Higher Education Marketing

College Marketing – Which half is working?

There is a saying in marketing, “I’m sure half of my marketing is working.  I just don’t know which half.”  Although this typically achieves a chuckle, it’s also very frustrating because it’s too often true.  Marketing is anything but cheap, so determining what works and what doesn’t seems very important.  And, to use a phrase I read just this week, “What you can’t measure, you can’t improve.”  Being a college admission guy I’ve come to love working with data.  I love to see if a strategy is working.  As a result, effective measurement techniques are important in determining success.  It’s not as easy when it comes to measuring higher education marketing success, particularly in the early stages of a campaign.

On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Doane College launched a branding campaign to influence enrollment objectives.  The campaign is the result of a great deal of research, discussion, and a greater understanding of our brand promise which led to our brand idea.  Our brand promise: Doane College is an exceptional college opening countless opportunities.  Our brand idea: College of…get a great Job, College of…fit in and stand out, College of…it’ll change everything.

From the beginning, I embraced both the brand promise and idea.  I felt the promise represented who we are, why we are different, and why it matters.  And, I felt the creative concept allows for the flexibility that we need being an institution that must appeal to high school students and adult learners.  To be clear, I’m not interested in debating the merits of this particular campaign for Doane College in this blog.  No, I’m looking forward and being the data guy that I am, I’m interested in knowing if it works.  I recognize that patience is required and much will depend on what we do to take advantage of the concept.  Obviously just creating the concept isn’t enough.  But, first things first.

In admissions, we have the funnel!  Similar to sales, enrollment managers determine the number of leads it will generally take to create a sale or a new student.  We identify action steps between lead generation and ultimate sale which help us to manage our activity to maximize our yield.  We can determine how many students visit campus.  How many apply.  How many are admitted.  How many leads are generated as a result of our NRCCUA and CBSS leads blah blah blah.  We have the luxury (that may be a stretch of the word) of knowing what works and what doesn’t.  But, how do we know if marketing is working, or better yet, branding which doesn’t always have a specific call to action?  How do we create metrics in order to modify our approach or hold the line?

I’ve argued that we can’t focus only on branding but our marketing needs to have some strategies that have specific calls to action linking to a URL or phone number or email.  These can be monitored to determine if the specific advertisement had an effect.  And, I do think branding can impact our enrollment funnel.  An example comes to mind particularly after reading an article yesterday.  The Dodge Durango and Ron Burgundy commercials are a huge hit for Dodge.  I read that Durango sales are up 36% in November which Dodge attributes to the partnership with Ron Burgundy – you gotta see these if you haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, Doane College does not have the Dodge advertising and marketing budget to make this splash.  What budget we do have must be used as effectively as possible.  Our ability to determine effectiveness is predicated on our measurement metrics.  Therefore, we are creating metrics and defining how we will monitor them.  In our case, without prior benchmarks with these metrics, we are creating our foundational benchmarks in order to measure progress moving forward.  This is an example of our starting point.

We want to increase Doane College’s “stature” in the market place – yes, sounds vague.  The idea of stature is ambiguous.  But rather than use that as a simple excuse to not do it, we are pressing to find a way to measure if our stature is increasing.  We plan to integrate components of the results of third-party rankings also with our assessment of media presence over the course of the year.  We will also monitor, track, and assess website traffic particularly on our current most visited pages as well as identifying pages that we would like to see more traffic.  We will monitor and track our social media presence.  And, finally we will utilize public opinion surveys.  We are in the process of creating a reporting document that allows us to monitor these measures and draw our own conclusions ultimately resulting in modifications to our strategies.

Higher education recruitment requires a multifaceted approach partnering enrollment offices, marketing teams, and leadership that is committed to connecting actions to measurements.  I welcome comments regarding measurement metrics relative to marketing/branding.  How do you measure your marketing efforts at your institution?

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