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Managing an Institution | 5 minute read

Not Your Mom’s Higher Ed Marketing

Marketing practices in every industry have changed rapidly over the past decade.

By Amrit Ahluwalia | Managing Editor, The EvoLLLution: A Destiny Solutions Illumination

Welcome to an ongoing series by The EvoLLLution’s Managing Editor, Amrit Ahluwalia. His articles will recap content published on The EvoLLLution, providing postsecondary leaders with some wider visibility on what's happening in the fast-changing world of higher education.

Marketing practices in every industry have changed rapidly over the past decade.

Marketers are no longer focusing on quantity of content; the focus is on quality. They’re not plastering their brand in as many places as possible; the focus is on targeted messaging.

In short, marketers today are focused on delivering the right message at the right time to the right prospect. This mentality needs to become more common in higher ed, and especially among those offering programming aimed at non-traditional learners.

Non-traditional learners are highly discerning customers and it’s critical for marketers to ensure they’re meeting their prospective learners’ expectations, regardless of whether you’re trying to bring prospects in the door, or if a prospect lands on your website of their own accord.

Finding the Right Prospects Yourself

Of course, build-it-and-they-will-come isn’t the best way to generate awareness of your institution or its offerings. As important as it is to serve learners who wind up on your website to evaluate your offerings, first they need to know who you are.

Unfortunately, randomly papering neighborhoods and hoping everything works out isn’t the best way to leverage limited marketing dollars. Today, it’s critical to drive marketing decisions using available data.

At the Stanford Center for Professional Development, in the university’s School of Engineering, their Data Crunchers team has focused on leveraging data analytics and understanding the customer lifecycle to drive enrollment numbers.

“Measuring the return on investment of every marketing channel has now become an important part of SCPD’s investment strategy,” wrote Paul Marca, Associate Vice Provost at Stanford University, in his article on The EvoLLLution. “We developed a simple internal statement to guide the marketing team: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t do it.”

Marca dives into the specifics of the kinds of data his team leverages, and even shares a few of their dashboards to provide a high-level view of the information at their disposal.
The point is that without access to cleaned and usable data, it becomes very difficult for a marketing team to effectively grow its institution’s or division’s reach. For example, it’s possible to have access to dashboards that provide enrollment heat maps, giving information on when students tend to enroll (and thus providing insights into whether it’s critical to ramp up marketing efforts for a given offering). It’s also possible to drill down and see a geographic dispersion map providing insights on where in the country (or world!) course enrollments tend to come from, which can inform geographic marketing efforts both online and in print/media/etc.

Hilary Darling, Director of the Summer Institute at CalArts, explained how the student lifecycle management system empowered her division to improve market visibility and define its unique work to current and prospective students.

“We have the power to make decisions about how our public facing pages look to market more effectively to each specific audience."

Effectively targeting messaging to the right individuals at the right times is critical to taking that first step and bringing the modern customer in the door.

Serving Prospects Who Find You

Once a student knows who you are, they’re unlikely to jump directly into a registration process without putting in some research. The modern customer is informed, and focused on finding the best possible option to fit their specific needs.

“Technology has enabled students to research, evaluate, apply to and, yes, disregard institutions without ever having to interact with them,” wrote Matt Tate, Marketing Coordinator for Appalachian State University’s App State Online in his article on The EvoLLLution. “Colleges and universities don’t even know these secret shoppers are interested in applying until their applications show up in the portal.”

This tendency is described by Google as the ZMOT, or Zero Moment of Truth.

What it means for colleges and universities is that it’s absolutely essential to make as much information as possible available to students so they can find the information they need to help them make a purchasing decision. Equally importantly, it’s critical that this information is accurate and up-to-date. In a world where students have infinite options to pursue further education, one inconvenient shopping experience is enough to lose a prospective learner for life.

Your website should endeavor to at least answer the following questions for every course and program on offer, which according to Kennesaw State’s Davia Rose Lassiter (Director of Marketing in the College of Continuing and Professional Education) are prospective learners’ top three questions:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. How long is it?
  3. Will I get a job?

From that stage, it should make next steps as easy as possible for a prospective learner, whether they want to sign up to learn more, contact the division, or simply enroll right from the website.

Just Make It Easy

Students know their postsecondary engagement is going to challenge them. They’re entering into an arrangement where they are going to be learning, juggling multiple priorities, and trying to advance themselves.

That having been said, it’s not in the best interest of a postsecondary institution to make the registration (and pre-registration) phase difficult as well.

By leveraging data to reach out to the right people at the right time, and providing them the (up-to-date and accurate!) information they need to make a choice, marketers can help set their institutions apart from the crowd.

Learn how to apply student lifecycle management fundamentals to your higher education division by downloading this white paper: