Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

You’ve got mail!

QUICK EDITORS NOTE:  You may continue to choose to read this blog post or you may watch/listen to the post!

Everyone likes getting mail during the holidays. I write my family’s annual holiday letter updating family and friends on what’s going on in the life of my wife, kids, and me. The result of this annual tradition – in addition to the increasing amount of online Christmas present purchases – is a crazy busy time of the year for the USPS as well as other delivery services. In fact, I learned while watching the TODAY SHOW that December 18th is anticipated to be the most significant mail date of the year!

To be fair, I believe everyone likes to get mail, particularly personalized mail, regardless of the holidays. I still look forward to checking my mailbox every day when I get home from work – but, maybe I’m old fashion.  I did turn 40 this year. There are fewer bills, statements and cards/letters in the mailbox compared to 10 years ago. Personally, I don’t get the hand-written card from my mom like I did in college. She emails or texts which I appreciate, but they still don’t have the same effect. Think about the last time you received something hand-written in the mail. Felt good, right?

After checking with a colleague and Doane College alumnus at the United States Postal Service (USPS), I’m told that mail volumes have declined considerably over the last decade. First-class mail – i.e. bills, statements, letters and payments – has been significantly impacted by online options. As a result the USPS delivered 35% less First-Class Mail in 2013 than they did in 2004. While the rate of decline has slowed in the last two years (only a 5% and 4% drop in the last two years respectively) the first 2 quarters of 2014 shows that trend continuing. But, what about Standard A mail (aka Junk Mail)? Truth be told that Standard A mail has increased slightly in the last year and is down only marginally from where it was in 2004.  Bottom line…less mail in the mailbox means what is in the box may very well get more attention by comparison to ten years ago.

Two quick thoughts on this: First, with less mail, it’s understandable that businesses are working more strategically with Standard A mail to gain more presence in front of the consumer – to get noticed in the mailbox. Second, I believe the value of a personal note in the mailbox has more impact today than it did 15 years ago.

I contend that the plight of first-class mail has actually made the mailbox more relevant today! In higher education enrollment management, communication with the prospective student is of paramount importance and ever more challenging to coordinate. For example, response rates to mail pieces are abysmal for the most part and the elimination of landlines makes it even more challenging to connect with a student via phone. Rather than wait for students to tell us they are interested, colleges use predictive models to determine who we need to target with our communication plans and ultimately we create communication flows that hit prospective student mailboxes on a regular basis even when a student hasn’t taken the specific step to tell us they are interested. We can’t afford to wait for the student to respond.

Beyond general propaganda mail, however, I am also determined to create a mailbox presence for prospective students that connect to them personally. It’s true that printing companies can more easily print variable data on brochures and postcards to give the impression of personalization. While I think this works and has an effect, it still does not replace the value of the hand-written addressed envelope that contains something more personalized inside. Make no mistake, this isn’t easy to coordinate and takes time and energy. However, Admission Counselors at Doane College must make connections with prospective students that require them to think beyond the quick phone call or even the Facebook message or email.

So, how about email? Studies have shown that prospective students prefer to receive college information via email. As a result, we push emails out to prospects regularly. So much so that people question if it’s too much. Do people really care that much about junk emails, so much that it frustrates them? Can you actually send too much email? Mass email can be easy and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, some enrollment professionals struggle to invest the time and energy to really think through an email campaign strategy. This is not an indictment on those individuals. It’s reality of our resources. I know we are guilty of that at times for sure. A discussion I hear in my office often is related to the volume of emails that we send to prospective students. I hear people contend, “We are turning them off with so many emails!” Really? A student is not considering Doane College because of how many emails we send? I think it’s an easy excuse for a person, but not the reason they are not coming to Doane College. I simply think it’s unfortunate for a college or business to fear sending too many emails. That said, it is important to have a balance – purpose and volume. People can easily opt-out of email campaigns or they can simply ignore them. I get an email a day from Kohls – maybe even two or three this time of year – and it doesn’t bother me because I know it’s there if I’m interested. It takes more energy for me to opt-out or send a nasty-gram for them to stop sending me emails.

Lets be clear, however. Quantity and quality are two different issues. I’m in favor of significant volume of emails, but there has to be a strategy and a vetted message to these emails. They do represent your brand.

College enrollment professionals lament over different strategies to engage with high school students during the college search process. We utilize all modes of communication in what sometimes seems like a lost cause. Does our mail get opened? How do we know if they don’t respond to the tear-off card or go online with the customized URL. Do they even receive our email campaigns? We create landing pages, review open-rates and click-through stats in hopes of validating our efforts. We look at Google reports to see the pages visitors land on. Today, we can’t obtain as many valid phone numbers because there is no landline! We pay exceptional amounts of money to firms to help us manage the communication flow to prospective students, which includes a select number of mail pieces, email campaigns, and phone calls. We consider the message, the look, the timing, and the volume of touches all in hopes that the student engages.

There is no silver bullet. But, moving all online and eliminating a mailbox strategy is a sure death in my opinion. Take advantage of the mailbox today. It’s not nearly as cramped as it once was. Get your college into the conversation by making sure your brand lands on the dining room table or counter at the end of the day, preferably at the top of the pile.

So, I leave you with a few pieces of advice:

  1. The mailbox still matters.  Use it strategically.
  2. Hand-written addressed envelopes are effective.
  3. Be aggressive with emails, but give thought to your message and subject lines for best response rates. Top of the mind awareness is the name of the game. Be there when they are ready for you. Can you dedicate a person to manage this activity and report on successes and failures?

Happy Holidays! JOEL

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

Mortimer, We’re Back!

Those words of the infamous Randolph Duke expressed to Mortimer Duke in a scene of Coming to America came to mind this week as I reflected on the time of year and my blog. Today, students are arriving on the Doane College campus to begin orientation while all over Nebraska (and across the nation), high school students are crossing the classroom thresholds for the first time since last spring anticipating what will come of this new year. It’s an exciting time for many to be sure.

As many students look forward, enrollment professionals tend to first look back. While it’s true that we are anxious for the start of a new recruiting year, admission directors crunch data and survey the higher education landscape to understand what worked and what didn’t work over the last year. Whether we anticipate making our enrollment numbers or not, it doesn’t change the questions that we seek answers to because one thing is for sure; higher education enrollment management is not getting easier, particularly in the private sector.

Then again, as much as changed, there are still constants. Students must apply and be admitted in order to enroll. And, students generally will not enroll if they have not visited the campus. So, as we lament over the tactics that we deployed last year, our bottom line question is rather simple. How do we influence more students to apply and visit? This is why higher education has become so commercialized. In some cases, yield on the number of applicants can fluctuate a few percentage points but enrollment growth or even just enrollment stability is predicated on colleges being able to convince enough students to complete an application and visit the campus. And, because of the commercialization, there is a tremendous amount of “noise” for students and parents to filter through to make their decisions. Truth be told, even if a student applies to 15 colleges, how many can they realistically visit, particularly during the academic year? To that point, colleges must figure out a way to be one of 3-5 true options in a student’s senior year.

So, the onslaught of communication continues and even increases for high school juniors and seniors. Mailboxes (because print mail still matters!) and email accounts will be filled with college information. And, make no mistake, every private college has amazing professors, small student-to-faculty ratios, and will tout new facilities. Filtering through the noise is exactly what students need to do. Results matter. Outcomes can distinguish one school from another. And no doubt, fit continues to be important. At Doane College, we’ve taken the step of identifying what we believe makes us different; what sets us apart from the crowd that will also resonate with students and parents. Our communication material will reflect our identity which can be summed up with the following “elevator statement”.

 

Doane College is a world-class private college excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research. We provide guarantees to graduate in both three- and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in here and stand out after college.

 

Check out this short video.

Using this statement as a guide, we are making sure our messages within brochures, emails, and digital media are focused and speak to the issues that students and parents expect to be addressed by colleges.  Every college has something special about it.  Connecting students to that something special takes considerable efforts and resources in today’s market.

My blog took a short hiatus over the summer, but we are off and running again. We’re back!

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Higher Education Marketing

Successful Social Media Requires You To Fight Your Fear

(Jim Braunschweig, Account Executive for JD Gordon Creative Labs in Sioux City, Iowa, is a guest blogger this week providing his perspective on social media, specifically the hesitation of higher education marketing to embrace and jump into the social media frenzy)

‘Social’ and ‘Media’ – two simple words easily defined and understood when they stand-alone. But together, these words take on a whole new meaning which we’re still trying to fully comprehend. While a definition for ‘Social Media’ exists, it still remains one of the most misunderstood, controversial, and (from the perspective of a business owner) the most complicated and feared strategies to implement within an organization’s overall marketing plan.

Definitions:
Social: relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other

Media: a particular form or system of communication (such as newspapers, radio, or television)

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Why do we fear ‘Social Media’? We fear it because it’s powerful. We fear it because we don’t understand it. But, most importantly, we fear it because as we’ve come to find out – we can’t control it, no matter how hard we try. Let’s be honest – the potential power which Social Media grants to any person who is able to ‘figure it out’ and ‘use it best’ intimidates us. No longer are the highest ranking individuals or most educated people in society able to decide the information that will be shared, control how it will be dispersed, or even whom it reaches. Ever since social media came along, the playing field has continued to level out so much so that nearly everyone has a chance to have their voice and opinion shared with the world, gain attention, inspire people to take action, and if it’s good enough, potentially make a global impact. When you think about it – how awesome is that?!?

But, now think about this… if all this is true (which it is, and there are plenty examples to back this up), then why aren’t more businesses, focusing more attention on how they can get the most out of their social media presence – rather than treating it as an afterthought – with little to no strategy or overall purpose for the content their creating, and the way in which they share it.

From my experience, the answer is simple: The business leaders and other professionals who have the authority to hire the talent, or allocate the funds necessary to implement a successful (not to mention measurable) social media strategy don’t fully understand what ‘Social Media’ is, and as I mentioned earlier – it’s just human nature to fear the unknown.

I apologize if that last statement came off condescending – I assure you I didn’t mean for it to come across that way. To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone ‘fully’ understands it, but what separates those who are successful (or will be successful) with Social Media and those who aren’t (or haven’t been) is the simple fact the ones we consider successful take action, experiment, and ‘play’ with social media – sometimes even making a few minor mistakes along the way, but they don’t let themselves be stricken with paralysis by analysis, nor do they stew on the bad things that could happen. Instead, they think about all the amazing ways in which these tools can help them connect, engage, and better understand their customers and clients, their wants and needs, so they can continually improve their product or service; which will lead to more raving fans, and ultimately, more business.

To be successful with Social Media requires organizations, specifically their leaders, to fight their fears – to be ok moving forward and learning as you go. For a great example of a Higher Ed Institution which has always been an early adopter to the new practices within social media and embraces the possibilities it has to offer I suggest you pay close attention to Texas A&M. Check out an innovative way they used Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and Twitter together back in 2011 to increase real life engagement through a scavenger hunt (Twitter was fairly new at the time). – http://bit.ly/TAMU_SocialMedia.

I could go on and on, and with Joel’s permission would love to do further ‘guest posts’ that go more in depth about how to use various social media platforms, discuss the capabilities of each, and share best practices for engaging with your audience in those spaces. But, for now, I’d just like to end this post with a sincere thank you to Joel for allowing me to be a part of his blog, and say that I know for a fact, Doane College is lucky to have a leader who fits the description of the type needed to help bring about change and implement a successful social media strategy.

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Higher Education Marketing

Five realizations of marketing in higher education

(Mike Lefler, Sr. Director of Strategic Communication at Doane College, is a guest blogger this week providing his personal experience with marketing in higher education)

I may be oversimplifying this, but as a marketer, your responsibility is to know your product, know your target audience and create a bridge between the two. But in higher education, that simple notion is compounded by speaking to several different audiences (traditional students, adult learners, parents, teachers, etc.) that are all looking for different things in a school that features many different selling points.

When I came to Doane College to strategically direct marketing and communications, I had backgrounds in athletic media relations and marketing in the non-profit and health care sectors. Fields that I felt had a fairly clear sales pitch and more defined audiences. The complex nature of college recruitment and selling a small college in an extremely competitive environment was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Below are the five things I have realized in the past six months about marketing in higher education:

Recognize that your school is not for everyone – The million-dollar question: What do students want? This is a question we should be asking ourselves each and every day. The trouble is there is no one thing that we can sell that will attract the number of students we’re looking for.  We’ve come to find that some students look for location or campus community, others for college size or academic reputation while many will refer to a parent, guidance counselor or teacher to lend them advice.  This creates a challenge for the college marketer.

Here at Doane, we recognize we are not going to be the exact fit for each person out there. We as marketers can’t change that. We also realize that, if prospects are given the appropriate information in a manner that stands out, we can be a fit for more people than are now enrolled at our school. What we can do is build our identity and tell our story – what we’re the best at, who can succeed here, what people say about their experiences – in as clear a way as possible to make sure that people are hearing it and giving us real consideration for what we have to offer.

Expand your avenues strategically – Gone are the days of purchasing one ad in the local newspaper and everyone in a 20-mile radius seeing it.  You need to consider things like mobile compatibility, search engine optimization, social media, inbound marketing, online advertising and email blasts.  Prospective students gather their information in numerous ways, so you need to be diverse and stand out in your approach.

The trouble is that big oak tree in the middle of campus isn’t a money tree.  You need to be strategic about which avenues you pursue because funds are limited in the world of small-college marketing. You’ve got to find innovative ways to reach your audiences with succinct messages while being as targeted as possible. Build a following through social media, promote your website until you’re blue in the face, utilize email to the fullest extent, capitalize on good PR and publish enough content through blogs and a news feed to get you noticed outside of your campus walls.  Most importantly, tell your strengths right up front and be as colorful as possible so you stand out from that stack of letters from colleges across the country.

It’s OUR brand – When we launched our new brand on Dec. 2, I had people approach me saying, “I love your new brand.”  I immediately correct them and let them know that this is our brand. This is not something that is just going to live through marketing endeavors. If we are to create a recognizable brand, this needs to be something that lives and breathes through each and every student, faculty member, staff person and alum. A brand is only as strong as the people that live it.  When you are a college, that brand needs to become who you are or it’s not perceived as believable by those on the outside looking in. And it’s everyone’s responsibility for marketing, not just the department that has that title outside its door.

Align your goals with other departments –When marketing a college or university, your ultimate goal is not only to have your brand seen by as many targeted people as possible, but also to help other departments accomplish their goals. Let’s take for example our admissions office. Here at Doane, if our admissions office is not hitting its enrollment goals, this will also be a reflection on how effective our marketing is. Yes, this puts our goals partly in the hands of other departments, but it also brings us together with others as one team and gets us all on the same page. We need to step back, take a look at the big picture of what is going to make us successful and align ourselves with others whom we support to gauge our successes or failures.

To academia, marketing is low-hanging fruit for criticism – Anyone who has worked in marketing for any length of time has stories of “Suzy in accounting who thinks that, because she saw a great commercial while watching The Bachelor last night, she is now an expert in advertising.” In academia, where faculty and students are taught to question everything, the notion is magnified. To them, marketing may seem like a gimmick or trivial in nature with no real science behind it. They want to see immediate proof that the billboard up in the middle of town is translating directly into students in our classrooms.

The answer to this is to justify everything. Make them feel like they are part of the process (which they are to some extent). Let them know what you’re doing every step of the way and why. You’ll get your share of resistance, but by trusting in your marketing experience, training and sticking to your strategy, you’ll get where you need to be.

(Thank you Mike for your guest post!  Joel)

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Higher Education Marketing

Branding Inside-Out

In higher education, I believe the most important audience to influence when launching a brand is the internal audience; more specifically faculty and staff.  I liken it to a popular saying (although slightly modified), “Keep your friends close and your critics closer.”   I believe the culture of an academic institution requires even greater attention to branding strategies internally prior to any external launch.  In academia, it is encouraged to challenge theory, practice, and concepts.  It’s a kind of safe place where voicing personal opinions are encouraged much more beyond what I believe you would find in any commercial industry.  I just don’t see a factory line manager emailing the company CEO criticizing the company branding campaign.  Please share with me if I’m wrong here.  But, this happens in higher education.

Successful adoption of a brand internally requires dedicated attention by the marketing and leadership team.  Let’s be fair, with almost any new idea or concept, we have those that are on-board.  We have those in the middle who seek rationale and edcuation for them to buy-in.  And finally, we have those who will always find fault regardless of fail-safe rationale.  They cannot be wooed.  Nevertheless, we can’t assume that the middle group will become any level of brand ambassador without appropriate attention.  Moreover, effective buy-in may take time and therefore cannot be obtained with a single-moment experience. It must be a campaign.  It must be an important strategic initiative to a brand launch in higher education, equally if not more critical than the external launch.

Last November, Doane College launched our new brand, the “College of” Campaign.  We began with an event to introduce the brand concept and educate the internal community on how it came to be.  We made our case and asked the campus community to partner with us to help build the brand.  This event was just the beginning.  As we launched the external campaign, we continued to build the brand internally with social media, email signatures for the new brand, t-shirts, approved slogans, and also campus signage.  Although I’m not satisfied that we’ve gone far enough to this point, I do acknowledge that we are making progress.  Having said that, some of our critics will share concern for higher education becoming too commercialized.   My response; Absolutely!

A singular example (albeit relatively small in scale) epitomizing the culture change that we are trying to encourage at our historically conservative Midwest college is the addition of a large brand slogan on a bright orange wall in our renovated cafeteria.  This replaced a very nice mural that had been there for some time.  I have no doubt that this created consternation with some campus community members.  But, it also caught their attention and it will catch other’s attention.  Our approach to this brand is not guided by conservatism or being safe.  Rather, we are interested in taking more of a bold approach in order to capture the attention of those that currently are not seeing us or hearing our message.  We cannot expect to reap the rewards of a strong brand that is sheltered and saved only for billboards and radio advertising.  A brand provides an opportunity for personal reflection and ownership.  A brand, particularly in colleges and universities, evokes a very strong sense of pride.

Doane Cafe Photo

High Point University:  An example of a strong internal brand.

I had a great opportunity this last spring to visit High Point University (HPU) in High Point, North Carolina.  HPU is a perfect example of a university that embraced a brand and leverages that brand to the fullest extent.  HPU has undergone an incredible transformation in the last 5-10 years.  The purpose of our visit was to engage Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU President, in a conversation about growth and their incredible success transforming a struggling college to a thriving university in a short period of time.  A little research will tell you quite a bit about their transformation.  It required and continues to require substantial financial investments in their core business to be better and better.  And, while I was interested in learning much on my half-day campus visit, I did not expect to leave with such an incredible first impression that was the incredible result of their brand.

HPU embraced a branding campaign on steroids which included significant investment in on-campus branding.  Everywhere you were on campus, it was clear that you were a HPU community member.  The feeling of belonging was tough to ignore as a result of signage and other unique attributes.  This got me thinking.  I believe HPU did a tremendous job creating an internal culture of excitement and pride.  And, it wasn’t about athletic pride!  Instead, they took their mission and created an opportunity to brand themselves internally…basically selling a dream to their students, faculty, and staff.  They inspire the campus to “Be Extraordinary”.  On just about every door on campus you will find ‘Be Extraordinary”.  Walk into the cafeteria, you will find large banners, “Be Extraordinary”.  The campus is branded with their colors of purple, black, and white.  It is impossible to leave the campus without easily understanding what they stand for.  They’ve made it simple.

I’m on a mission with our Strategic Communications Team to brand Doane’s campus with aggressive vitality over the course of the next two years.  I want this to be a place where it’s impossible to not feel the incredible pride and confidence in our mission and purpose.  I want our campus to be the place where prospective students step onto campus and get goose bumps.  I want faculty and staff to walk across campus and read and see visual symbols of what makes this a special place.  Wherever you are on campus, I want it to be obvious you are on Doane’s campus.  You are a Doane Tiger, or you wish you were.

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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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