Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Professional higher education marketing services agencies, like Elliance, embrace the following seven best practices:

1. Start with Strategy: They pick the best strategy to move the college/university forward.
Higher Education Marketing Services - Strategy

2. Build Your Brand: Because they know that in the sea of sameness, brands win, they build a memorable brand for your college. And then they imbue it at every touch point.
Higher Education Marketing Services - Branding

3. Fix Your Website: They recognize that your website is your conversion machine, and all roads lead to it. They also bake in your SEO Keyword Guide at every step of website development so your college can rank on Google page 1.
Higher Education Marketing Services -  Website Conversions

4. Orchestrate Inbound marketing, Google PPC, Paid Social and Retargeting: They fish where the fish are – on search, social and mobile.
Higher Education Marketing Services - Campaigns

5. Invest in Marketing Technology: With the right tools deployed at every stage of the admissions funnel, they know what is working and what’s not. Thus they are able to feed the performing ads/channels/messages and starve the non-performers.
Higher Education Marketing Services -Technology

6. Measure, Test, Adapt: They measure what matters. They know what works. They tease out stories. And they have the courage to change tactics based on data.
Higher Education-Marketing Services - Analytics and Metrics

7. Calculate ROI: They intimately understand and measure your short term, and long-term measures of return-on-investment.

Higher Education Marketing Services - ROI

Since the ground keeps shifting in higher education marketing because of speed of mobile technology adoption, and change in student/parent habits, they take great pains to stay current, and continuously innovate.

Learn more about Elliance higher education marketing services.

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In working with both higher education marketers and association marketers, I’ve noticed some interesting similarities between the two sectors. For one, their missions are remarkably similar. They help people reach their professional goals whether it’s through education, training or networking opportunities.

However, while higher education institutions have historically focused primarily on younger audiences, associations have only more recently reenergized their efforts toward attracting a younger generation. Due to natural attrition, they’re seeing a decline in their Baby Boomer membership, and beginning to realize that Millennials have very different attitudes on the value of belonging to an association than their predecessors had.

As associations strive to grow membership among Millennials, the higher education marketing sector offers lessons that can inform association marketing efforts.

For example, one of the common challenges many associations face is meeting the needs of different audience segments. A recent MGI report found that out of 267 associations surveyed, on average, baby boomers make up 39 percent of membership while Millennials and Generation X make up 17 and 29 percent, respectively.

The same report also found that most associations, almost 60 percent, segment marketing based only upon membership level or type. This means that a common “professional-level” membership likely includes members from multiple generational groups including Baby Boomers, Millennials and Generation X. Because professional-level memberships lump together members of varied age groups, associations may neglect generationally-conscious marketing if they only segment based on membership type. On top of that, the same report found that 20 percent of associations simply do not segment marketing campaigns.

In contrast, higher education institutions have for decades understood that the way to appeal to a traditional prospect — a 17-year-old high school senior — is much different from marketing geared toward an adult student. Segmenting marketing campaigns has allowed universities and colleges to emphasize school benefits that matter most to each age group. For example, a traditional student may be more interested in campus life whereas an adult student would value program flexibility.

A similar approach would allow associations to appeal to Millennials differently from how they may approach baby boomers or Generation X. For example, by considering the differences in how each generation prefers to be engaged and the type of association resources/offerings they find most valuable, associations can better segment their campaigns and write more compelling messaging.

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After 25 years of generating prosperity for clients, we have learned that successful digital marketing initiatives must have these 7 fundamentals:

1. Start with Strategy: Ready-aim-fire, not ready-fire-aim. Lead with strengths.
2. Build Your Brand: In the sea of sameness, brands win. Build it. Fearlessly guard it. Imbue it at every touch point.
3. Develop Your Keyword Guide: Before you bake your product/service, reputational, decisioning and geographic keywords into every content asset, you must first discover them and know them.
4. Fortify Your Website: It’s your conversion machine. All roads lead to it. Bake in your SEO Keyword Guide.
5. Surround and Engage Prospects with an integrated campaign: On search, social and mobile, where the prospects live.
6. Invest in Marketing Technology: Know what truly performs, so you can feed the winners.
7. Measure, Test, Adapt: Measure what matters. Know what works. Tease out stories. Change boldly.

Learn more about our digital marketing and integrated marketing services.

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Recently Elliance worked with Highmark Insurance Group to launch their new website. As part of all our web design and development projects, whether for insurance or manufacturing companies or higher education institutions, one of the points of distinction that no one ever sees is the SEO work that gets baked into the structure and thinking of the website.

Here are some ways SEO is essential to all our web projects:

Sitemap optimization:

 A sitemap is like a blueprint – it defines the structure of the website and provides a map of how the content will be laid out.

When we start to think about a sitemap, we focus on the ways people will consume content on the website – how they will search for it and find it, and once they arrive, how they will interact with it. What’s important to note here is that visitors may not come in just through the homepage. Each page becomes a doorway that leads into the site and creates an opportunity for ranking that page on search engines.

As we work through the process of understanding the client and their audience, we also come up with a keyword guide which the target audience is searching for and can be applied to critical pages on the site.

For HMIG, understanding the mapping of the content based on business objectives and audience habits helped us build out a keyword guide which was mapped to each critical page. If a user now does a search for “stop loss insurance companies” they can find HMIG’s Stop Loss Insurance page ranking on Google page 1 results.

insurance company website search results

User experience optimization:

We make it easy for users to navigate the website. The purpose is to make information easy to find. This includes keeping together clusters of related pages – grouping together relevant content positively affects rankings on search results. It provides more content relevance for a topic causing that website to rank higher for keywords.

For example, in the case of HMIG, top level navigation was split into two major service areas – Stop Loss Insurance and Managed Care Reinsurance. All content for each of these sections was pulled into the respective sections, making it easy for users to find if they were only interested in looking at that specific area of the website.

insurance company website pages

Content optimization:

Clients gain brand credibility by being ranked on Google Page 1. The perception is that a leader lives on Google Page 1. As we create content we create with both the search engine bot and the user in mind – how they will consume the content and the kinds of searches they will conduct to get to the website. The keyword guide again becomes a starting point for this effort, providing the client a targeted content area to focus on.

Over time in order to sustain rankings we focus on creating consistent content such as blog posts. The keyword guide that was created with the new website continues to lead these efforts of strengthening and maintaining rankings. We also help clients with active optimized content creation and will monitor and report regular progress to our clients on how they’re doing on search results.

Conversion optimization:

We bring people to a website to take some action such as to make a sale. Which is why it’s very important to make it easy for users to find a way to engage with a company. Conversion points on a website create engagement, which helps to reduce the bounce rate, which in turn is rewarded by search engines through stronger rankings. For example, if someone comes to the site and cannot find a way to request information, it becomes a lost sale. We make sure conversion buttons are placed in prominent places and are easy to find. This makes it easier for the user to move to the next step and your ranking to move up in results.

In the case of HMIG, the link in the footer is available for users across the website so they can find the team in their region easily.

insurance company website conversion

Once all of this is in place, this starts the website on the right path to becoming search friendly and to building strong and stable rankings on search engines. But this is just the beginning. In order to maintain those rankings and stay ahead of the competition, building fresh and consistent content through blogging and social media efforts becomes key to success.

Contact us to learn more about Elliance inbound and search engine marketing services.

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redesign-jesuit-websiteWhile all .edu websites send important signals and establish vital threads of connection to stakeholders — corporate recruiters, research partners and regional funders/allies — a business school website does so with greater urgency and a far more explicit mandate.

We held that truth close as we set about redesigning a new website for the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, a longstanding pillar of a Cleveland and Northeast Ohio economy that has seen more than its share of challenge and has responded with its distinct brand of resiliency.

Through economic cycles of growth and decline, and a steady re-mixing of Cleveland’s regional economy from traditional manufacturing to financial services and, increasingly, medical technology, Boler graduates have provided a steady and reliable source of corporate leadership and entrepreneurial grit.

But as is the case with many small and mid-sized colleges, the Boler School of Business struggled to articulate a strategy for strengthening the ties that bind a region’s economy with its essential wellspring of managerial, accounting, human resource, supply chain and other essential business talent.

Elliance partnered with the leadership team at the Boler School of Business to articulate that strategy clearly (see infographic).  We then set about imagining and architecting a responsive website that would attract and convert the kind of right-fit faculty and students required to translate a set of 500-year-old Jesuit values and a century-old mission into ground reality.

"Redesigning-Business-School-Website"After more than a decade of serving hundreds of colleges and universities, we understand the value — and privilege — of working closely with senior administration early in the strategic process. From that foundation, Elliance can use precious website discovery time to drill even deeper into the school’s origin story, right-fit prospect data, larger economic trends and forces, and faculty insights.

One important take away from discovery required extensive review of the nation’s 28 leading Jesuit colleges and universities. There we found that while all 28 schools spoke from a shared set of values, few had tried to express clearly to a prospective undergraduate why a Jesuit business education mattered.

We set about trying to show, with specificity and from a 17-year-old’s point of view, how a Jesuit business education would prepare them like no other business degree for a changing world. Our goal was to update everyone’s frame to appreciate how sustainable value creation and corporate responsibility are no longer the right thing to do, nor the right thing to do and good for business, but now simply good business.

Interviews with Boler faculty revealed the nature of the task at hand — merging a venerable Jesuit value called Magis (aka the greater good) with the reality that data and analytic tools and skills are driving a new business revolution. Boler’s ability to arm good people with hard skills (finance, accounting, supply chain, marketing) promises to move sustainable value creation from nice to have PR message to bottom line talent, profit driver.

When Alan Miciak, Dean of the Boler School of Business declared, “there has never been a more exciting time to be in business,” we picked up that torch and carried its central theme — and big invitation — into every nook and cranny of website architecture, design, content and photography.

One internal rally cry we used through the development process was this: “Boler students are being invited to step onto a bullet train to the future… and we are creating the pre-boarding experience.” We were excited to persuade prospects that if they want to be part of a successful business that’s doing lasting good for the world, Boler will accelerate their journey.


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To find one’s voice and to have the courage to speak it is sacred. But to be heard is divine. This wisdom applies to both people and brands alike.

The art of listening is a great gift of life. Cultivating it has been incredibly hard for a person like me who has been struggling and striving most of my life. Crossing cultures made it even more challenging. Landing at fiercely competitive Cornell and Carnegie Mellon was no respite. Becoming the CEO of an entrepreneurial company made it harder. As a Muslim, being under relentless attack has made it very difficult to stay silent and simply listen.

True listening begins when you are in equilibrium, when you have arrived, and when you are neither fighting, nor in flight. I have been conscientiously working on getting better at this divine art.

All my life, I have searched for quiet spaces where I could be who I truly am. Nature, mountains, parks and especially national parks have provided that sacred space for me.

Jordan Chepke, a very special colleague of mine at the office, shared this NPR story which brings nature to me in my busy life. It’s titled “Beyond Sightseeing: You’ll Love The Sound Of America’s Best Parks”. I hope you enjoy it. Once you are at the NPR website, do hover your mouse over the icon on the bottom left of the photo shown below. The sounds will transport you to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Cultivating the art of listening

What we can’t master in a lifetime, we either hire, befriend or marry. My personal journey to listening has been made easier with several gifted listeners at Elliance, one of my mentors Stan Marlan, and my wife. They have been teaching me the nuanced art of listening with the mind’s eye, adapting, and responding. They are coaching me on how to listen for meaning, and to identify signs of listening brands.

Are you a listener? Are you surrounded by listeners? Are you working for a listening brand?

Learn more about our branding services.

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John Deere

Credit: The Furrow

Content marketing is in a state of constant flux. To reach potential students, best practices in higher education marketing dictate being everywhere; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and SnapChat, right?

Well, no.

Yes, the number of ways consumers can access information, and thus make a purchasing decision, has grown exponentially. The days when a university only bought a billboard, some television commercials and used direct mail are long gone. Websites, email, digital ads and sharing content on social sites are used in addition to the older forms of marketing.

But, that doesn’t mean you should just throw the same content everywhere.

Instead, universities must make their content interesting, useful and at times, entertaining. This only happens if you focus on your customer’s needs rather than your own interests.

That’s where John Deere enters the picture.

They published a magazine, called The Furrow, in 1895. The goal was to sell farm equipment and they did this by sharing stories farmers would love to read.

In an interview with The Content Strategist, Tom Sizemore who has worked on the magazine for the past 37 years, says the magazine has always focused on the farmers, not the John Deere equipment.

“Even the most technical subject has to have a human story behind it,” Jones added. “We’ve always been able to convince the management that the content shouldn’t be about John Deere equipment. We’ve stuck to that over time.”

Click through the pages on the online version of The Furrow and you’ll discover rich, well-written stories accompanied by beautiful photography. Oh, and they happen to have one tab called, Equipment Videos.

If the first take-away for those working in higher education marketing is to focus on your potential student’s needs not your own, the second is to be creative.

John Deere was revolutionary when they started publishing this beautiful magazine. If you want to stand-out, don’t follow the same formula that other schools use. Instead, take the time to research and discover what your potential students and their families need and provide that content.

For example, research by shows that podcasts are growing in popularity and  37% of 18 to 34 year olds listen to podcasts at least once a week.  If you want to increase enrollment in graduate programs, perhaps you can have podcasts just for that demographic?

Success in higher education marketing today means using your creativity to create digital assets your potential students will enjoy. Remember, it’s about them, not you.

I hope this gets your gears turning.

best manufacturing marketing practices
Find out more about how Elliance is helping B2B and Manufacturing Marketers here.

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Higher Education Marketing ROI

Marketing ROI formula is easy enough:

Marketing ROI in Higher Education.

However, working with higher education clients for more than two decades has made it clear to us that calculating marketing ROI is challenging, especially in our current era of media fragmentation, device proliferation, and tight marketing budgets. Four reasons why:

Unrealized Attribution of Incremental Gains to Marketing Efforts: Pinpointing a prospect-to-enrolled conversion to a specific marketing tactic is hard because a conversion may be the result of multiple marketing stimuli spread out over multiple marketing channels over a period of few years.

Multi-touch and multi-channel lead attribution models, though available in the form of sophisticated software tools, are not well understood, are difficult to implement, and are simply unaffordable for a majority of colleges. Thus, connecting the dots across a campaign’s multiple components is next to impossible.

Inadequate Support for Source Tracking: The next best alternative to attribution software is to deploy simple source tracking, where source-of-lead signals are passed from digital touch points to the CRM system. This is usually unworkable because most higher education CRM vendors don’t support it.

Fuzzy Understanding of Student Quality and Lifetime Value: Snapshots of current applicant data don’t accurately measure the impact of students over the entire student life cycle — all the way from being a prospect to becoming an alumn. Well-conceptualized brands and well-executed campaigns steadily improve student quality, increase family income, reduce melt rates, grow graduation rates, and enlarge alumni giving rates. The correlation between the characteristics of the incoming class and the long-term value of a student are only understood after a period of several years. However, admissions staff under pressure to “make-the-numbers” frequently aren’t thinking about attracting “right-fit” students.

Use of Best-of-Breed Agency Partners: What makes the calculation of marketing ROI even more challenging is the use of multiple agency partners to optimize various aspects of the admissions funnel. Data is often not shared between agencies, which makes it difficult to connect the dots.

Our recommendation for colleges and universities is to hire an experienced agency-of-record that can brand the college, implement integrated campaigns to attract right-fit students, make sense of the CRM data you share with them, connect as many dots as is possible, and concurrently focus on the admissions, giving and reputation funnels over a period of several years.

We know the perfect place. Let’s talk.

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The web is full of designs and patterns, both good and bad, new and old. At times it all starts to blur together and the sites start resembling one another. Periodically I like to see what else is out there, to see what interesting ideas have yet to become the web trend of the month.

The following is a small list of sites I try to visit at least once a week. As a front end developer I might be looking for something different for inspiration compared to a designer or UX specialist. The following sites will offer not only design and development ideas but also challenge the way we view content on the web, for better or for worse.

Site Inspire : Well organized collection so you can easily browse for specific subjects or styles that you are looking for. Mostly leans toward a clean, modern design aesthetic.

One Page Love : Single page sites only, great source for scroll animations and concise organization of content.

Httpster : Similar to Site Inspire, it is organized into types and styles, but I find that the selection is a bit more colorful and playful.

Dribbble : If you are not already familiar with Dribbble, it is a very popular design community where designers share small parts of their work which is then open to feedback from the other members. It is not specifically for web design, in fact it can be sparse at times, but you can easily keyword search for what you are interested in.

Bēhance : Similar to Dribbble, but Bēhance is open to the general public so you might find some more interesting and ‘outside of the box’ ideas here.

Codepen : Looking for something a bit more interactive? CodePen is a community of front end developers sharing things ranging from small ideas to full sites. Similar to Dribbble and Bēhance, but instead of just images, these examples are working code made in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Not only can you see the code, but you can fork it and learn how it was made without leaving the browser.

Hopefully some of these sites will not only knock some cobwebs off, but inspire you in your next project.

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