Top 5 martech tools to help colleges work smarter in 2021

Tim Brown — 23 February 2021

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More than 400 US universities and colleges have instituted hiring freezes, paused existing recruitment searches or furloughed staff in a bid to tighten their belts since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. And with student enrollments down, higher education institutions are being forced to market smarter and more creatively in an effort to boost student recruitment, fundraising and engagement despite their limited resources.

Higher education marketing teams face numerous industry-specific challenges complicated by the pandemic, including:

    • The need to protect a central brand while enabling particular faculties to promote their school and its high-value courses effectively
    • Complex brand and design hierarchies that may be executed by many users
    • The need to produce large volumes of marketing collateral
    • An annual calendar with both rigid and flexible project deadlines
    • The need to address older audiences (for example, fundraising activities targeting alumni) as well as highly digital and mobile students and prospective students
    • Fluid student customer journeys that are being impacted by the pandemic
    • The need to balance on-campus and remote communications
    • The challenges of engaging a disconnected, often remotely located student body

Meanwhile, the education sector shifted a large proportion of its workforce -- about 81%, according to one study -- to remote work. Many, particularly those in administrative and marketing roles, continue to work from home.

Against this background, it’s worth considering whether your higher education marketing team has the tools required to simultaneously navigate the winds of change and modernize, even as you’re being asked to do more with less?

These 5 must-have martech tools will help your higher ed marketing team work smarter, more creatively and more effectively to generate growth in 2021:

1. Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)

Yes, we know you probably already have one of these - maybe even a custom built one!

CRM is an essential tool for modernizing and streamlining student recruitment as well as relationships with alumni, donors, and existing students. While many colleges now have a CRM in place, not everyone is adept at using the full functionality of these tools.

Features include:

    • Lead management - captures lead information and is often the organization’s single source of customer truth
    • Segmentation - enables institutions to market to groups of leads or students according to specific needs
    • Automation - reduces the administrative overheads associated with recruitment and fundraising lead management processes
    • Conversation tracking - provides up-to-date personalized information to boost conversion
    • Pipeline management and reporting - provides visibility over performance and activity that moves the needle.

According to one study, the key benefit of implementing CRM in a college setting is the tendency to treat students more like customers, develop a student-centric focus, improve customer data and process management, and increase student loyalty and retention.

CRM can also be used to power personalization: for example, a CRM could be integrated with a brand automation platform to deliver highly personalized and targeted marketing collateral to prospective students without the need for human intervention.

Top recommendations: Salesforce, Hubspot CRM

2. Email Marketing

Again, we know you’re likely across this!

If you’re still sending all your emails manually, you’re doing it tough. The best email marketing tools allow you to manage your contact lists, design and send compelling emails, and track whether these were opened and read. This enables you to nurture existing customers, fine-tune messaging based on effectiveness, and progress leads through the customer journey, ultimately boosting sales.

Features include:

    • List management - enables the capture and segmentation of customer data
    • Mobile-responsive templates - enables rapid design of professional-standard emails and landing pages for all devices
    • Automation workflows - combine customer behavior data with personalized journeys and relevant content to deliver the right message at the right time
    • Dynamic personalization - automatically personalizes content using customer lists
    • Reporting - enables easy tracking of click-through, open rates, unsubscribe and bounce rates. Mobile-responsive design and the ability to include and track social links, hashtags and other elements are important when targeting students.

Top recommendations: Marketo, Emma, Salesforce Pardot, HubSpot

3. Brand Automation

This one might not yet be in your tool kit - hear us out because it will revolutionise your marketing and creative departments

Centralized higher education marketing teams traditionally spend a lot of time updating marketing collateral on behalf of faculties and other stakeholders, or providing feedback on creative assets those stakeholders have self-created. Brand automation involves the creation of responsive on-brand templates that enable stakeholders to create their own marketing collateral within pre-approved guidelines, saving countless hours from the marketing and creative production process.

Features include:

  • Responsive templates - HTML-based templates that automatically resize and render on-brand creative assets for all your marketing channels
  • Asset management - centralized library of digital assets makes approved images, files, logos, typefaces, styles and text snippets accessible in one place
  • Multi-edit capability - universal editing of branding or text components that are instantaneously applied across assets of numerous shapes and sizes
  • In-platform approvals - facilitates rapid, accurate sign-off next to the creative asset for effective risk management
  • Send to print - as the name suggests, saves admin time once on-brand assets have been created by sending them directly to your preferred print provider

The ability to integrate brand automation with CRM, marketing automation, external DAM and other tools via API will save university marketing teams countless hours.

In one example of brand automation in action, Monash University introduced brand automation for 500 users across 10 faculties, enabling them to self-produce more than 3500 pieces of on-brand marketing collateral in a single year, and saving 8500 hours.

Top recommendations: Outfit (yes, we know this is us but we’re really good at what we do!)

4. Digital Asset Management

If your college is yet to explore a DAM, read on!

A centralized repository of approved, on-brand marketing assets securely stored in the cloud and accessible across the institution is an essential foundation piece in the higher education martech stack. Often known as a DAM or asset library, this saves teams time and money by making it easy to find and re-use existing assets.

Features include:

    • Easy-to-see asset naming - makes it easy to identify assets
    • Categorizable and tagable image hierarchies - makes it easy to find and re-use existing materials
    • IP rights management - prevents teams from using out-of-date images or contravening usage rights
    • Comprehensive search function - enables search via tags, file type, asset name and more
    • Asset lock-up and customizable download permissions - restricts access to specific teams or users
    • Shareable links - enables external partners or stakeholders to view content

Top recommendations: Widen, IntelligenceBank

5. Project Management

A given, but oh so important in 2021 for everyone’s sanity!

Once characterized by an overabundance of in-person meetings featuring numerous stakeholders, the process of managing marketing work at universities and colleges has been transformed by the shift to remote work. But under-pressure marketing teams can’t simply rely on Zoom video conferences, email and message boards to manage complex marketing projects. Remote work management tools that offer visual project management that ensure you never forget a task or miss a deadline are a must.

Features include:

  • Customizable visual project management boards - enable the team to see at a glance what’s been done, what’s in progress, what’s due and what’s been completed via Kanban, Gantt and other views
  • Task allocation - enables allocation of tasks to particular team members
  • File-sharing - enables all types of projects to be accessed, viewed and reviewed in one place
  • Calendar - incorporates due dates for projects, sends reminders and reports on projects that were completed on-time or late and enables teams to manage workloads
  • In-platform approvals - enables managers to provide feedback and sign off on projects in one centrally accessible location
  • Reporting - data on on-time completion rates, output by team or team member and other information facilitates more effective work management practices.


These days, project management tools are highly customizable and can be set up and viewed in a way that makes it easy for all teams and team members to follow, providing visibility to marketing and beyond on the status and completion of higher ed marketing work.

Top recommendations: Monday.com, Trello, Asana, Accelo

In all cases, martech tools must not only be intuitive to use, they should offer API integration with the other tools in your martech stack and secure access in the cloud so that dispersed and decentralized higher education marketing teams can access and use them efficiently.

We understand how tricky it can be to choose the best tools for your university marketing technology stack but renowned Australian University, Monash, is paving an incredible path forward in this department - see how they use Outfit’s brand automation platform to revolutionise their content production in this case study. Read it today.

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