The trend of today is to be inclusive. Yes, maybe it is true that everyone should have access to education and that you don't turn someone away that is qualified, but if you try to 'market' to everyone - you will get lost in a sea of the masses. Unless of course you have a billion dollars to target your advertising to 'everyone' and do it better than all those schools also targeting 'everyone'. If you don't have a billion dollars, don't waste your money on 'everyone' marketing.
So how do you start finding a group of prospective students that you can afford to market to and have reasonable expectations of conversion?
Step 1: You need to know what makes you unique.
What is different about your school? Don't say good education, good professors, fun experience as those are what every school will say (even if it's not true - if you don't believe me, just go sit through the presentations at the Ontario Universities' Fair in September and you'll see that all schools claim to have just that). So what really makes you unique? Well, Guelph has a Veterinary program, McGill has great access to skiing while studying, Queen's has sailing and a Castle, UBC has surfing and skiing, e.g.
Step 2: Use what you've got.
Once you know your USP (unique selling proposition), use that to find niche (small, identifiable groups based on AIO - attitudes, interests and opinions) opportunities that are less crowded by other institutions because that niche won't work for them like it will for you.
Need some examples? If I was working at each of these institutions here's what I would do:
McGill - playing off of the campaign I'm doing right now for Queen's (come for the sailing, stay for the degree - more on that below), I would do a 'come for the skiing, stay for the degree' campaign. Skiers are affluent, well-traveled, educated - similar to what McGill is seeking in a student. And very rarely do you see universities advertising at Ski Hills. So buy ads on back off lift chairs, sponsor a skier breakfast for the youth championships, put a GeoFence around a ski hill during March Break, e.g. UBC could do the same thing, but with two markets - surfers and skiers.
Guelph - they've got an in-demand program that few other schools offer. Seek out kids that are into animals - put up ads in animal shelters. Send congrats cards to kids you hear about in the media doing a fundraising campaign to save animals, sponsor a horse riding event for youth, send care packages to campers at ranch camps, e.g.
St. Lawrence College - they are in the fresh water sailing capital of the world and they have a very unique, destination program for Wind Turbine Technicians. Sailors are inherently interested in wind. They are often technically oriented. They even come to Kingston for CORK every summer and some stay in SLC's residence. These is a perfect opportunity to woo them. Host a breakfast, set up a mentor program with the Wind Turbine students, provide tours. Host events for parents, e.g.
Queen's - Ok I do work here - so this example isn't a 'what would I do' but rather a 'what I am doing'. We sponsored the off-the-water snack for two days at CORK in Kingston reaching over 700 sailors in our age range. These sailors come from all over the world so the appeal of a residential university isn't a bad thing. They all fall in love with Kingston while they are here (and that's important as our city, being unheard of to many outside of Ontario, is often the reason students don't accept our offer - I know crazy right? If only they knew how great it is). We did follow up email campaigns to those that stopped and introduced themselves at the events (over 500 email addresses). We sponsored and helped launched a new program ' try varsity sailing' in partnership with the Queen's Sailing Team for this fall. We set up a GeoFence around the harbour during CORK and did a retargeting campaign. We sent a note to all race coaches around the world asking them to nominate sailors for our program. In total, we are going to spend less than $1200 to get some great niche marketing and stand out where no other universities are even dipping their toes.
Big Wigs or Bums in Seats?
Niche marketing isn't going to move your needle in a huge way, but I would argue that mass marketing is not even going to get you noticed by anyone other than the big wigs at the institution. Students won't even notice your ad, you know your $12,000 ad in the Globe and Mail - yeah that one, the one you can't really track any metrics from. But if your goal is to please the big wigs go for it, but if you goal is to get bums in seats - try some niche marketing instead.