Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Inbound marketing, as defined on the Elliance Higher Education Inbound Marketing Flashcards website, is the continuous creation of relevant and high quality content, which helps to build strong, authentic connections with existing networks and helps to extend those networks through social sharing and conversations. In this definition lies the key to why inbound marketing is crucial for a higher education institution.


Content creation for the sake of content will do nothing for brand or reputation building, SEO rankings or increasing social sharing. It’s more than just satisfying search engine bots — it’s also creating stories for people — that people want to read. Content has to be created with a goal in mind. For example, an inbound marketing campaign for a college can be crafted around telling stories – student stories, alumni stories, faculty stories – all of which tell a higher brand story.

Student stories will inspire prospective students, allow them to visualize what their life will be like on-campus, and relate to their experiences.

Alumni stories offer inspiration for prospective as well as current students. Seeing someone who went through a similar college experience and prospered once they graduated will inspire countless others who are aiming for similar goals; or show people the path to success. It also allows alumni to stay connected to their alma mater, opens doorways to fundraising along with being top of mind for alums. This will result in your content being actively shared in their social networks.

Faculty stories play just as much of an important role. Attracting students by showing and celebrating faculty members in different areas/fields of study will allow future students to make their college decision based on faculty research and work which will give them a targeted interest area to work on.

By focusing on people stories you will be able to reach audiences beyond the college network. By tapping into individual networks of featured people in your stories will result in reaching strangers who may not be aware of your college or brand. This will naturally expand audience networks and build authentic connections, resulting in higher brand awareness.


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Data Makes The Difference

Higher education institutes are generating data from a variety of sources: CRM data, web analytics, enrollment data, student data, LMS data and alumni data. All this information is causing a data glut where data is being gathered, stored and forgotten due to a variety of reasons. According to EDUCAUSE, data in numerous cases is only being used to satisfy reporting requirements and neither being actively used for strategic purposes (this includes marketing, enrollment and resource optimization) nor is it being used effectively for making predictions or triggering proactive decisions on imminent issues.

Purchasing a few tools for data analytics is easy however the real value lies in having the curiosity to ask the right questions and the skill to delve into data to find answers. Here are a few strategies when looking into higher ed data.

Social Media
Look at the insight dashboard of your social media platform. Analyze which posts had the most engagement rate (a combination of likes, shares and comments). Did people from a particular demographic group engage more? Which types of media were causing the most engagement rates … photos, text or videos? Did some posts resonate well with certain demographic groups? Use the data to create a compelling narrative for each group and people will rally around it (organic engagement)

Create focused questionnaires using powerful survey tools like Ennect Survey and distribute them to your intended audience. Not only is the data valuable for helping make sound decisions (e.g., distributing surveys to gauge student interest for a new degree program that is in the pipelines) but the dashboards they offer can allow business analysts and non-technical users to easily interpret and analyze the data. The dashboards contain helpful visualizations that allow understanding of the responses at a glance.

Learning Management System
Use student performance data and apply predictive algorithms to see if students are on the path for success. Students who might get flagged in the data can get special attention from the professors and administrators. Proactively helping such students or even reaching out to them will amplify their experience at the school and, more importantly, help them get better grades.

Data Roadmap

Higher ed institutes looking to develop a data culture must address the following issues: choosing the internal and external data they will need to collect and integrate; selecting tools that will best support their business goals; and building the skillset and capabilities needed to exploit this potential.

In short there are great opportunities to use data for ones benefit however losing sight of the real goal, which is providing quality education for students will prove fatal irrespective of having great tools and a stellar analytics team. Providing great experience for students is crucial and utilizing data to further enhance their experience will help the institute reach its goals.

Learn more how Ennect Web Marketing Tools powered by Elliance can help you improve your data collection efforts in surveys and campus events through its quick, easy and insightful online softwares

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As of yesterday, August 24th, Amazon had listed 24,393 books on brand marketing ready for you to read (have fun). Al Reis has 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. Jack Trout emphasizes differential. And I recently saw a brand glossary from a nationally-known, prominent marketing firm that contained more than 50 brand terms and descriptors. Oh my.

Benjamin Franklin once said “There is nothing so absurd as knowledge spun too fine.”
I often feel we get dangerously close to that with all our brand philosophies, processes, descriptions and other beliefs.

From my standpoint, there are really only two things you need to keep in mind:

Step 1: State your singularity.
Call it your promise, your differential, or your brand advantage. Whatever you want to call it – state it. Clearly, passionately, and unapologetically.

Step 2: Prove it.
Hopefully, how you decide to describe yourself has resonance. Hopefully it is genuine, honest and authentic. If it does and it is, then this step should be easy. If it isn’t, please go back and do step one again.

Okay, I realize there is a process involved that gets you to step one, and in almost every meeting with a potential new client, I’m asked to describe ours. This is always a tough question for me to answer because I’m not sure our process is all that different from those used by other brand firms. Everyone visits campus. Everyone interviews. Everyone brings back raw material and adds it up. We do too.

BUT… there IS an obvious difference in our process, and it is US … the people conducting the process. Strategists AND creatives who will be doing the actual work. Strategists AND creatives who know what they’re listening for – a specific something upon which we can build a deep, passionate brand. A statement that is true and believable (the research/strategy part), has resonance and appeal (the creativity part), and most importantly can be supported (the client part).

Without the research part, the creative part won’t have foundation. And without the creative expression, the brand won’t have appeal and will never become a story. And without client support, it will never be realized.

Our process starts in data and research and ends in a creative brand expression that you can use. Tomorrow. Because the expression will be one you can easily wear.

And our expression will always be a true expression of you.

Learn more about the strong brand positions Elliance has claimed for colleges and universities around the country through its disciplined, and simple, process in higher education marketing and branding services.

At Elliance, we receive countless higher education request for proposals (RFPs).  Knowing that colleges and universities put together RFPs semi-annually at best, it’s no surprise that some lack clarity. However, the best way to get exactly what you want is to make your RFP crystal clear.

Here, are the four most common issues as well as the advice on avoiding them:

1. End Goals: When stating the goals, focus on the ends rather than the means. For example, a goal to “refine program webpages” could be a means to many ends, from improved page conversion to establishing brand consistency. Eliminate the guesswork by stating direct and deliberate end goals in your RFP. To get to the heart of the matter, consider questions such as what problem are you trying to solve, what do you want more of, and why now?

2. Strategy vs. Implementation: A common ambiguity in the higher education RFPs is whether an institution is looking for only the marketing plan/strategy or the strategy and implementation. Be clear on whether you intend to implement the plan —whole or in part — in-house or have an agency partner do so. If you are looking for a consulting engagement be sure to state this explicitly.

3. Undermining the Brand: While many higher education RFPs acknowledge that the college/university brand is suffering; few recognize that such an issue may require a separate engagement. Often, RFPs attempt to package multiple issues as a single enrollment challenge. One way to acknowledge this situation in an RFP is to dedicate a separate section for each engagement, accompanied by its corresponding objectives and deliverables.

4. Matching Deliverables: Listing the deliverables in an RPF is very helpful as it reaffirms stated goals and informs pricing. However, a common inconsistency is that the deliverables do not match the project scope. For example, a brand-focused RFP should not abruptly introduce “campaign strategies” as a deliverable. All deliverables should have a basis in the scope. One way to spot this issue is to check for newly introduced terms under the deliverables that were not mentioned in prior sections of the RFP.

Above all, being open to communicate — whether via phone or email — will help address most ambiguities, which in turn will inform accurate pricing and improve the overall project outcome.

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So what is an information session?

Information sessions are provided by most higher education institutions to provide prospective students and their families the opportunity to see the campus, learn about the university and develop a personal connection.  They also provide program specific details and the opportunity to meet faculty, students and counselors. The target audiences are undergraduate, transfer and international students, graduate and adult students. Information sessions are a very important part of a higher education strategy.

Put yourself in a prospective student’s shoes. You come across an info session web page that peaked your interest only to find that when you clicked around there wasn’t enough information and detail.  When you have a site that lists a bunch of dates and a few broad sentences, it just won’t do. You conclude that there just wasn’t enough time and effort invested in it, so why should you buy in and take the next step?

Evaluate your website.
Are details about upcoming sessions front and center on your website or buried somewhere near the bottom of a page? Is it presented in an easy to read, attractive manner? Is there space to provide enough details and promote the venue? Are your prospects finding the information and if they do, are they getting the impression that this is a worthwhile, well-planned event? Is signing up quick and easy?

Solving the problem.

Here at Elliance, we have helped clients transform their higher education marketing in part by changing the way they plan and promote their information sessions.

WWUInfoSessionEventUsing an online marketing software tool like Ennect Event, colleges can create a comprehensive and tailored information session website. The best part? It requires very little back end effort and can be copied and updated for each future session or target audience.

Unique event websites make a great impression and show prospects that you put effort into the event, thus it is worthy of their time.  An event registration tool like Ennect incorporated into an inbound marketing strategy allows colleges to target prospective students based on type, location and interest. Additionally, users can gain an advantage with online invitations that drive prospects with the click of a button, something that is impossible with printed flyers and word-of-mouth advertising.

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When I was a child, I was fascinated by the PBS show The Woodwright’s Shop. If you haven’t seen the show, the host Roy Underhill makes amazing projects out of wood using manual hand tools. A significant portion of the show featured Mr. Underhill crafting his own tool to aid him in upcoming projects. For some reason, the tool making was my favorite part of the show.

As a front end developer I have used plenty of boilerplates and frameworks in my work. If you have ever used one you know that they come with advantages and disadvantages.  Recently, I was inspired to build my own toolkit to replace *off the shelf* web boilerplates. The results are a better understanding of the code, and ultimately, a cleaner finished product.

The Woodwright’s Shop was full of wonderful tools, both custom-made and hand-me-downs. The shop’s collection could not be purchased at the local Home Depot. it was collected and crafted over time — job by job as the need grew.

This was the idea for my toolkit: Don’t sweat its feature list, build and collect tools as you make projects.

The starting point

We all have tools we already use for each project, so the first step is organizing them all into one place. Thankfully with the advent of SASS and static-site generators (we currently use Middlemen) adding tools to my kit has never been easier. I can keep my tools isolated in individual SASS and Middleman files allowing me to add and delete as needed.  Any site-specific styles are isolated and the toolkit is never altered directly.

The foundation

I would recommend starting with smaller pre-built tools that you are familiar with.

Here is my starting point:

  • A CSS reset ( I like Normalize )
  • A Grid, nothing fancy, I like to keep it light so I can add features in the future.
  • Typographical base styles (Gridlover is a great way to start)

From this point, add the basics of a web page that you know you will need in most projects.  During the development of your next project, you may, for example, build a better contact form or drop down navigation. New  tools like these can be altered or added to the kit as you go and slowly it will grow.

 The benefits

The end goal for my toolkit was to jump start a project at its beginning. Eventually I was able to quickly and easily develop fully-responsive wireframes for internal (or client) review before full production began. Because these wireframes were built in my own code, and not with an *out of the box* solution, this code was not thrown away and was used in the final production of the site.

Building your own tools and toolkit takes time, and will never be complete. With this frame of mind, your tools can evolve with the web and help you produce better products —  to ultimately better serve your clients.

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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Autumn is right around the corner, which means another exciting college football season is not far from kick-off.  For many colleges, football is an integral part of the campus experience and with rabid student fan bases and celebrated traditions, it should be highly considered in higher education enrollment marketing strategy.

More and more schools are fielding inaugural football teams and university administrators are hoping to embrace the tradition and excitement of game day Saturdays as a way to elevate their school’s profile, compete for higher enrollment, solidify alumni and financial relations and create a more exciting and tight-knit campus community.

The National Football Foundation reported that in 2014, the number of schools across all NCAA divisions and the NAIA offering football grew to an all-time high at 767.  Last year, Limestone College and seven other schools entered into the growing fellowship of college football and fielded inaugural teams.  Joining Limestone College in the class of 2014 was Paine College which relaunched its football program after a 50 year hiatus.  Increasing enrollment was the main reason Paine College Athletics Director Tim Duncan cited as the reason for bringing football back to campus.

This season eight schools including the University of West Florida (UWF) are set to kick-off college football programs. UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott strongly believes, “Football will help increase people’s awareness and marketing of the university.”  Scott is convinced, “You have kids that choose institutions because of traditions, and when you’re a young institution you’re trying to establish those traditions and establish that connection to your community.” Situated in the western panhandle of Florida, UWF has to compete for enrollment against NCAA football juggernaut Florida State in Tallahassee to the east and a roster of junior and smaller schools across the border in Mobile, Alabama to the west.  Scott said, “Since we made the announcement, in the eyes of the community and students that we are recruiting, all of a sudden we’re a bigger institution.” He concluded, “Are we really? No. But because we’ve added football, people perceive us that way.”  UWF will begin Gulf South Conference football play in 2016.

Higher education enrollment marketers should go for the score and not punt on college football tradition as it could be the deciding enrollment factor among prospective students and student athletes in the very crowded geography of higher learning.

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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Everyone understands the importance of making a good first impression. Be on time, make eye contact, shake hands, don’t forget your manners and always send a thank you letter. While a handwritten thank you letter could help you land your dream job, personalized notes and letters can also play a significant role in higher education marketing — a point of major differentiation between one school and other.

Ad Age estimates that the average American consumer receives somewhere between 500 and 1500 brand messages every day. Forty percent of those same consumers are receiving more than 30 emails per day. Let’s be honest, that’s a lot of competition — especially when the person you’re trying to reach is a seventeen-year-old high school senior with extra curriculars, homework and a part time job.  So, how do you ensure that your message is memorable enough to rise above the rest? The answer is simple: take the time to make them feel like a priority.

Over 90 percent of Americans say that they have a positive reaction when receiving personal letters or cards. The United States Postal Service survey estimates that the average household received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010. If we all enjoy getting personal letters in the mail, why don’t we send more letters?

Harvard Business Review writes, “Handwritten notes are unusual… they indicate investment, and that very costliness indicates value.”

Taking the time to write a personalized, handwritten letter or note to a prospective student following a campus visit will not only ensure that your message is received, but it can also make a student feel important. Students who experienced personal interest from colleges are often able to recall who, what and how that interest was conveyed.

At Elliance, we advocate for personalized letters. Our client, Saint Francis University, utilizes personalized notes and letters throughout the recruitment process. They’re dedicated to ensuring that each student experiences a level of personalized interest during their college search.

It’s been a few years, but I can remember that my alma mater took the time to write a special note at the bottom of my acceptance letter — I can’t say the same for the other schools I had applied to.

“Hey Krystal, We hope you enjoyed your campus visit today. Can’t wait to see you wearing orange and maroon in the fall! Go Crusaders!

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The statistics are rather unsettling. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1,658,370 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2015 and 589,430 people will die from the disease.

I wrote about my own cancer scare years ago for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and I always thought I could only fight cancer on a personal level. I eat veggies, stay active, slather on sunscreen, get a mammogram and donate money.

What else can one person do?

That all changed when I was asked to work on the website redesign for the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). Now I had a chance to use my writing talents to help nurses who care for cancer patients, which in turn, helps those battling this disease.

At Elliance, a website redesign doesn’t just mean put a few pretty pictures into a new layout.

We ask questions. We think. We ask more questions. Then, we combine what we’ve discovered about the client with the best practices for information architecture, responsive web design and SEO.

Happily, ONCC appreciates the effort we put into their new website.

“We were looking for a website redesign project, and achieved so much more,” explained Pam Asfahani communications and marketing manager for ONCC. “Elliance helped us crystallize the purpose of our site, identify measurable goals, and develop the strategy to reach those goals through the website. The end result was more than a new look, it was a new way of thinking.”

Launching a new website isn’t the end of the story. During the coming year, we’ll keep close tabs on the impact the new website makes on three of the client’s business goals:

Will the improved navigation reduce customer service calls?

Will the new website increase certification renewals?

Will there be an increase in the number of oncology nurses who obtain advanced certification?

Visit the newly redesigned ONCC website at

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A while back, I blogged about the 9 tensions we systematically hold while doing client work. Recently a colleague asked me about the overarching tensions we hold as a company. After some reflection, I compiled a list of three that we instinctively hold:

holding tensions

1. Business Strategy & Creative. Our clients have described us as a hybrid firm, a cross between business smarts and inspiring creative that work in harmony to move the needle in realizing both business objectives and reputation goals.

2. People & Google Bot. In the new marketing order, everything we do must persuade people yet relentlessly influence search engine rankings. For us the Keyword Guide, which is the set of keywords that a brand can rightfully claim, informs creation of all content that fuels marketing campaigns. We need to win both Google Position 1 battles and positioning battles of the mind.

3. Digital & Traditional. Once upon a time, we were a digital marketing agency. Clients nudged us to go beyond our digital roots to embrace traditional media. We adapted by hiring amazing talent. The reward: full service relationships that realize that digital now leads the brand and traditional advertising/marketing has to adapt to the new digital world we now live in.

This, my friends, reflects the DNA of who we are at our core.

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