Schools borrow retailers’ approach in analyzing consumer databases; triggering online ads

Melissa Korn:

Houston Baptist University found a new way to appeal to prospective graduate students: boats.

The university hired higher-education consulting firm EAB to analyze a vast consumer database aiming to identify potential applicants the same way retailers find shoppers. EAB created a demographic and psychographic profile of Houston Baptist’s enrolled students and found a high percentage had interests in recreational boating and fishing. They also liked to travel, and many had kids, so their schedules were packed tight.

Houston Baptist’s next Facebook advertisement used a picture of a woman fishing with her children, suggesting adults could go to school and still have time for family fun. Another featured a woman checking flight times at an airport, referencing the global opportunities available to business students—75% of whom indicated an interest in travel.

Consumer-driven marketing, as EAB calls it, is the latest step in universities’ efforts to enroll adult students and build up a new revenue stream as the number of new high-school graduates stagnates.