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Thoughts from the Quad: What Higher Ed Marketers Are Managing

Thoughts from the Quad: What Higher Ed Marketers Are Managing

Marketing News Staff

We asked attendees of the 2019 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education about four hot topics in their field. Many marketers are dealing with the same issues—such as declining enrollment—but you may notice some variance in answers between small institutions and large.

ENROLLMENT
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At times it can be a bit overwhelming. We’re looking at our strategic plan, our identity, who we are, what kind of students we attract, where is our sweet spot. And we’re looking for alternative forms of revenue, looking to reduce expenses where possible. It’s an all-of-the-above strategy.
PEOPLE ARE SLOWLY SEEING THAT NOT ONLY CAN [ONLINE EDUCATION] BE DONE EFFECTIVELY, THE STIGMA AGAINST IT IS STARTING TO GO AWAY AMONG PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS AND EMPLOYERS.
I almost wonder if we’re going to have to reinvent the wheel. I mean, we’ve been doing things the same way for so long.

We’re all after the people. We have to figure out a way to differentiate and prepare. How can we think differently, communicate differently, tell different stories that are going to be more appealing to smaller and smaller numbers of applicants?
Having a closer partnership with admissions is a trend I’ve heard throughout the conference, and teams can’t be siloed. Trying to earn some short-term wins and make long-term plans.
I know to say ‘strategic’ is a cliché, but we really think about what stories are going to resonate with our audience and which have an actual purpose in attracting prospective students.
“The numbers from our cohort of executive MBA program have flattened out, but we have seen an increase in non-degree programs. There’s a bit of a balance to both ends.”
AS LONG AS WE HAVE SOMETHING TO DIFFERENTIATE, STUDENTS WILL KEEP COMING BACK BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY WILL GET PERSONALIZED ATTENTION.
Part of what we’re focusing on now is specific targeting—making sure that we’re in front of the right audiences at the right time with the right message. It’s no longer just a given. That has to do with the generation that we’re dealing with. You’ve got to understand not only what they’re interested in, that you’re capturing their attention, but where those audiences are geographically.
We need to look at education like any other business and be more competitive, from a marketing perspective. We’re taking some steps to do that, change our perception of the field.
INSTITUTIONAL BUY-IN
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It seems like we’re at a point where marketing and recruitment have to pair together. We’ve moved to a lot more CRM and using a lot of data, which I think gets people onboard faster.
I’m seeing more funding go toward our efforts trying to recruit not just the best of the best, but people to diversify ethnically, regionally and based on gender.
A lot of [earning institutional buy-in] is education, getting people to understand the ‘why.’ There’s always a need for what you want, but the ‘what you like’ can get you into trouble.
IT’S SIMILAR TO US HAVING STUDENT BRAND AMBASSADORS OR STUDENT INFLUENCERS, IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE FACULTY INFLUENCERS AS WELL.

Everyone wants to be tactical, favoring random acts of marketing instead of adopting a strategic vision. We have some crises approaching in the future, so we have to look at it from a broad strategic perspective.
When certain campaigns that we’ve done show their effectiveness, I had fewer hurdles to step over to activate similar campaigns for other parts of the funnel. It’s building trust and educating people on new initiatives.
Obviously we’re all working within the guidelines set by the university. But as far as having a unified objective when it comes to our communications and marketing, that’s a struggle sometimes … Part of having the buy-in is unifying those decentralized areas and having more conversations as a team, even if we are in our individual units.
People are sort of stuck in their ways because what they’ve been doing has been working. It’s a battle, in a good sense, that you want to fight, to try to educate [the rest of the university] to get them to understand that we are dealing with a different audience. You can’t use the same tactics and ideas that were OK five, 10 years ago.

BRAND
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Don’t make outlandish claims that you can’t justify or promises that you can’t meet. I think you just have to really be honest and genuine and kind of cut the superlatives down a little bit.
Brand management is an interesting subject, especially where I’m at: a small Jesuit Catholic institution, dealing with a lot of obvious Catholic church issues … [We’re trying to] broaden what our brand means. We’re not looking for just the folks that are looking to go to a small Jesuit Catholic school. We’re looking for a much broader audience. We need our focus on diversity and inclusion.
We’ve hired a new agency of record, which is helping us identify the DNA of our brand from scratch. We are uncovering our brand, little by little, and we’ll build on that so that we can make emotional connections with our students, our prospects and our stakeholders.
There’s that worry that no matter how authentically and genuinely we try to tell that story, it’s met with a feeling of skepticism. And for reasons that are pretty understandable.
One of our university strategic objectives is to tell the university’s story. That’s really allowed us to be on brand, the fact that our goal is to find engaging ways to tell the unique stories of the institution.
SOMEONE SAID THIS, AND IT RESONATED: IF YOU TOOK ALL OF OUR BRANDING AND SWITCHED ALL THE NAMES, COULD MOST PEOPLE TELL THE DIFFERENCE? I’M GUESSING NO.
WE DO HAVE A BRAND DIRECTORY THAT WE MANAGE VERY CLOSELY. WE’RE ALWAYS LOOKING TO STAY ON BRAND WITH ANY MESSAGE THAT GOES OUT, REGARDLESS OF THE STRATEGIC CAMPAIGN. IT PLAYS A BIG ROLE IN ANY DIGITAL COMMUNICATION.

REACH
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TEXTING FOR ANY DEMOGRAPHIC HAS BEEN SUPER SUCCESSFUL FOR US.
At times it can be a bit overwhelming. We’re looking at our strategic plan, our identity, who we are, what kind of students we attract, where is our sweet spot. And we’re looking for alternative forms of revenue, looking to reduce expenses where possible. It’s an all-of-the-above strategy.
We know that students are loath to open emails, but we’re still sending them to them, even if it’s going to a burner account. Once they do open that account, though, we want something that’s going to resonate with them.

We have been putting forward quite a bit of an investment on  story testimonials, highlighting our students and having them describe what life is like at the college. We use those on landing pages, in personal visits, in presentations and e-mail campaigns.
We go right to our current students and they tell us the content that we need, what’s going to catch their peers’ eyes and what’s going to work best.

At times it can be a bit overwhelming. We’re looking at our strategic plan, our identity, who we are, what kind of students we attract, where is our sweet spot. And we’re looking for alternative forms of revenue, looking to reduce expenses where possible. It’s an all-of-the-above strategy.
Our jobs are never stagnant and they’re ever-evolving and changing. At some point, when is the internet not going to be the internet anymore? When are our jobs going to become obsolete? Will I have this job in 10 years if something big happens and the internet is no longer the biggest thing?
It’s up to us as marketers to put personas out there and match with candidates that fit the model we’re looking for. You may have similarities with other institutions regarding personas you’ve developed, but the consumer will ultimately make that decision.
DIGITAL ADVERTISING DEFINITELY HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL FOR US ON FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN, PRIMARILY.
We realized early on that I cannot be authentic to 18-year-olds. I’m not cool enough as a 36-year-old person. We will never be cool again. My goal was to get the words from students and have them oversee a lot of our [digital] marketing efforts.
“Digital is so saturated now, and in a way become passé. The market is flooded, so you have to look beyond digital. We’re planning to do a lot of environmental advertising on our public transportation system, we’re doing some direct email marketing and holding a number of events for experiential marketing. But I think we’ve reached a plateau with digital.”