In the past 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with more than fifty college vice presidents of enrollment. Whether they are recruited as a change agent or a strategic visionary, they are increasingly expected to liberate new growth for college by focusing on the 3 R’s of prosperity: Revenue, Reputation and Rankings. These three currents flow under the twelve practices for managing and running a successful college marketing operations in this manifesto:
1. Invest in brand. Speak with one brand voice.
In the sea of sameness, brands win. Know your core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and what you stand for.
Articulate your brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether you are a liberal arts college, STEM university, research powered, experiential brand, college of access, online educator or an integrative brand.
Speak with one brand voice to all audiences, but strike different notes for each segment of students, alumni, donors, partners and influencers.
2. Invest in first impressions.
Fortify every digital touch point including websites, social media channels, search engine descriptions, paid campaigns and brand anthem videos. Also infuse beauty and strength in every physical touch point such as open houses, information sessions, college entrance, campus grounds, campus signage, classrooms, tours, and admissions office décor.
The sum of these experiences builds a college’s brand reputation.
3. Pursue right-fit students.
Invert the admissions funnel by marketing your students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. This will create admission pipes, not funnels. Right-fit students will go on to become engaged citizens, brand ambassadors, recruiters, partners and donors.
4. Abandon traditional student search models. Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales.
The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over. Embrace new methodologies based on right-fit, micro-segments, look-alikes, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.
5. Avoid democratic budget allocation.
Lead with strengths. Bet on program champions and star programs. Let the star programs create prosperity to sustain others. Allocate pilot budgets for new approaches and tactics.
6. Think student life cycle.
From prospect to current students to alumni and donors. Take the long view. Insist on providing robust academic support, career guidance and campus experiences to your students. Graduate brand ambassadors that generate referrals and donate their time, treasure and talent to the institution.
7. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders.
Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build retail recruitment. Successful enrollment vice presidents cultivate relationships with school principals, high school college counselors, influential alumni and educational journalists which form a steady sources of referrals.
8. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of programs.
Foster creation of new programs and new flavors of programs where your college can claim indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with commodity offerings.
9. 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 cater to their needs. Pay as much attention to yield communications and follow-up processes as you do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.
10. Augment integrated marketing with timely follow up, and boots-on-the-ground activities.
This trifecta is the holy grail of higher education enrollment and marketing. You take one out, and success will elude you. Don’t let automation get in the way of personalized and timely follow-up. There are no short-cuts for old-fashioned, belly-to-belly relationship building.
11. Know your numbers and industry benchmarks.
Forge your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters. Keep an eye out on your student quality, melt rates, graduation rates, placement rates, and alumni giving rates. Compare these numbers to those of your peers and aspirational competitors.
12. Combine data, intuition. and courageous action.
Embrace data-informed decision making. Measure what matters, watch what you see, see the unseen — but also trust your instinct and gut. Take bold action once you gather the insights from your data.
13. Leverage tools, technologies, process and imagination.
Adopt CRM and marketing automation software, but not to replace the essential relationship building work that needs to be done to win hearts and minds of prospects. Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.
14. Balance profit and purpose.
No money, no mission. No mission, no soul. You need both to survive and thrive.