Ideas, insights and inspirations.

As one of the top higher education marketing agencies, we are frequently asked to share our thoughts on emerging trends in this space. Here is what we are seeing.

The past two years have seen a historic decline of more than one million students in US colleges and universities. Racially and ethnically diverse student populations continue to grow. The number of International students shrank during the pandemic but are growing again. College endowments surprisingly grew at first and then took an inflationary hit. Marketing and enrollment arms races are on. Colleges are battling to win an outsized share of a shrinking pool of domestic and international students.

Here are the top ten higher education marketing trends for 2023 that we are sharing with our clients and partners:

1. Responsive Ads

Machine learning has arrived. Google algorithms are creating responsive Google search ads and Google display ads. For search ads, marketers generate multiple headlines and descriptions, and Google tests different combinations, serves the performing ads, and starves the non-performers. Ditto for display ads: marketers upload several images, sizes, headlines, descriptions, and Google adapts fast and gravitates automatically towards the winning combinations.

2. Look-Alike Audiences

Look-alike audiences are groups of prospects who share similar characteristics with the current students at a college. They tend to become applicants at a faster rate than prospects in the open market. Marketers are leveraging look-alike audience features on the advertising platforms.

3. Personalization

This smart software treats prospects differently depending on where they are coming from and where they are in their decision cycle. Treating warm prospects, hot prospects and hottest prospects uniquely reflects not only good manners but is also good for business. Personalization is increasingly being deployed in websites, emails, event marketing and advertising.

4. Keyword Lexicons

Before marketers embark on the content journey, they are routinely crafting SEO Keyword Lexicons that guide creation of all new content. The Lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should rank for and claim. Keyword categories in the Lexicon include: program, brand positioning, reputation, decisioning, and location.

5. Celebration of Diversity

Given that diverse student populations are growing and the white student population is shrinking, higher education marketers are increasingly targeting diverse Gen-Z populations. Since Gen-Z values a broad definition of diversity, equity, sustainability, and climate change, they are seeking out colleges whose values are aligned with theirs. Marketers are responding.

6. Humorous and Authentic Content

Born in the digital age, Gen-Z live on Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix and Google. The internet is an extension of their brain. They have an app for everything they do, or have an interest in. Memes are a part of their daily lives. They expect authentic, show-don’t-tell marketing. They have a deeper appreciation and need for humor because they feel overwhelmed by the existential crisis that they are facing in weaker families, divided politics, rising costs of education, climate change, and a shrinking world.

7. Content/Blog Marketing

Great content is the lifeblood of successful brands. “Juiced” with keywords, informative blog posts are one of the most effective means of securing Google page one rankings for long tail keywords. Depending on the type of college and university, they are either creating thought-leadership blogs or advice-oriented blogs with practical content.

8. Democratization of Research

A trend we are seeing emerge is what I call the TED-effect: faculty and thought leaders sharing their expertise in a democratized style via blogs, videos, and podcasts.

9. Influencer Marketing

Gen-Z tend to follow many influencers and generally trust what likable influencers are promoting. Social media account takeovers by students are now an effective means of bringing authentic voices to college marketing.

10. Emerging Website Norms

Colleges are using photographs of diverse students, faculty, and staff. Investigative reporting and high-octane storytelling are becoming the cornerstone of great websites. Signature program pages are being constructed with higher content fidelity. “Hamburger menus” are now routinely appearing for site navigation. Sticky admission funnel intakes, like call-to-action buttons, are becoming common. Personalization is taking root.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the elite group of successful colleges we have turned around.

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Great marketers are a rare breed. They are shapeshifters who play ten crucial roles and gracefully switch between them:


As strategic thinkers, they imagine new possibilities, combinations and offerings that don’t yet exist. They don’t confuse strategy with planning or tactics. They play to win.


The daily work of a marketing leader is to orchestrate in-house and out-sourced talent in service of larger goals. They recognize, motivate and unleash talent…wherever they can find it.

I N T E G R A T I V E   T H I N K E R

They understand that marketing is a highly interconnected, mutually reinforcing and complex ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media tactics – part digital and part traditional. They have the capacity and the desire to work through its complexities.


They help define the brand and then insist on speaking with its distinctive brand voice. As brand ambassadors, they manage first impressions and monitor the brand reputation. They continuously find new proofs of their brand claims. Not only are they merchants of hope, they know that a brand ultimately becomes the story it chooses to tell.


Marketing leaders understand that the customer, not the organization is the hero of the story. They tell stories about their heroes and their unique journeys.


Successful marketing leaders don’t deploy a shotgun approach to marketing. They don’t try to be all things to all people. They only target and pursue right-fit prospects.


As marketing leaders, they act with a sense of urgency. They persevere in the face of challenges. Unafraid to fail, they are resilient.

D A T A   S C I E N T I S T

Great marketers measure what matters, metrics like ROI and KPI’s. They listen to the market and periodically monitor the institutional brand strength. They also periodically benchmark themselves against competitors.

D E C I S I O N   M A K E R

Their approach to decision making is consultative and collaborative. They are customer-focused, empathetic and observant. They are instinct-powered yet data-informed decision makers.

T R U T H   S E E K E R

They are honest and surround themselves with truth tellers. They know the unsaid is sometimes more powerful than what’s said.

Above all, they are selflessly devoted to the success of their enterprise.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart marketing agency which can partner with you and help you join the elite group of successful organizations we’ve re-launched.

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The stakes are high when higher education institutions launch new academic programs. According to Burning Glass, a market research firm, the estimated cost of sustaining a new program over a four-year period is around $2M and only a third of them succeed. When launching new programs, college leaders are looking for recipes to ensure success and avoid failure.

Here at Elliance, we advise our clients to consider the 7 P’s: program, price, place, prospects, professors & program chairs, promotion, and process. Here is what we recommend:


New program launches follow the law of supply and demand. The higher the demand for program graduates and lower the supply of colleges offering the program, the higher the chance of success.

Analyze data from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to assess the competitors and the demand for your new program’s graduates.

On rare occasions, if you have an insider’s view of a field, feel free to rely on your intuition rather than market research.


Charge higher tuition if you are offering a distinctive program. This is hard to implement for undergraduate programs,  but is easily doable for graduate and certificate programs.


Academic programs can be offered in various settings and formats: on-campus, on-line, hybrid or at corporate offices. Offer the format in the location that best meets the needs of your ideal students.


Know the profile of your right-fit prospects. Remember, the student, not the institution, is the real hero of your story. Resist the temptation to talk too much about yourself; instead shine a light on prospects’ needs, desires and ambitions.

Recognize that you are serving an increasingly diverse group of students. Recruit, enroll and support students from diversity of faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Identify influencers for your new academic program. This group includes influential alumni, corporate recruiters, community leaders, educational journalists and high school teachers, principals and college counselors.

P R O F E S S O R S   &   P R O G R A M   C H A I R S

Tap the most talented professors from your top-ranked schools to teach the new program. Augment with practitioner adjunct faculty if necessary. Reflect the racial, ethnic and gender composition of your students in your faculty choices. In the age of social media and “Rate My Professor”, the word gets around quickly about the quality of faculty choices you make.

Choose your program chairs wisely and smartly. Mediocre programs, in the hands of effective program chairs, succeed — and great programs, in the hands of weak program chairs, fail.


If students can’t find your new program, they simply can’t buy it. How do you cut through the clutter of 4,000 to 10,000 ads an average person is seeing every day? By outsmarting, not outspending. Here are fourteen steps for marketing success:

1. Allocate a Sufficient Marketing Budget

If you build an in-demand program, new students will not just show up and enroll. Even the elite colleges learned this lesson the hard way.

2. Position the Program

Avoid creating a me-too program. If you are entering a crowded space, focus on a unique perspective where you have special competency. For example, instead of offering yet another data analytics program, create a health care analytics or financial analytics program.

3. Name the Program Strategically

Ensure there is Google search volume for the program name and that it flows smoothly off your tongue.

4. Know Your Brand

In the sea of sameness, brand wins. Begin your marketing by first knowing and then infusing the spirit of your brand in every touch point you create.

5. Build a High-Fidelity Microsite

New programs are more successful when launched with a high-fidelity program page and a microsite. Experiment and A/B test messaging on microsites; they’ll teach you important lessons you can port back to the program page.

6. Create a Story Landing Page

Landing pages should start a romance between the prospect and your college. Resist the temptation to create transactional, skinny landing page with an intrusive inquiry form. Build a story landing page that distills your argument and tells a compelling story.

7. Create a Program Brochure

Print is not dead. Program sheets and brochures are a calling card in meetings with students, families, and partners.

8. Create a Program PowerPoint

Distill your argument into a small presentation that’s right, tight and bright. You’ll use it in program open houses and webinars.

9. Start a Blog

Know the mission of your blog. Depending on the type of college and university you are, create a thought-leadership blog or an advice-oriented blog with practical content.

Create blog posts with stories, infographics, downloadable pdf’s, thought leader interviews, professional recognition awards and videos. Optimize each blog post so it ranks on the first page of Google for a premeditated keyword.

10. Launch a Paid Advertising Campaign

Launch a smart, micro-targeted and machine-learning-based paid advertising campaign using the right mix of paid channels. Show up and serve a prospect at every step of their journey to becoming a student.

11. Promote on Social Media

Weave the launch announcement and ongoing program activities into your social media calendar.

12. Conduct Open Houses, Information Sessions and Webinars

Roll out the red carpet. People who show up are most likely to enroll.

13. Energize Influencers, Referral Networks and Reliable Feeders

Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build your retail student recruitment.

For undergraduate programs, build relationships with school principals, teachers, college counselors, alumni, and educational journalists so they can create a steady source of new students.

For graduate programs, build relationships with employers, industry partners, trade groups and educational journalists.

14. Activate Boots-on-the-ground Activities

It’s hard to achieve success with marketing alone without a good ground game. Speak in public forums, visit schools and colleges, meet corporate leaders and recruiters, and partner with people who influence prospects.


Staff Appropriately

Hire diverse staff. Increasingly diverse students expect to be served by diverse staff.

Follow-up with Inquiries and Applications on a Timely Basis

Keep it human. Respond quickly. Pay as much attention to admissions yield and follow-up systems as you do to generating and nurturing leads.

Recruit friends and colleagues to become secret shoppers for your new program. Ask them about their experience.

Deploy a unique game plan for every stage of the admissions funnel.

Know what prospects and influencers need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and meet their needs. Pay as much attention to admission yield communications and follow-up processes as you do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

The key lessons we learned from our experience was that colleges should break away from convention; that if you are offering a distinctive program, marketing should be proportionately elevated; that success is a byproduct of a good partnership between the agency and your team; that the agency and clients teams must learn fast, adapt fast and move fast to get an unfair share of the market. The leadership belongs to the bold.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the elite group of successful programs we’ve launched.

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I recently came across an article from Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, discussing the success and failure rates for new products. He shared that about 30,000 new products are introduced every year, and a whopping 95% fail.  This made me wonder about the success and failure rate of new academic programs at colleges and universities. After some digging, I found a study by Burning Glass, a market research firm, titled “Bad Bets: The High Cost of Failing Programs in Higher Education.” They analyzed graduation data for the 10,536 new undergraduate and graduate degree programs that were launched in 2010-2011. In 2018, they took a snapshot of graduates to assess the success and failure of these programs.

Sobering Data

This is what they discovered: about a third of the programs weren’t graduating any students; roughly half were graduating fewer than five students; and two thirds of the programs produced fewer than ten graduates. That’s pretty sobering considering the estimated cost of sustaining a program over a four-year period was around $2M.

Public institutions fared a little better than private non-profit colleges and universities: 24% of publics failed to graduate any students as compared to 34% of privates; 37% of publics graduated less than 5 students, as compared to 55% of privates; and 51% of publics graduated less than 10 students, as compared to 67% of privates. This is dismal performance given the confidence and fanfare involved at the time of launch.

How Can Colleges and Universities Improve Their Success Ratio?

Having launched numerous new programs, we have learned that these eight factors determine success:

  1. Tuition: Higher tuition rates can be charged for more distinctive and unique programs. For more competitive programs, you have to articulate a distinctive value proposition and adjust tuition accordingly.
  2. Competitive Landscape: It is important to evaluate same or similar degrees in the geography you plan to serve. Study Department of Education data to analyze competitive offerings.
  3. Demand For Graduates: Assess the demand for graduates. Evaluate job boards and Department of Labor statistics.
  4. Pre-Existing Pipeline of Prospective Students: Evaluate if a pipeline of students exists. If you have an established pool of interested prospects, it will give your program the headwinds it needs to get off the ground.
  5. Nurture Leads: Establish a thoughtful system for timely and intelligent follow-up of inquiries. Humanize your response and calibrate timeliness.
  6. Faculty: Bootstrap new programs with energetic faculty and program directors. Students are attracted to inspiring high-achievers.
  7. Marketing Investment: Prospective students can’t enroll in programs they can’t find. Half the programs fail to take off because the institution didn’t invest in a commensurate marketing budget.
  8. Marketing Imagination: A creative marketing approach is the x-factor behind successful program launches. Hire an agency that thinks outside-the-box, tries innovative approaches, and looks at data creatively.

A smart higher education marketing agency can propel your program into orbit faster and create success. If you are interested in joining the ranks of legendary program launches, please contact us.

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The pace of spinning out new academic programs at colleges and universities is increasing. Over the years, we’ve helped clients launch and market several new degrees. Some have been wildly successful, some mildly so and others just sputter along. What’s the difference between success and failure? In my view, God is in the details.

Everyone knows that the overall process is pretty straightforward: you assess the opportunity, plan the rollout, and execute the launch.

I’ll share a story of a program that applied this logic and almost didn’t take off. And how we turned it around to become a runaway success. This is the story of Carnegie Mellon’s MS in Product Management.

Assess the Opportunity

Most colleges hire a market research firm to analyze data from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to assess the competitive landscape and the demand for graduates. Carnegie Mellon approached it differently.

Carnegie Mellon’s former Dean of the School of Computer Science had recently left Google. One of the challenges he faced there was the difficulty in finding seasoned product managers. The few product managers he was able to hire had risen through the ranks from marketing and software development. They had acquired the necessary customer experience and management skills on the job. He knew there was growing demand for product managers but no school was offering a masters degree in product management.

Armed with this insight, he designed the world’s first MS in Product Management program tapping talented professors from Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked computer science and business schools.

Plan & Execute the Launch

Carnegie Mellon hired an agency to promote the program on a nominal budget. The agency launched the program with a website comprised of 15 pages of copy and a single image. Instead of applying marketing imagination, they reasoned: “It’s Carnegie Mellon. If you build it, they’ll come.”

The agency ran a paid advertising campaign and directed prospects to the website. The campaign generated 3,000 leads, but only a handful of these turned into applicants. In the first year, CMU only accepted four applicants, two of whom barely met the admissions criteria but were admitted anyway to jumpstart the program.

Enter A New Program Director & Elliance

Greg Coticchia, a serial entrepreneur, had matured into a very successful product manager through his experiences with more than a dozen startups. He was ready to give back to society and train young talent. He was recruited to save and turnaround this fledgling program. His first step was to seek out an agency that understood both marketing and demand generation.

He asked us if we could take the program to the promised land of prosperity and growth. I said only if he would trust our instinct — honed over 25 years. This was our assessment:

Carnegie Mellon is selling a premium product and asking prospects to make a $160K-$180K decision: $68K for tuition, $25K for room & board, and the $70K-$90K salary they would forgo to enroll in this program. For someone to make this expensive decision, we’ll need to romance them with a “Ferrari-looking” microsite and a thought-leadership blog. We recommend that CMU invest more money to market the new program with smart, micro-targeted paid media. Our initial goal will be to generate 300 leads of which 20 or so will convert into an enviable class for the second year. This initial investment will generate a pipeline of prospects for subsequent years. We added one more condition: “These students will trust you because you are a product manager. You’ll personally follow up with the leads in the first year.”

Greg liked our assessment and we got started.

Step 1: Build a “Ferrari” Microsite

We persuaded Greg to allow us to build the microsite outside the rigid grid of Carnegie Mellon’s website template system. Greg fought the internal battles and gave us the permission to produce this masterpiece:

Step 2: Create a Story Landing Page

Since paid advertising prospects don’t have the patience to experience an expanded microsite, we built a story landing page that distilled our argument and told a compelling brand story. This was in sharp contrast to the industry best practices where prospects are served a skinny landing page with an intrusive inquiry form.

Step 3: Start a Thought Leadership Blog

Being one of the pioneering product management degrees, we recommended CMU claim their thought leadership position with a blog. Each blog post became a keyword hive to secure Google page one rankings for the program globally.

Over the next few years, we created several infographics, downloadable pdf’s, thought leader interviews, professional recognition awards and videos. Below is one of the videos we created to introduce the program:

Step 4: Launch a Paid Advertising Campaign

Elliance launched a smart, micro-targeted and machine-learning-based paid advertising campaign using various paid channels.

Step 5: Wait for the Inquiries and Applications

Right-fit prospects raised their hands. In the first year, close to 500 leads were generated from professionals working in blue-chip companies. Greg kept his promise. He called every one of them. He learned a ton from those conversations and shared his insights with us. In turn, we fine-tuned and optimized our marketing messages and blog posts. The leads and applications continued to grow.

Step 6: Enjoy the Success

At the end of our first year, the enrollment grew from 4 to 20 — as we had projected at the outset. In year two, the class grew to 30 students. In year three, enrollment grew to 40, and finally in year four to 50. We successfully grew enrollment 12-fold in just a few years! Everyone was ecstatic. Carnegie Mellon raised the program tuition from $68K to $70K.

Google page one rankings for the website and the blog grew steadily. Here is a sample screen shot of some of their rankings at the end of the fourth year.


After four great years, Greg regretfully left for greener pastures. My team and I wept at the news of his departure.

The key lessons we learned from this experience were that colleges should be prepared to break away from conventions. That if you are offering a premium degree, marketing should be proportionately elevated. That success is a byproduct of a productive partnership between the agency and client team. That the agency and clients teams must learn fast, adapt fast and move fast to claim a leadership position. That leadership belongs to the bold.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the legendary ranks of Greg and Carnegie Mellon’s MS in Product Management.

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As an agency that has served more than 250 corporate, higher education and non-profit brands, here is what we have concluded: successful brands invest in cultivating and nurturing these seven powerful habits with fierce intentionality:

1. Keyword Habit: The SEO Keyword Lexicon includes a variety of keywords that prospective buyers will use on Google to search for your products and services. It includes groups of keywords related to your brand, decisioning, reputation, thought leadership and products and services. Great brands develop an Institutional SEO Keyword Lexicon which informs creation of new content based on keywords of strategic importance.

Successful colleges and universities include keywords for brand positioning, signature academic programs, areas of thought leadership, college search by prospects and institutional reputation.

After all, what’s the use of creating new content if it’s going to become a lotus flower in the Himalayans, which only a few people can enjoy?

2. Data Habit: Great brands develop an institutional data framework that includes sales funnel and metrics that measure quality, ROI, website performance, campaign performance, brand strength and business KPIs.

High-performing colleges and universities also include metrics for admissions funnel, yield, stealth application, giving, retention and rankings offered by rating agencies.

Successful brands embrace data-driven decision making but also trust their instincts and experience-based common sense. They are unafraid to take bold decisive action based on their insights and the data.

3. Benchmark Habit: Respectable brands periodically compare themselves against key competitors and industry benchmarks — both qualitatively and quantitatively — and perform a SWOT analysis.

They benchmark so they can improve performance over the past year.

4. Website Habit: Since all roads lead to the website, reputable brands analyze their website for alignment with their strategic plan and institutional brand from a design, user experience, Google visibility, conversion architecture, persuasion architecture and performance perspective.

Enviable college and university brands tell a better story, celebrate their star students, alumni and faculty, integrate social media and carefully manage their 155-character snippets that appear on Google search results as their first brand impression.

They know that their website is a conversion machine and it must be their #1 sales tool.

5. Content Habit: Because content is the lifeblood of brands especially on social media, good brands develop an institutional content framework. They invest in creating great content. They understand that it takes both an investigative mind (that discovers and uncovers brand evidence and proofs) and an imaginative mind (that infuses brand romance) to create persuasive content.

They recognize that content exists in a large ecosystem. For instance, click here to see the vast content ecosystem serving multiple stakeholders for a typical college: prospective students and their families, current students, alumni, corporate partners, foundations, research funders, ranking and rating agencies, community organizations, athletic conferences and government agencies.

In our 100+ years of collective brand experience, we have come to realize that great brands artfully orchestrate content, code, optimization and channels to create their success. 

6. Publishing Habit: Respectable brands develop a strategy for transforming their e-Newsletter and Institutional Magazine into a Google ranking engine. They power each story by a keyword from their Keyword Lexicon. They avoid publishing in pdf and Issuu formats because they aren’t Google friendly.

All successful brands become the story they choose to tell.

7. Brand Habit: Elevated organizations first create imaginative and poetic brands that win the hearts and minds of stakeholders. Then they infuse the brand into all their touch points: sales, marketing, operations, support services, and internal and external relationships.

Successful universities create memorable brands and fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, Wikipedia entries, Google results pages, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, presentations and all student experience touch points. They take a long view of the student life cycle.

Great brands outsmart, not outspend, their competitors. They cultivate these holistic, integrative and smart habits to realize their greater destiny. If you are looking for a strategic, thoughtful and experienced partner as a sherpa for shaping your brand journey, contact us.

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Welcome to your new adventure. You may have been invited into this presidency as a change agent or a strategic visionary. Either way, get ready to liberate new growth for your college by focusing on the 3 R’s of prosperity: Revenue, Reputation and Rankings. These three currents flow under the sixteen best practices for managing and running a successful college, gleaned from working closely with more than twenty college presidents and reading more than a dozen books written by them:

1. Winning Strategy: Winning, not playing and optimizing, is what successful college presidents focus on. To create an inflection point, they sometimes deepen their competitive advantages and at other times disrupt and challenge the status quo.

College presidents lead strategic planning based on thorough, objective assessment of institutional strengths and weaknesses in the context of societal shifts. They involve board members, faculty, alumni and corporate partners in their strategic planning process. To enact change, presidents must be keen observers, strong persuaders and strategic communicators. Their challenge is to effectively use key framing questions to challenge old ways, butcher a few sacred cows and tell stories that infuse new worldviews.

You become the story you choose to tell.

2. Talented Team: Successful presidents are not lone wolves. They surround themselves with a talented senior team, board members and allies that help them accomplish their administrative and stewardship visions. They excel as strategists, change agents and fundraisers, but they also elevate their leadership by surrounding themselves with people who are smarter than them, abandon themselves to the strength of others, and are selflessly devoted to the success of the enterprise.

You are as strong as your team of direct reports, advisors and allies.

3. Management Practices: Peter Drucker, the management guru, said, “The task of management is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” Successful presidents create shared vision, milestones and dashboards. They avoid creating departmental silos. They provide appropriate budgets. They delegate but hold people accountable by giving them the authority to “own” decisions and choices.

It takes a well-run village to raise a wholesome student and cultivate fulfilling alumni and partner relationships.

4. Culture of Service: Of course you ought to create an adaptive, dynamic and participative campus culture that’s inclusive, diverse and respects differences. Of course your students, faculty, and staff must reflect the emerging realities of our pluralistic culture, society and world. But what people crave most is a culture of reciprocity, of giving to students, others and society.

It’s not the strongest, nor the fittest, but the most caring that flourish.

5. Branding for Distinction: In the sea of sameness, brands win. Invest in first impressions – both digital and physical. Stand for something unique. Tell stories of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Celebrate outcomes. Mobilize your publishing potential. Organize conferences and symposia in your areas of distinction. Romance audiences. The net impact of all these activities is formation of a reputable brand.

To become a school of consequence, you must look and behave like one.

6. Marketing for Rankings: In the new digital world order, Google rankings influence the more traditional school rankings. Demand an institutional content strategy. Oversee the creation of your college’s Keyword Lexicon comprised of high-value words and phrases you can rightfully “own” in service of both attracting right-fit students and building an impeccable reputation. Then insist that each and every piece of content your college produces is weaponized with keywords, so your college can secure its rightful Google page 1 rankings.

Google page 1 rankings are destiny. When you secure them, traditional rankings will follow suit.

7. Enrollment Practices: No money, no mission. Since the vast majority of colleges are tuition dependent, your enrollment team must achieve predictable and reliable enrollment revenue for your college by attracting increasingly robust, motivated and diverse students. Embrace machine learning, algorithmic and big data driven enrollment marketing strategies. Invest in CRM and Marketing Automation software. Fish where the fish are (hint: digital media). Attract and enroll only right-fit students.

You are recruiting students who’ll be your brand ambassadors and life-long donors.

8. Future-Proof Academic Offerings: Know and market your signature programs, program portfolios and mission-oriented academic programs. Defend your core franchise while creating new degrees of the future: integrative, flavored and emergent. Let industry advisory boards inform new program creation and program adaptation.

Prospects are attracted to schools that have a competitive advantage and are continually relevant.

9. Diverse Audiences: Explore and harvest new student streams such as adult students, online learners, distance learners, working professionals and professional development communities.

Recruit, enroll and support students, faculty and staff from diverse faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds

A diversified culture and revenue stream will future-proof you.

10. Support Services: In a college, the needs of your students must come first. Have a hand in recruiting critical talent and release budgets for training the staff so they are prepared to serve the various student segments. Ensure they live up to your institutional mission. Invest in enabling technologies. Provide ample opportunities for students to participate in work study, teaching assistanceships, labs, peer mentoring and other student experiences.

Care of the students will create a reservoir of life-long memories and goodwill you’ll need to create a positive legacy.

11. Athletics: Nothing builds school spirit better than athletics and intramural sports. That’s true whether a college is a Division 1, 2 or 3 sports school. Support athletics. Contrary to common belief, the athletes’ habit of achievement transcends sports into their personal, academic and professional lives. Nurture them.

Great athletic cultures magically create brand ambassadors who give back to the college for life.

12. Community & Service Learning: Parents increasingly expect colleges to encourage their children to participate in what Frances Moore Lappe calls citizen democracy and citizen politics. Community and service learning projects teach students empowerment through action, agency in the public realm and personal responsibility for shaping the future of society. Parents want proof that colleges will impart this on their children by reading the stories of current students engaged with community, service and experiential learning projects. Vow to support these initiatives.

Colleges form solid citizens of the future with a sense of soul-centered agency.

13. Fundraising via Friend Raising: According to Jim Langley of Langley Innovations, successful fundraising operations are powered by affiliation, agency, appreciation and accountability. Since endowment income is the second most important source of college revenue, be prepared to play the role of a visionary, recruiter, persuader and a fundraiser in your next capital campaign. Ensure that vice president of student experience creates a participative culture for students. Motivate your vice president for advancement and provost to create a culture of giving by inviting alumni and friends to help shape the institutional future. Foster alumni engagement by accepting whatever they are willing to give: their time, treasure or talent. Sustain right, tight and bright communications with alumni and friends. Consider initiating a heroic capital campaign as a next natural step of your ongoing relationships to deliver greater good for society.

Your giving rate and endowment war-chest will determine your college’s future.

14. Activist Boards: An institution is as strong as its board of stewardship. Form an enviable board of trustees willing to actively lean in to help you create an institutional inflection point.

Shape a balanced board comprised of philanthropists, operational experts and thought leaders.

15. Community Relationships: As government research funding has dried up, corporations, civic organizations and alumni-led entrepreneurial companies have stepped in to form the the third source of college revenue. Colleges live in an ecosystem of mutually beneficial relationships with these natural allies. Creating porous walls between the institution and these natural allies is an integral part of the job of the president and the provost.

These allies can create opportunities for forming new institutional trajectories.

16. Metrics That Matter: As management guru Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Create a culture of disciplined accountability with a shared dashboard of key performance indicators. For each organizational unit, mutually define a set of essential metrics that truly matter.

To achieve results, hold your people accountable for realizing their measurable goals.

Many college presidents have observed that their responsibilities rival those of a city mayor. Just as city mayors pursue growth in revenue, rankings and reputation, college presidents pursue the same goals. They do this by setting strategic direction, advocating big ideas, building allies, garnering revenue, betting on champions, celebrating heroes, administering day-to-day operations and upholding ideals.  Orchestrated artfully, the new presidents have a fighting chance at flourishing in their new role, bringing prosperity to their colleges and leaving a legacy for the history books.

Learn more about Elliance higher education marketing services.

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Great content is the lifeblood of successful brands. However, creating great content is a labor of love. It takes both an investigative mind (that discovers and uncovers brand evidence and proofs) and an imaginative mind (that infuses brand romance) to create persuasive content.

Two quick reminders before I dive into the content ecosystem.

First, the best college copywriters and storytellers uncover truths about an institution that it may not have even known about itself. They instinctively know that the real hero of their story is the student, the alum and the faculty member — not the institution. They tell the stories of the challenges the brand heroes faced and how they creatively overcame them to realize their personal destinies. As my colleague Todd Erkel would say, a college becomes the story it chooses to tell.

Second, before you embark on your content journey, I would strongly encourage creation of a SEO Keyword Lexicon that’ll guide all future content creation. It’s comprised of two parts. First is the collection of keywords that prospective students will use at various stages of their college search process. Second is the groups of keywords that peer academics, corporations, foundations and influencers use to find critical content. These keywords should be infused into all content you create moving forward.

Now, let’s take a look at content categories in this ecosystem:

Brand & Strategic Plans

In the sea of sameness, brands win. Great brands stand for something unique and let the world know about it with their brand guide and brand anthem video. They tell their brand origin story. They speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment.

To size up a college, most parents also look for and carefully scrutinize strategic plans. They reveal the size of college ambition and business smarts in the face of emerging societal realities. They position you as a school of consequence.

Student Stories

Disciplined brands engage in high-octane storytelling. They treat students as the heroes on their personal quests. A college brand is the sum of all the stories a college tells. Research shows that when you listen to a story, your brain experiences sympathetic resonance with the storyteller, which deepens empathy. As the old saying goes: “Stories sell. Facts tell.”

Enrollment Materials

“No money. No mission,” is the mantra I’ve preached to colleges. For tuition dependent colleges (which most colleges are), the financial health of a college rests on growing enrollment. That’s why enrollment communications are the ultimate moment of truth. It’s where a prospect and their family come to know if a college truly understands their deeper needs: the promise of a generative experience, academic rigor, wholesome outcomes and the gut feeling of an emotional fit.

Community & Service Learning

Parents increasingly expect colleges to encourage their children to participate in what Frances Moore Lappe calls citizen democracy and citizen politics. Community and service learning projects teach students empowerment through action, agency in the public realm and personal responsibility for shaping the future of society. Parents want proof that colleges will impart this on their children by reading the stories of current students engaged with community, service and experiential learning projects.

Academic & Research Publications 

Knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination are essential to the mission of a university. These should be done in various forms ranging from TEDx-like, democratized summaries to journal-worthy research papers. All key stakeholders expect this from institutions of consequence.

Centers of Excellence Publications

These hubs of interdisciplinary cooperation and industry-academia partnerships produce unique applied knowledge that transcends traditional academic boundaries. They pave the way for emerging work of the future.

News & Events

Both the prospective students and their parents are looking for schools with a sense of vibrancy, which is partly reflected in the institution’s news and event pages.


Nothing builds school spirit better than athletics and intramural sports. That’s true whether a college is a Division 1, 2 or 3 sports school.

University Magazine

The university flagship magazine has the potential to move the reputation needle further and faster than any other brand signal. Vital to its success is maximizing content productivity by creating a story engine that treats each story as a Google ranking asset instead of bundling the entire issue into a PDF or an ISSUU format.

Alumni Stories

Nothing demonstrates the worth of a college investment more than the life trajectories of generations of alumni, their impact, their passions, and their contributions to society. And nothing creates more endearment for the alma mater than a celebration of their personal stories, victories and triumphs.


Beyond tuition revenue, the endowment is the second largest source of revenue for most colleges. A few ways to keep the individual donors engaged include telling the stories of their ongoing involvement in shaping the institution and celebrating their personal passions. For corporate and foundation donors, recognize their generosity and resulting institutional impact on society.

Corporate & Spinoff Relations

As government research funding has dried up, corporations and entrepreneurial companies led by alumni have stepped in to fill that gap. These funds form the third leg of the academic revenue stream. Amplifying these crucial relationships is an essential part of university communications.

User Generated Content

Traditionally overlooked, crowdsourced content can be a rich source of audience involvement and ambassadorship.

In a nutshtell, the content ecosystem aims to earn attention and grow brand reputation by providing content that informs, persuades, engages and delights various stakeholders. Prospective students and parents judge a college by the high fidelity content it produces to shape brand perceptions.

Now, let’s turn to media and channels where the content is promoted.


A website is the digital soul of a college. All roads lead to it. Great websites are more than a digital asset; I don’t recall re-designing a website that didn’t become a means for organizational transformation or didn’t create an inflection point in institutional history. A well designed website should engender trust, respect and endearment — creating elusive brand preference. I recommend building and fortifying it with great love.

Digital Marketing Channels

We now live in a world where digital leads the brand. In this era, content becomes productive when its energized, optimized, distributed and ranked on digital channels. Google page one rankings are destiny. Social media channels are viral engines. Curating, orchestrating and promoting content creates brand reputation. Handle with a plan and care.

Traditional Marketing Channels

Traditional media isn’t dead. Now, it must be leaner, smarter and strategic. It should mutually reinforce and complement digital content.

In our more than 75 years of collective brand experience, we have come to realize that it’s the artful orchestration of content, code, optimization and channels that creates brand success for colleges. As you work on your next annual content marketing strategy and plan, be sure to mutually reinforce the content opportunities with marketing channels to nurture and grow a high-impact brand.

Learn more about Elliance content marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

It’s naive to think that everyone associated with the college is a prospective donor. It’s equally naive to expect that alumni who show up at glitzy events or receive slick campaign marketing materials will end up donating.

A college can, however, increase the chances of receiving donations from various constituents by following sensible guidelines. Jim Langley, of Langley Innovations, buckets them into (a) Affiliation, (b) Agency, (c) Appreciation and (d) Accountability.

Alumni likely to donate are those who:

  1. Worked on campus when they were students.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in work study, student research, student experience and student wellness initiatives.
  2. Remained actively engaged/involved with the school after graduation.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them as volunteers, interviewers and feature their accomplishments in university publications.
  3. As students, benefited from special relationships with an exceptional faculty or staff.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in staff development, teaching assistanceships, and student research.
  4. Have consistently given in the past, and were thanked and told how their giving had a positive impact on people’s lives.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Keep them involved and invest in sustaining the relationship.
  5. Were nurtured by ongoing communication and asked for advice on the future direction of the school.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, advisory councils, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  6. See an alignment between their personal passions, life purpose, deepest values and institutional ambition and values.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Unpack the various dimensions of college mission/vision with high-octane storytelling in blogs, news and university magazine.
  7. Believe the value of their degree was far greater than its cost.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Build the case for the tangible value of each degree and the intangible student experience.
  8. See their personal values being channeled by the institution for societal change.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them to participate in immersive experiences that viscerally reveal the impact their contribution will make.
  9. Wish to pass on the most valuable lessons life has taught them.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, expert panels, advisory boards, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  10. Volunteered their time to the institution in various capacities.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Ask them to volunteer in community action projects.
  11. Weren’t offered full scholarships.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Use financial aid leveraging models to distribute precious funds.

Major Donors likely to donate are those who:

  1. See presidents who can articulate the story of the institution’s highest purposes and greatest possibilities, where the institution is today, where it needs to go tomorrow, why it’s important that it does so, and what it’ll take to get there.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in a cogent and impactful case for giving.
  2. Feel confident that their investment will translate into significant, lasting and transformational societal impact.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them to participate in immersive experiences that viscerally reveal the impact their contribution will make.
  3. Perceive a clear sense of institutional purpose, which aligns with their own personal passions, life purpose and deepest values.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Unpack the various dimensions of college mission/vision with high-octane storytelling in blogs, news and university magazine.
  4. Have had an ongoing affiliation with the institution and have been giving for a decade or more.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Keep them involved and invest in sustaining the relationship.
  5. Had a voice or hand in shaping the institution.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, expert panels, advisory boards, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  6. Sense that the institution has the patience to work through a 1-2 year brokering process.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Romance them patiently.

Corporations likely to donate are those who:

  1. Can leverage campaign priorities to realize their corporate objectives, including talent recruitment, knowledge transfer that gives them competitive advantage, and positive community perceptions.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Shape your case for giving with insightful research.
  2. Clearly perceive accountability and a measurable set of expected outcomes.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Address these in your pitch.
  3. Sense a model of leadership that is founded on stewardship.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Demonstrate this through university magazine and president’s blog.

Foundations likely to donate are those who:

  1. See a clear alignment between their purpose/mission and the purpose of the donation being requested.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Shape your case for giving with insightful research.
  2. Receive a tight proposal with project goals, budgets, timelines, and expected outcomes.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Bundle these into your pitch.
  3. Perceive that the college will be open to transparency, accountability and progress reports.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Address these in your pitch.
  4. Bring other funding partners to the table.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Proactively identify and cultivate affinity partners.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

There are hundreds of ways for capital campaigns to go wrong, but these five characteristics define all successful ones:

Consequential: They set goals for lasting, measurable impact and for improvements to community, society and the human condition i.e. goals that transform the institution into a school of consequence. 

Ambitious: They aspire for attainable, ambitious goals, not institutional survivorship. They propel the organization from great to extraordinary.

Strategic: They build on strengths rather than overcome institutional weaknesses. They deepen competitive advantage.

Heroic: They widen the margin of excellence.

Investable: They generate positive impact and returns.

My next blog post will outline characteristics of various types of donors.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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