago, it seemed the business world had a glut of MBAs that temporarily made it a less popular degree.
But there’s big news now: the MBA is back! Modern business pundits cite the COVID-19 pandemic as one factor. The resulting unsteady economy has influenced some students to head for a more resilient degree. There might have also been a generational shift in attitudes towards MBA graduates and the business climate in general. The stats are up across the board for MBA applicants, with 67% of MBA programs reporting growing activity and 2 out of 3 MBA programs reporting application increases.
Your school can join this groundswell on the crest of the wave, just by some well-positioned content and savvy communication strategies. Let’s see what it takes to court the modern MBA candidate.
Demonstrate That Your MBA is Worth the Investment
While an MBA is not the most committed degree, it still takes forty to sixty credits (leaning towards sixty) to complete, which is still more than some other master’s degrees in a more specialized field, such as accounting, finance, or management. An MBA is a degree you seek when you want to “do it all,” but it’s also one of the most employable degrees.
This infographic at BusinessStudent.com is the kind of quick-reference data that you can put in front of potential students. It shows statistics such as:
- Over 90% of MBA grads land a job within 3 months of graduating
- You can even work at a non-profit and still make $82K/year as an MBA
- Consultants with an MBA can make $126K/year on average
This is an easy selling point because MBAs have outstanding career success statistics. All you have to do is round them up and present them to potential students.
Meanwhile, at MBA Central, we’re presented with a pithier infographic:
This graphic tells a story that we see echoed year after year in business news headlines. The world is full of idealistic dreamers who want to be the next Elon Musk. The tragic truth is that some of our best creative minds and spirited visionaries never get those dreams off the ground for one simple reason: they’re terrible at business. For every Thomas Edison, there’s a Nikola Tesla who was less famous because he couldn’t step out of the laboratory to attend to the business end of things, even though he had twice the STEM inspiration.
Higher education can sell an MBA degree as an “enabler,” the industrial knowledge that lets entrepreneurs realize their dreams. It is simply a path to putting the mechanics of business to work for you.
Attract MBA Candidates with Content Marketing
We’re all familiar with the concept of the sales funnel but the education industry should be thinking in terms of the “enrollment funnel.” The difference is that the student candidate is looking for a degree as a means to another end, not an end in itself. Ultimately, they want to know if the school will help them achieve their goals and be successful.
When they first begin to consider business school, they have vague ideas of what an MBA can give them. If you want to nudge them through the enrollment funnel, they need tangible facts and outcomes. As they learn more and decide it’s a path they want to pursue, then they start to compare programs and what they can give them.
Business school candidates have specific questions at each stage of the funnel that you must answer. Questions like:
- I’ve heard about MBA degrees, but is that right for me?
- Will an MBA help me make more money? Land my dream job?
- What’s the ROI of an MBA?
- What does an MBA take in terms of fees and time commitment?
- Which college offers me the best MBA program for my budget and time?
- How do the different MBA programs at these colleges compare?
- What GMAT scores do I need?
- How do I write a winning admission essay?
When students have questions, they turn to Google for answers. If your school has a content marketing strategy with a solid SEO foundation, those answers will come from you in Google’s search engine results page (SERP). Ideally, your content should answer each of their questions at every stage of the decision process.
Google’s FAQ search feature is a helpful tool to learn what questions prospective candidates are asking. Below, we have a few snippets we reaped from a SERP to illuminate some common queries:
To answer this query, create content that compares the earnings for MBA grads as opposed to other degrees. In today’s economic environment, especially with the recent turmoils from factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, students value economic security. “Money talks,” as the proverb goes, and you need to show candidates what they can expect from an MBA in a statistically provable way.
This question plagues most MBA candidates and the advice they receive often comes from both camps. A visit to the Reddit MBA community shows that people have strong feelings about business school rankings. While the benefits of attending a top-tier business school can’t be denied, that doesn’t mean that they’re the best choice for everyone.
If your school isn’t one of those elite few, don’t despair. There are other ways to distinguish your program. Many candidates are more concerned about the overall costs of obtaining an MBA and the expected return on investment (ROI). Others are looking for flexible schedules or internships. Many are just looking to check a box to land that promotion.
Identify what your school does well, what unique value you offer to candidates, and the type of people most interested in that value. With that information, you can develop content that speaks directly to the type of people most likely to choose a lower-ranked business school.
This one is sort of slanted opinion-wise, but does drop an important phrase in the answer: “fast wealth.” You can take your own philosophical approach to whether or not it’s “prestigious.” We might say that nobody’s degree makes them “prestigious,” it’s what they do with it that counts. Viewing it the other way, some of the most respected names in the world have an MBA behind them.
Alumni Success Stories: Your Most Important Content
We’ve mentioned before that young people have more trust for information when it comes from a peer. In the case of a student making decision points along that education funnel, alumni testimonials will speak much louder than a faceless batch of statistics. Your content marketing program should turn to alumni first for success stories.
It would also be advantageous to have an editor or two on hand to make sure the alumni’s message comes through loud and clear. Use effective story-telling, using the template of “this was my dream, and this is how an MBA helped me achieve it.” The strength of an MBA is its flexibility. Some degrees pigeonhole you in one industry; MBAs go on to every field and pursuit. It’s important to emphasize this.
Beyond blog posts, your school can use other types of content to amplify your student’s successes. A video testimonial is a great way to showcase an alumni’s new business venture or a recent award. They get exposure and promotion, and you take credit for getting them there. Videos can be distributed using a variety of channels like social media, your website, or email. Video testimonials are great to incorporate into digital advertisements and can be targeted to reach your ideal candidate.
Another idea is to bring alumni into campus tours, presentations, round tables, and open house events (be they live or virtual, depending on how long pandemics shape our practices). This gives prospective candidates the chance to get answers to all their questions, straight from the source they trust most.
Amplify Your Student’s Successes with Social Media
We find that in general, the education industry uses social media in some capacity, even if it’s just an Instagram for the sports team or a YouTube channel for their STEM program. But business schools, you guys have to get in there. Don’t let the hippies from OccupyWallStreet tell the whole story. Every time one of your former MBA graduates has a career step worth pinning on their LinkedIn profile, you have to tweet congratulations.
This is just the same marketing idea you would use for any business, really. Higher ed’s “product” is success, career opportunities, and advantages in realizing visions. The point with alumni success stories is that you put a human face on those statistics, showing happy people who are where they want to be in life right now. Note, also, that these group photos show a diverse lot—every time you can give someone their role model, you’re showing them “here’s somebody just like you who made it big.”
As we mentioned earlier, video is essential for social media. On your school or program’s page, consider sharing alumni video testimonials or hosting Q&As with faculty. Popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram make it easy to host live events that anyone with a mobile phone can watch.
Whenever a prospective student signs up for a campus tour, downloads a program brochure, or reaches out to your school in any way, they become a lead. The marketing playbook for handling leads prescribes that we obtain their email and use that as a future channel to encourage the lead along the path to enrollment.
Nobody decides to attend college in a day. By being a presence in their inbox, you can help keep your name in mind and at the top of the list for consideration. Send consistent emails showcasing everything your school has to offer. Spike this email schedule with occasional invitations, such as (real-time or virtual) campus tours, open houses, and enrollment fairs.
You can take your email marketing program to the next level by implementing marketing automation software like HubSpot, Marketo, or Salesforce Marketing Cloud. These integrated software tools can track prospective student activity and use lead scoring to identify top candidates. Once you identify the most engaged prospects, you can send them personalized content to help persuade them to consider your school. If they’re on the fence, an offer for a one-to-one career consultation or an invitation to chat with program advisors can go a long way.
Email doesn’t stop once they’ve applied to your school. Create automated nurture campaigns that tell them what they should expect next or remind them of additional deadlines. Continue to send them student success stories and highlight your MBA program’s achievements. Many applicants are considering several schools and you want to keep them engaged and eager to join your ranks.
Compete with the MBA Market
As we mentioned at the beginning, student interest in MBA programs is on the rise. MBAs remain incredibly employable, with the added benefits of networking potential. As The Guardian notes, companies see an MBA grad as the cream of the crop of candidates, “an incredibly smart group of people.” However, just because a student is interested in pursuing a business master’s degree doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to pursue it through your school.
What can you do to attract MBA candidates if you’re not a top-ranked school? There are a few ways you can compete:
- Offer more flexibility in the schedule: A part-time MBA takes three years, which is still a far shorter time than many other programs. For students balancing family and work needs, you can afford to stretch the schedule out a little farther.
- Specialize programs for target industries: Here we just said how flexible an MBA is, and then there are tech-focused MBA programs. That’s a good specialty, and there are a few more industries that would benefit from specialized MBAs.
- Waive some requirements for your program: Waiving GMAT and GRE requirements? It’s already happening at the U of Michigan, MIT Sloan, and the U of Virginia. The reason given is, you guessed it, COVID-19 hardship.
- Add in some real-world business experience: Corporate-business partnerships let your program bring real-world business problems into the classroom to be solved by fresh-minded students. This has worked in the past and led to ongoing curriculum changes.
Once you determine how you can differentiate your program and develop a strong value proposition, you must then engrain that message in all of your marketing endeavors.
Back there, we also pointed out that your alumni success stories and past students’ career statistics can give you something to brag about. “The proof is in the pudding,” the saying goes. At the end of the day, students may not care as much about the prestige of an Ivy League degree, as they do about having those precious three letters after their name.