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[Case study] How a major American university adopted Inbound Recruiting

" It is not enough to speak, we must speak right " (W. Shakespeare).

As higher education institutions compete in a mad dash for attractiveness, so-called " traditional " marketing techniques no longer seem so effective at putting you ahead of the pack.

In fact, outbound marketing (acting where prospects are) is proving increasingly expensive and ineffective.

Some American universities like USC (University of Southern California) have been the first to adopt instead a type Inbound Marketing approach in order to attract students/prospects. Specifically, this is referred to as Inbound Recruiting, because it's about attracting candidates, not customers.

Thanks to the study of this California university, a forerunner in the field, you will understand the major issues and the need to make such a pivot in your attractiveness strategy.

USC was one of the first universities in the world to adopt Inbound Marketing.Using Inbound Recruiting, the University of Southern California reduced its acquisition cost by 85%

In order to put into practice the tips advocated by Inbound Recruiting, HubSpot is establishing itself as the go-to platform for your acquisition and conversion process, especially with its Marketing Automation.

As far as USC is concerned, the results of these changes have been breathtaking, including reducing the institution's recruiting cost by 85%.

Let's walk through this case study in detail.

When traditional Marketing is no longer enough 

If you're lucky enough to write a good ad, repeat it until it stops selling " said advertising dad David Ogilvy.

But that was before!"

Let's go back to the University of Southern California: it enjoys an excellent reputation and it has earned that reputation through its splendid campus, the notoriety of the courses it offers as well as the learning experience described as " remarkable" by many of its students.

USC is also highly innovative as it is among the pioneers of online higher education. As such, it has a duty to attract the best possible students to maintain the reputation of its courses.

To do this, the institution used to employ an outbound marketing strategy, resulting in a huge budget allocated to advertising campaigns.

Paradoxically, as the investment in these campaigns increased, the number of student-prospects (sufficiently qualified) applying to these courses decreased. 

Susan Gautschdirector of USC's online Public Affairs program, says: "A large portion of the people who clicked on our ad inserts ultimately chose not to apply.  Those who did were often not really the target of our program, which led to an increase in our ad spend and cost us a lot of wasted time. We needed better targeting to reach our prospects and attract our ideal students to begin the enrollment process as quickly as possible." 

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A winning duo: Inbound Recruiting for the method, HubSpot for the tool

After years of Outbound Marketing, changing the approach wasn't so simple.

Susan initially considered Marketo as a USC marketing automation tool. However she was more convinced by the HubSpot solution having a renowned user experience and unlimited phone support.

"HubSpot has been an eye-opener and a complete paradigm shift for us, as we are able to deliver more personalized content to a wider audience, faster and with fewer resources" Susan says enthusiastically.

USC initially used content optimization as well as marketing automation software HubSpot.

This software allowed Susan to provide highly targeted content to her prospective students, track the performance of her campaign in real time, and optimize the course website to attract the most qualified and suitable candidates for this program.

Using the techniques of Inbound Recruiting, Susan initially focused on content creation (the Content Marketing).

She then wrote white papers on online learning as well as career opportunities following a master's degree in Public Affairs at USC.

Susan then used landings pages and calls to action to create a multitude of unique paths while navigating the website. 

Once the prospective student fills in their contact information to get more information, Susan sends them timely emails with highly targeted content to convert them into the next graduating class.

"Now that we know who is downloading this content and when, we have a clearer picture of our acquisition tunnel and what it should look like. This allows us to quickly adjust our workflows for maximum impact" says Susan, won over by Inbound Recruiting.

Sending newsletters with very specific content to convert prospects into students.Sending newsletters with highly targeted content to help convert prospects into students for the next promotion

Unprecedented results

Susan's example shows the pivot that higher education institutions must initiate in their strategy to acquire qualified students.

Susan has been able to build awareness of its content, enhance the quality of its courses, and increase awareness of its programs among prospects with Inbound Recruiting.

More quantifiably, the changes she has seen in the first six months:

  • The traffic on the blog increased by 75%,
  • Le Submission rate to the registration form with the new landing pages has sometimes reached the 40%,
  • More than 3% of student-prospects enrolled in one of the courses
  • USC has reduced its acquisition cost by 85%
  • Today, it attracts candidates far beyond California.

The example of USC, a forerunner institution in this paradigm shift from Outbound Marketing to Inbound Recruiting speaks for itself.

In fact, the initial campaigns were very expensive and rather ineffective in their goal of attracting the most qualified students.

By adopting an Inbound strategy and implementing it with HubSpot, USC was able to perform better targeting, improve its content, and gain a clearer view of its acquisition tunnel.

The results of such a change were immediate for USC, and they are a testament to the value of Inbound Recruiting in positioning yourself ahead in this race for attractiveness. 

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This article is from the Hubspot case analysis of USC.

Topics: Inbound Recruiting, Grandes Ecoles, Universités