Know Your Audience: Moving Prospective Students Through the Buying Cycle

Imagine that you’re interested in going back to school. You don’t know which program to pursue or which school to choose. In fact, you’re not even sure if continuing your education is the right choice. Right now, you just want to do a little online research to explore the possibilities.

So you go to Google and type in “schools near [your location].” You click on the first result and land on the school’s home page. Once you locate the school’s blog, you end up reading a post about trends in information technology. And at the bottom of the post, you see the words:

“Want to pursue a degree in Information Technology? Apply online at any time.”

What do you do next? Do you click on the “Apply Online” hyperlink?

Of course you don’t. You’re not even close to making a decision about your future.

What if the call-to-action were different? What if it read:

“Want to explore opportunities in the information technology field? Request more information about our Information Technology degrees.”

Do you fill out a form to request information? Nope. You may have a mild interest in technology trends, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to choose a degree program—especially when it means going to the trouble of giving the school your contact information.

How about a softer call to action such as “learn more?” In this case, you might click through. But you’re more likely to just leave the page and keep browsing.

So what kind of call-to-action should the school have used in this blog post?

That is a question that only the buying cycle can answer.

The 3 Buying Modes

The most significant thing that the above scenario illustrates is that a school’s audience can vary radically based on where a visitor falls in the buying cycle. Here is a breakdown of prospective students according to the 3 major buying modes:

In the hypothetical example, you imagined yourself to be a research-mode prospect. This is the earliest stage of the buying cycle, and people in this stage are asking themselves one major question: “Is school right for me?”
Consider-mode prospects have decided that they want to go back to school, and now their main question is “Which program is right for me?”
People in commit mode are ready to commit to a school. They’ve decided which program to pursue, so the only question left is, “Which school is right for me?”

Don’t Force Everyone Down the Same Path
The three buying modes teach us not to force everyone through the same funnel on a school’s website. A person in research mode is looking for completely different things than someone in commit mode, even if they both start their path on the home page.

Besides, it’s pointless to usher all visitors down the same path. If prospects encounter links, calls to action, or entire pages that don’t line up with the questions they’re asking, they’ll just leave.

Aligning your content strategy with the buying cycle means answering the questions that different visitors are asking. To do this, a school needs to create multiple pathways throughout the site that cater directly to the needs of each buying mode.

For example, how would you target a research-mode student who lands on your “Trends in Information Technology” blog post? First, keep the “learn more” call to action – more consider-mode prospects than researchers will read this post, plus they’ll be the ones who want to learn more about the IT programs. Second, cater to casual research-mode browsers by directing them to a list of related posts or resources at the bottom of the page. Even better, make it easy for that researcher to find more general blog posts such as “5 Ways to Tell if You Should Go Back to School” or “Surefire Ways to Fit School Into Your Schedule.”

Want to learn more about the buying cycle in the education vertical? Check back for more in-depth posts on the Research, Consider, and Commit modes.

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