Targeting millennials toward a product through inbound marketing is a tricky beast - especially when it comes to helping them choose the institution they’ll be attending for the next four-plus years. However, if you play your cards right by using the correct digital channels and best practices, they’re a marketable generation.

With more than 9,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., your institution must implement an inbound marketing strategy for your institution—it gives you an opportunity to sell your school with all the dimensions that make it unique and special.

The most important element of a strong inbound marketing strategy is a solid foundation, which can be created using a path to purchase.


The path to purchase is a frequently used marketing tool for all businesses and institutions. The funnel starts wide, targeting a broad range of audiences; the further down the “shopper” (or student in this case) travels, the closer he or she is to buying a product (or enrolling in a school). A strong, thorough inbound strategy has unique content created to help your institution catch a person’s eye. That initial contact will bring your audiences to the top of the path to purchase where your prospective students will then be carried through the path to purchase until they feel so confident enrolling in your institution that it is an easy, unwavering decision.

The greatest part about an inbound marketing strategy is that you, as a marketer, are not required to push your school onto a prospective student through cold calling, direct mail, or paid media.  If your funnel has thoughtful insights and a powerful representation of your institution, interested students will want to engage with your marketing efforts and seek out more information without having to cold-call or push your content on them.  

Offer the Right Content to the Right Audiences

To properly execute your inbound marketing strategy, you need to target the right audiences so that you can create content that is tailored to their particular needs. To fully understand your audiences, you must build out personas for a better understanding of the types of content you should be producing.

You may be looking to attract prospective students, but dig deeper into who those students are. Are they hard workers? Local residents? Mainly men or women? For example, if one of your personas is committed to community service, show off your institution’s dedication to giving back to the community through videos highlighting recent service trips and fundraisers. You will come to find that the little details you collect along the way are what build your personas as a whole.


Once you’ve done some serious research on how to create detailed persona profiles (download our content strategy ebook to see an in-depth persona building worksheet), the final piece to a good inbound strategy is successfully intertwining your personas with your path to purchase. To do this, ask yourself how can you keep prospective students stimulated, engaged, and wanting to be part of your school community. As prospective students travel through the path to purchase, their needs change and become more defined. Personas must be tied to their journeys so you are aware of how they might react and adjust throughout their decision process.

The Kind of Content We Recommend

When it comes time to producing tailored content for your personas, talk to millennials about the social channels they use for news, information, and inspiration. Leverage unusual, yet potentially motivating channels such as Pinterest or Snapchat to show off what your school has that can’t be duplicated. Make your website unforgettable, (maybe an interactive campus video?). The content you create for your inbound strategy ought to unveil the lives of students at your school to give your audiences a holistic vision of what it would be like walking on campus. 



Eye-catching, relevant, and timely content will gain the most traction, and by relating it back to your institution you will be pushing forward an inbound strategy created specifically for your school. Give your audiences valuable information that highlights what a valuable education will look like, and how your school can fulfill it. For example, try a “top 10 list” created by students on campus to give prospective students a better understanding of how your current students engage with the school and what they personally like about the institution. 

Create Compelling Calls to Action

Everything we’ve discussed about inbound marketing for your higher education institution comes down to one simple thing: calls to action. Inbound marketing is not worth a dime if you don’t develop calls to action to capture the visitors to your content. So what makes a compelling call to action?

Think back to the personas and paths to purchase described above. Your audience has needs and goals, and these change as he or she moves across the path to purchase. A call to action is only compelling if it aligns to those needs.

Most often, you’ll create calls to action for users to get access to exclusive content or sign up to receive new content, such as an email newsletter. This isn’t random, though. Those types of content-driven calls to action are based on a persona’s top-of-funnel need for information gathering. During the early stages of the prospective student’s decision process, they’re in fact-finding mode. So if you can create content that drives users via a call to action to “download a comprehensive guide,” for instance, then you’ll meet the needs of your personas at the early stages of your path to purchase.

But since a persona’s needs can change, your calls to action should change too. Perhaps further along the path to purchase, the prospective student wishes to see what being a student in a college classroom feels like. A compelling call to action for the student could be an on-demand download of a recorded lecture from a professor in the student’s interested program. Or it has nothing to do with content at all; your call to action may be simply to “schedule a tour.”

Whatever the need, you must design your calls to action to entice your inbound users to hand over their information in exchange for some high-value offer. If you don’t connect your inbound content with a compelling call to action, your strategy will fall flat.

An Inbound Strategy Isn’t as Difficult as You Think

Why is that? Because your institution is different than every other institution in the world! Play up your individuality by emphasizing your school’s history, campus, and culture to your audiences. Millennials are always online, whether it be via smartphone, laptop, or tablet; take advantage of this perpetual opportunity to leverage your audiences.

An inbound strategy not only promotes your school, but also attracts students who are a good fit for your institution. By creating tailored, unique content, you will see an increase in in the number of quality prospective students interested in your institution.

The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Tactics for Fixing Your Funnel: Higher Education Edition