The Psychology Behind Marketing Online Education

Psychology Behind Marketing Online Education

This is a guest post from Sarah Smith.

How do people decide which online university will meet their needs?

What drives a student to choose one option over another — especially when both schools have little name recognition?

No one decides on an online education based on a single advertisement or one aspect of a website. Instead, a multitude of psychological factors work together.

Every student is different, bringing personal priorities to the selection process. That said, it is possible to use psychology to decode the common factors. By understanding the thought process that goes into a student’s choices, an online program can grow its enrollment faster.

Let’s look at some of the key factors:

1. The Feeling a School Will “Work With You”

One of history’s most famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud, posited that people are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Prospective students want the “pleasure” of a great education and the opportunities it affords, but also wish to avoid the “pain” of failing!

Schools aimed at working adults should evince a compassionate, caring manner to make the threat of failure seem distant.

2. Social Proof as Evidence of a School’s Intentions

“Social proof” is a key concept in neuro-marketing, the fusion of neurology, psychology and marketing. To overcome their doubts about a course of action, most people prefer to see that others like them have succeeded before.

Testimonials associated with clear, smiling photos of a variety of students can be motivational.

3. The Right Visual Cues

Online schools can offer a variety of programs, from the humanities and social sciences to vocational programs. When visuals are congruent with a college’s offerings, students will be more inspired to commit.

Blue, gold, and gray are associated with “prestigious” subjects in the humanities, while red, white and green evoke the practical.

4. A Sense of Urgency or Scarcity

Deciding to go to college can be a leap of faith, especially for those who have not been in school for a long time. A sense of urgency can shake them up and compel them to take action.

Establishing and communicating clear deadlines for enrollment, along with a path to speak directly to an admissions counselor is likely to improve conversion.

5. Anticipatory Activity

Anticipatory activity” is a perspective-taking process people adopt when they want to modify their social role. For example, a student who wishes to graduate from college with good grades will usually try to adopt habits they think are associated with that success.

When a college website is written from a future-oriented perspective, with rich details relating to a student’s future success, it can help activate this process, and so would-be students may become more confident that enrolling is the right course of action.

All these tools rely on one central factor: understanding your audience.

Someone who wishes to achieve a degree in philosophy may be very different from someone who wants real estate training online. Although, if you visit NREL’s website (a company that provides online real estate courses for NSW) you’ll see many of the above techniques.

Although each student is different, they all fall into demographic categories that can be used to develop a detailed understanding of the “average” visitor. The better you understand that group, the more effectively you can tailor your site experience to their needs.

Sarah is a small business owner, and is currently learning about marketing using the internet. Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media, and read travel books.

Give and Take

But mostly give

Give and Take

You are probably familiar with “gains from trade”. The notion that society is based on give and take. You help me, I reciprocate, and together we benefit.

The idea is a powerful one and forms the basis of the free market economy.

The invisible hand of market forces, as Adam Smith put it, enables market participants to work for their own benefit, and make society better off in the process. The profit motive fuels competition, from buyers and sellers, resulting in better products and lower prices.

But what if you help me, and I can’t reciprocate? What if you have the capacity to give, and we don’t have the ability to repay you right now?

You write a blog post that helps us, and we’ve never met you. You sing a song that makes us smile, and we never thank you. You write an ebook which changes our world view, and you gave it away for free.

Welcome to the Information Age and the Gift Economy, where the cost of helping one more person is now zero. It’s now easier than ever to give, if you choose to do so.

The problem with this new state of the world is that it requires new thinking.

The people who benefit most from your work may not be the ones who are able to pay you for it. In the world of tech startups, B-School Professors call these people “users”. On one level, this helps to distinguish them from paying customers. But words are powerful things. On another level, this term is used to pigeon-hole. These people can’t reciprocate. They can’t uphold their side of the implied social contract. These people are “users”.

This is old thinking, and the term offends us. You would do much better to think of people who benefit freely from your work as friends.

In a world where you have the capacity to give, and the cost of sharing with one more person is zero, what are you waiting for?

You can’t wait for permission, because nobody will give it to you. And you can’t wait to be paid, because there is no money.

But by giving generously, and creating something remarkable, you can earn the permission to do it again. All the while turning strangers into friends and, if you’re lucky, turning friends into customers, and customers into loyal customers.

It’s a process, and it starts with giving.