Higher Ed Marketing: Gamification is New Tool for Recruitment

Christine Birkner
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
​What? Higher ed marketers are finding that brochures and high school recruitment visits alone aren't helping them recruit new students.

So What? ChatterHigh, an online gaming system for high school students, directs them to college and university websites, anonymously, through educational quizzes.

Now What? Consider incorporating data and digital targeting methods into your higher ed marketing programs. 

In their bids to attract new students, marketers at colleges and universities are finding that brochures and high school recruitment visits alone aren’t cutting it anymore. Enter ChatterHigh, a Victoria, B.C.-based online gamified engagement platform for high school students that helps direct students to college and university websites, anonymously, through educational quizzes. 

Marketing News Weekly caught up with Carl Repp, COO of ChatterHigh to discuss the platform, his advice for attracting prospective students and the challenges facing higher ed marketers. 

Q: How does ChatterHigh work? 

A: In Canada, one of the difficulties universities have is getting the kids in the [high school] classrooms to engage. There are a number of reasons for that: One is that schools are protective of students, for good reason. Everyone wants to protect students’ identity and not have corporate Canada and corporate America coming into the classroom. We provide the opportunity free for students and schools. It’s a 10-question gamified quiz where the questions are written by universities and colleges, and the answers are provided through the university or college website. Universities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars creating these great websites, but how do you get students to engage with them more than once, and how do you get your brand to the students, other than buying Google ad words? There are really only a few channels that are available. Right now, we don’t have any direct competitors in the marketplace. We allow colleges and universities to send their questions directly to students, and direct them to the university website. What the universities do with them once they’re there is up to them. Sometimes they create specialized landing pages, or let them know how to speak with one of their counselors. We’re landing them there, and we’re landing them deep inside the website, which is more valuable than saying ‘check out our website.’ 

Q: Any success metrics you can share?

A: Because we gamify it, students create levels, so we know that they’re landing on our partners’ websites. We’re running a national campaign in Canada right now, and since Oct. 26, we’ve had over 200,000 student engagements with our partner websites, and we’re averaging 12,000 engagements per day on our partner websites. We went national in Canada this summer, and we’re moving into the U.S. market in 2016. 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing higher ed marketers today?

A: There was a time when colleges and universities didn’t have to compete with each other because the pie was big enough, but, it’s shrinking. Kids don’t tend to understand careers in general. They think, doctor, lawyer, firefighter, the ones they know. They don’t know that you can go to college and become a brew master—and, you can. Colleges need to find a way to get that information to students. The other is filling the funnels: They might have programs that they know are good programs, but they can’t focus on setting out questions that are directly targeting specific populations that they think might fill those programs. Then, there are issues with retention. The rate of dropout is about 30% [at] a lot of universities. It’s better for kids to understand the program before they get in. … Kids also are turning to other sources for education. Kids become coders. They’re taking courses that are online and have no grades associated with them. They’re learning to code on their own, and they’re getting hired by really good companies, and making a lot of money. There’s competition between colleges and universities and other career programs, and there’s a shrinking market, overall. 

Q: What’s your advice for higher ed marketers to succeed in this new competitive landscape?

A: Education, in general, is usually six to 10 years behind business, and three to four years behind the health care industry. The trends that are happening in business and health are based around analytics. It’s about using data to make smart decisions, and making sure you’re targeting the right places and how that’s working for you, not just throwing things at the wall continuously and hoping it works. … You have to target digitally. Just having recruiters travel across the country and visit high school gyms just isn’t going to work anymore. 

For more higher ed marketing news and complete coverage of the AMA's Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, visit AMA.org. 

This article was published in the January 2016 issue of Marketin​g News​.

Author Bio:

Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the features editor for the American Marketing Association. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org, and follow her on Twitter @ChristineBirkne.
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