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Marketing Higher Education Requires Continuous Education

Marketing Higher Education Requires Continuous Education

Sarah Steimer

ologie QA1

Ologie’s Bill Faust celebrates the purpose-driven nature of collegiate marketing

Marketing News spoke with Bill Faust, senior partner and chief strategy officer at Ologie, who has watched a growing sense of urgency emerge in higher education as colleges continue to embrace branding and marketing. ​

Faust and Ologie don’t work exclusively on higher education. They find their work with other industries helps strengthen their collegiate marketing. “Higher ed can be somewhat insular, so we make sure we are looking elsewhere for inspiration and in fact maintain a healthy percentage of our business with clients outside of higher ed for the same reason,” he says.

Q: You didn’t always work in higher-education marketing. What drew you to the field?


A: In 2006, we were invited to work with a small liberal arts college after it saw some of our work. So we didn’t find higher ed, it found us. We really loved every aspect of the project, but what probably drew us in was the purpose-driven nature of the college. It was about more than recruiting kids to meet a class quota. It was about finding the students who would do best at that particular school and how the experience would transform their lives. It wasn’t transactional. It was purposeful. The work was full of nuance and layers and the college was willing to dive deep with us to craft their story. At that point, we fell in love with higher-ed marketing.

Q: What differences did you notice between your previous jobs and working with colleges? 

A: First would be the pace. Compared to retail, banking or even health care, higher ed moves much slower. It still frustrates us today, but we have learned to adjust, and it is changing. Over the past 10 years, higher ed has embraced branding and marketing more, and with that has come a greater sense of urgency. The second thing is the amount of consensus-building that is required. We see that as a good thing because people support what they help create. We always plan on more time to do research, listen, socialize ideas and build consensus over a broad group of stakeholders. 

Q: How do you keep yourself abreast of changes in higher education as they relate to your job?

A: We do the obvious things like read the trade press, attend conferences and webinars and follow thought leaders and pundits in higher ed. We learn a lot from our clients because no two schools are alike. They are all doing different things—not just in marketing, but in research, teaching and even student experience. We also invest time looking outside of higher ed at trends, new developments and technologies. 

Q: Your particular role focuses on research and strategy. How does that expertise help with the enrollment challenges that schools are facing today?

A: Research is critical to help answer key questions about an institution’s best fit students and how best to engage with them. Schools can no longer afford to cast a wide net and hope for the best. They need to be very targeted to find students who will be aligned to their story. Our strategy articulates the key messages of what a school offers, why it matters and then the right set of tactics for how to ultimately reach prospective students.

Q: I can’t imagine it’s easy telling schools that have been around for more than 100 years that they need to make some changes. How do you present uncomfortable research findings to colleges that are emotionally attached to their brands? 

A: It’s not that hard, really, if you build a relationship that’s based on trust. Most of our clients understand that higher ed needs to change, to adapt and to do things differently. I think they are more open-minded than they used to be. But it does pay to make recomme​ndations about change in the most objective way possible and back them up with solid research. We try to be strategic partners, rather than vendors. That means being unafraid to share the truth and realities of today’s education market.

Q: Do you have any advice for marketers working in higher education? 

A: Be patient. Be thoughtful. Work with schools, not for them. And take the long view: Higher ed isn’t going away, but it is changing, and you can either fight that change or be a positive influence on it. 

Sarah Steimer is a writer, editor, podcast producer, and yoga teacher living in Chicago. She has written for Marketing News, Chicago magazine, Culture magazine, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, and other outlets.