Ideas, insights and inspirations.

Elliance, as a marketing and strategy agency, views the US News business school rankings from a brand strategy perspective. For us, a brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions.

From our perspective, business school Deans should neither feel paralyzed by the rankings nor surrender their agency over to the rank creators; instead the Deans ought to focus on creating and delivering a superior brand experience.

How To Improve Your US News Business School Rankings

 

To improve your US News business school rankings, you need to accomplish three things:

 

First, you must look and behave like a school of consequence.

Recall that 40% of the ranking is based on how peers and recruiters perceive your business school, and 35% of the ranking is based on placement success. There are five things you can do to positively change the perceptions of peers and recruiters.

i. Invest in first impressions.
Remember you become the story you choose to tell.

  • Brand your business school because in the sea of sameness, brands win. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story.
  • Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all your presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

ii. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it.
To draw attention you must do something unique. To stand out, here are three things you can do:

  • Become a product innovator in fields of business that matter today.
  • Position yourself as a thought-leader in emerging fields of business.
  • Champion a meaningful societal or global cause that is rooted in your institutional core strengths.

iii. Mobilize your publishing potential. Claim your keyword rankings.
Weaponize your content based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital with a Keyword Lexicon, and an ongoing search engine optimization campaign that attains top Google rankings and fosters social sharing.

iv. Organize conferences and annual professional meetings in your areas of distinction.
These give peers and recruiters a reason to visit the campus and engage with your faculty, students and alumni.

v. Create an enviable peer and corporate advisory board.
Invite aspirational peers and recruiters to your advisory board and involve them in teaching, shaping your curriculum and charting your institutional future.

 

Second, you must create a predictable enrollment engine to attract right-fit students.

To improve your student selectivity (which accounts for 25% of US News ranking score),

i. Go beyond traditional list buying.
Expand your applicant pool with cheaper, smarter, and less wasteful paid social advertising. This supports A/B testing, look-alike marketing, affinity group segmentation, and surgical micro-targeting which all leverage partly human judgement and partly machine-learning algorithms.

ii. Mobilize and mutually reinforce paid, owned, earned and shared media.
Surround and engage your prospects with your brand by leveraging various forms of paid media, high-fidelity content marketing, online PR, and social media to create a comprehensive marketing strategy for your program.

iii. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages and landing pages.
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects to make their business school choices. They must feature stories of peer students, faculty, facilities, and centers of excellence where the students’ minds will be shaped and skills will be developed. They must also paint pictures of exciting opportunities that await program graduates and tell stories of alumni as demonstrable proof of your program’s distinction. Above all, your program pages must have a look & feel that is commensurate with the true value of a student’s decision to attend which includes tuition, fees, moving, housing, food, insurance and the salary they must forgo to attend your program.

 

Third, you must build an endowment war-chest to improve student experience.

Recall that 60% of the US News ranking is based on selectivity (25%) and placement success (35%). With a solid endowment war-chest, you’ll be able to:

  • Modernize your facilities
  • Contain the class size
  • Attract the best-fit students
  • Manage the placement of your graduates
  • Keep the student/faculty ratio as small as possible.

We recognize that rankings are here to stay, and require an inordinate amount of resources to provide US News your institutional data. However, with a robust brand strategy in place, this herculean effort becomes a fruitful exercise in providing proof of your claims to prospective students, faculty, peers and recruiters.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies improve the ranking of your school, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Elliance, as a marketing and strategy agency, views the US News law school rankings from a brand strategy perspective. For us, a brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions.

From our perspective, law school Deans should neither feel paralyzed by the rankings nor surrender their agency over to the rank creators; instead the Deans ought to focus on creating and delivering a superior brand experience.

How To Improve Law School Rankings

 

To improve your US News law school rankings, you need to accomplish three things:

 

First, you must look and behave like a school of consequence.

Recall that 40% of the ranking is based on how peers and legal practitioners perceive your law school. There are five things you can do to positively change their perceptions.

i. Invest in first impressions.
Remember you become the story you choose to tell.

  • Brand your law school because in the sea of sameness, brands win. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story.
  • Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all your presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

ii. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it.
To draw attention you must do something unique. To stand out, here are three things you can do:

  • Become a product innovator in emerging fields of law.
  • Position yourself as a thought-leader in emerging fields of law.
  • Champion a meaningful societal or global cause that is rooted in your institutional core strengths.

iii. Mobilize your publishing potential. Claim your keyword rankings.
Weaponize your content based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital with a Keyword Lexicon, and an ongoing search engine optimization campaign that attains top Google rankings and fosters social sharing.

iv. Organize symposia in your areas of distinction.
Give peers, lawyers, and judges a reason to visit the campus and engage with faculty, students and alumni.

v. Create an enviable peer and corporate advisory board.
Invite peers, lawyers and judges to your advisory board and involve them in teaching, shaping your curriculum and charting your institutional future.

 

Second, you must create a predictable enrollment engine to attract right-fit students.

To improve your student selectivity (which accounts for 25% of US News ranking score),

i. Go beyond traditional list buying.
Expand your applicant pool with cheaper, smarter, and less wasteful paid social advertising. This supports A/B testing, look-alike marketing, affinity group segmentation, and surgical micro-targeting which all leverage partly human judgement and partly machine-learning algorithms.

ii. Mobilize and mutually reinforce paid, owned, earned and shared media.
Surround and engage your prospects with your brand by leveraging various forms of paid media, high-fidelity content marketing, online PR, and social media to create a comprehensive marketing strategy for your program.

iii. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages and landing pages.
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects to make their law school choices. They must feature stories of peer students, faculty, facilities, and centers of excellence where the students’ minds will be shaped and skills will be developed. They must also paint pictures of exciting opportunities that await program graduates and tell stories of alumni as demonstrable proof of your program’s distinction.

 

Third, you must build an endowment war-chest to improve student experience.

Recall that 60% of the US News ranking is based on selectivity (25%), placement success (20%), and faculty resources (15%). With a solid endowment war-chest, you’ll be able to:

  • Contain the class size
  • Attract the best-fit students
  • Manage the placement of your graduates
  • Keep the student/faculty ratio as small as possible.

We recognize that rankings are here to stay, and require an inordinate amount of resources to provide US News your institutional data. However, with a robust brand strategy in place, this herculean effort becomes a fruitful exercise in providing proof of your claims to prospective students, faculty, and recruiters.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to improve your law school rankings, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Manifesto for effective enrollment management

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders.
Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build retail recruitment.

5. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of programs.
Foster creation of new programs where you have indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with boring me-too offerings.

6. 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 the follow-up and yield communications as you do to the lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

7. 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.

8. Combine data, intuition. and courageous action.
Embrace data-driven 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.

9. Leverage tools, technologies, process and imagination.
Adopt CRM and marketing automation, 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.

10. Know industry benchmarks, but don’t benchmark.
Forge your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters to you, not to others. Keep an eye out on your student quality, melt rates, graduation rates, placement rates, and alumni giving rates.

11. Balance profit and purpose.
No money, no mission. No mission, no soul. You need both to survive and thrive.

If you are seeking enrollment marketing agencies, please see our work and consider partnering with us.

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Higher Education Marketing Manifesto

1. You become the story you choose to tell.
It’s how institutions make meaning from the arc of their history, and operate with a sense of destiny to create purpose that propels them into the future. This story is what students, parents, donors, funders and partners buy into. A brand rarely exceeds the size of its ambition.

2. Students, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
Colleges and universities are generative when they feed their students’ passions to enable them to realize their personal hero’s journey.

3. Invest in brand. Speak with one brand voice.
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, donors, partners and influencers.

4. Prove your brand claims.
Buyers are smart and skeptical. Persuade them by providing proofs in the form of stories, stats and third-party validations. In this day and age, it’s better to be long on proofs and short on claims.

5. 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.

6. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages.
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects and their families to make their college choices. Build them with the right balance of persuasion architecture, argument construction and beauty.

7. 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. Leads generated here out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which in turn out-convert purchased names by three-folds).

8. Surround and engage prospects and influencers where they hang out.
Fish where the fish are. Allocate marketing investments in digital channels where students roam. Invest marketing dollars in both traditional and digital channels where influencers live.

9. Claim your mountain.
If you are ranked on US News & World Report, then secure your Google page one rankings too. Don’t surrender top search rankings for your star programs to competitors, lead aggregators and commoditizers.

10. Reimagine your publishing potential. Claim your thought leadership.
Weaponize your content based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital with a thoughtful Keyword Lexicon, search engine optimization, social sharing and automation.

Leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

11. Stand for something. Win battle for meaning.
Stand for a societal or global cause that is meaningful and consequential yet rooted in your institutional core strengths. Actively participate in it and promote it. In a fragmented world where there are competing voices and narratives, it’s vital for a brand to win battle for meaning – with intentionality – by owning mindshare, social shares and Google rankings for your distinct point-of-view.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow enrollment, endowment and reputation for your college, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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If a company’s culture is shaped by its leader, then here are my personal mantras that are shaping the culture of Elliance.

1. Greatness doesn’t only belong to others.
It’s our birthright too. In every project, produce something special that makes others wish they had created it. Greatness often comes from ideas in unrelated disciplines applied to your domain. Study greatness in other fields.

2. Do hard things. Do consequential things.
Create mountains, not hills. Fear nothing. Do things that matter, that touch/change lives, and that make a meaningful difference.

3. Be a merchant of hope.
The light of hope moves life forward towards our ambitions, destinies, and lifetime achievements. Hope makes us try harder in overcoming the obstacles we’ll inevitably face. Back hope with thoughtful, intelligent and strategic actions.

4. Romance people.
Create great experiences. It shows you care for people and respect them. It shows your commitment to help them in their hero’s journey. It honors the risk they are taking in choosing you and believing in you.

5. Stay astonished.
Make the love of learning a central force in your life. Read a book you would never read. Sign up for a class on a topic you know nothing about. Experience something you never thought you ever would. Befriend someone unusual. You’ll find wonder everywhere you turn.

6. In every disadvantage, there is an advantage.
And vice versa. Trace back anyone admirable and you’ll find a desire to overcome a personal history filled with adversity, scarcity, inadequacy, deficiency, and hunger – and mentors who believed the person could overcome it.

7. Build bridges.
Learn multiple languages. Learn the language of multiple disciplines. Devote each year to learning one new language. This will open up new terrains, new relationships, and new connections. Creativity lives at intersections.

8. Embrace beauty.
God is beautiful and loves beauty. People are attracted to beautiful things. Just like great artists, architects, designers and writers, infuse beauty in every artifact and every experience you create.

9. Focus on the unsaid, the unseen and the unheard.
Only half of reality is visible. Half of all communications are stated. Rationality only looks at the visible, the tangible and the stated, but Wisdom takes into consideration the invisible, the silent and the whispers.

10. Abandon yourself to the strength of others.
What we can’t master, we marry, hire, befriend or give birth to. If you surround yourself with good people with complementary mindsets, skills and outlooks, then every collaboration will be filled with learning, surprises, adventures and new discoveries. At times, it’s going to be frustrating and uncomfortable, but persevere because we are truly good alone but better together.

11. Follow the poetry of your soul.
Just like a lotus flower, every person has an inner gift yearning to unfold. Feed your passions. Follow your intuitions. Trust the natural process of your soul slowly revealing itself.

12. Love the last 2% of every project.
That’s when magic happens. Persevere when everyone else is exhausted and ready to call it done. The last 2% transforms good into something great, admirable, and share-worthy.

13. Cultivate integrative thinking.
Aristotelian logic created simplistic “either/or” polarities. Buddhist “both/and” or “yin/yang” reasoning enables balancing of multiple perspectives. Think and live integratively. It reduces conflict and unlocks a wealth of creativity.

14. Play. Laugh. Imagine.
Foster play. We’re at our best when we’re playing. Play the trickster and the fool. Laugh. We are most comfortable with ourselves and others when we are laughing. Imagine new possibilities, combinations and realms that don’t yet exist.

15. Periodically reinvent yourself.
Shedding old skins is nature’s way of stretching us to become our fuller selves. Get comfortable with it.

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Until recently, the battle for consumer attention on digital devices and platforms was led by Google, Bing, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter – and to a lesser extent by Pinterest and Snapchat. The entry of Amazon dramatically changes the dynamic of online advertising. It is now the third largest digital advertising platform in the US.

To put things in perspective, here is how these platforms are situated in the demand funnel.

Amazon Changes Advertising Landscape

In a nutshell, social media platforms know buyer’s interests and let them discover new products/services; Google and Bing have the intelligence about the buyer’s intention to purchase something; and Amazon has data about what products buyers are purchasing.

Each player now offers its own advertising service, with e-commerce product companies favoring Amazon Advertising, and all other companies using a combination of Google, Bing and social media advertising platforms.

According to eMarketer, Amazon advertising is still a distant third behind Google (37%) and Facebook (20%) in US digital ad spending, but it already accounts for 4% of US digital ad spending, and is expected to grow to 7% by the year 2020. Amazon’s recent simplification of its confusing ad offerings will further accelerate the growth of its market share. It now offers both on-Amazon and off-Amazon advertising options in both Pay-per-Click and Pay-per-View modes.

US Digital Ad Spending

To combat Amazon’s encroachment into its ad revenue streams, Google for Retail has already responded by launching Google Shopping Actions to contain buyers within the Google platform instead of sending buyers to e-commerce platforms.

Life is about to get far more complex for e-commerce retailers.

After two decades of brushing aside concern for how digital would disrupt higher education, college presidents recognize that the wolf may be arriving in the form of large, gold-plated public universities investing hundreds of millions to capture a winner’s share of the adult/online and military market.

Penn State Global, Arizona State University, and Purdue Global will soon be joined by the University of Maryland Global Campus, which plans to increase its marketing budget by $500M to grow online students from 90,000 to 120,000. The University of Massachusetts system vowed to become a leader in online education by investing heavily in marketing, as has the University of Missouri system looking to invest enough marketing dollars to grow their online enrollment from 75,000 to 120,000 by 2023.

They’re pursuing a digitally savvy market of over 8 million non-traditional students — working professionals, active-duty military personnel and veterans — either starting or re-starting progress toward a degree.

Welcome to the marketing arms race

Online education stands as the fastest growing sector in higher education. Public universities, facing state budget cuts, are eying it as a cure-all and as a path to financial independence.

Southern New Hampshire University spent $132M on advertising in 2017 and enrolled over 63,000 students from 48 states. Western Governors spent close to $100M on marketing in 2018 and now enrolls over 115,000 students from all 50 states. Similarly, for-profit universities like University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University each invest over $100M annually to enroll their 100,000+ students.

Such gaudy numbers finally have caught the attention of some public universities looking to add online revenue to dwindling in-state, on-campus tuition dollars. Even if a few of them realize their ambition, the higher education landscape will change dramatically in the next decade.

Impact on marketing

Looking at the situation using the 5 P’s framework of marketing, here is what might ensue.

Promotion
The marketing arms race drives increases in Google, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn paid advertising costs. In the last decade, for-profit colleges have doubled the Google PPC bid prices (from $5-$8 to $15-$20 per click) and Facebook PPC bid prices (from $1-$3 to $5-$7 per click) for degree and program related keywords. Public universities – loaded with marketing war chests – will further increase bid prices.

Product
Just as Amazon and Walmart have gradually forced small businesses to become more specialized, public universities will force small, regional colleges to limit their offerings to areas where they have a true competitive advantage – forcing them to shut down non-distinctive programs.

People & Place
Adult students, accustomed to national for-profit and non-profit institutions, will welcome well-known educational brands from across the country.

Price
Increased competition will lower the overall price of online education, lowering the margins for online education providers.

Winners and losers

In this emerging landscape, winning colleges will either be immune to market forces or be adept at simultaneously balancing excellence, access and impact.

Public universities: The few who succeed in overcoming political, structural and faculty barriers to spawn massive online divisions will be the clear winners. They will succeed at the expense of for-profit colleges at first, and then, in the long run, community colleges and non-profit colleges.

For-profit colleges: Once the pioneers in online education, they’ll be the biggest losers primarily because their reputation has already been tarnished by scandals resulting from low-graduation rates, loan-defaults, closings, and their profit motive.

Community colleges: Despite their price advantage, they will abdicate some of their revenue to the stronger brand-named public universities. Their low-end certificates will be most vulnerable to competitive forces.

Private non-profit colleges: In this emerging landscape, a handful of elite four-year private colleges with strong brands and deep endowments will likely remain immune to market forces.

Life continues to get harder for underdog private non-profit colleges with high tuition dependency, small endowments and small marketing budgets. In the last two decades, their once safe existence has been threatened by for-profit colleges, upstart community colleges, demographic declines and, more recently, the promise of free college education. As the Google PPC market and paid social media platforms become cost prohibitive, and public universities threaten to peel off their cushion of online revenue, they must act now, decisively, to balance the forces of excellence, access and impact.

Nine steps private four-year underdogs should take to mitigate risk

They must:

  • sharpen their unique selling proposition – providing multiple “hooks” that foster brand preference
  • offer a more distinct portfolio of programs – resisting the temptation to start new me-too programs
  • create programs that require experiential learning – building immunity from online learning
  • narrow focus on fewer programs – where they have indisputable competitive advantage
  • reimagine their publishing potential – creating, monetizing and weaponizing valuable content from their natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital
  • abandon ineffective and expensive student search models – embracing new ones based on machine learning, big-data algorithms, affiliates and feeders
  • leverage intrinsic differentials – such as geographic advantage, institutional legacy, and large capital investments
  • adopt new business models – creating collaborative bridges between themselves and their corporate, government and civic partners
  • invest in brand – lifting the college from obscurity to national prominence

When for-profit colleges arrived on the scene in the late nineties, they shook up the higher education landscape with their new innovate approaches to education. As public universities catch up, another tectonic shift is underway. To survive and thrive in this future, underdog colleges must reimagine themselves — leveraging their inherent creativity by outsmarting without outspending their competitors.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow enrollment, endowment and reputation of your college, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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College marketing and communications teams increasingly look to boost video teams and budgets. All well and good, but we should not overlook the enduring value and impact of your still image library.

It’s easy to grow complacent and assume that last year’s photos will meet this year’s needs. It’s tempting to hire less qualified photographers, and to cram too many shots into a long day of shooting.

Here are 5 Quick Tips on how to build, maintain and mature your campus photo library.

Frequency: Many college photo libraries grow stale without anyone noticing. If you want to maintain a viable collection of photos, plan on four, two-day shoots each year. Story needs and brand understanding change — as do seasons, fashion, hair, and the campus environment. You will need to schedule multiple shoots each year for photos to keep pace.

Quality: Staff photographers spend so much time shooting grip-and-grin, raise-a-glass campus events that few have time to hone their editorial POV and technical craft. And while you can find plenty of less expensive, “I know a gal/guy” photographers, inexperience will show. Quality wins. One great image will outwork 50 pedestrian images. Better to find a great photographer willing to negotiate a longer-term contract than settle for fair-to-middling assets that offer all pain and no reputation gain.

Editorial Planning: Editorial planning should be a year round activity that covers all publication, marketing, campus and social media needs, including photography. Rather than building a shoot schedule around people, let the story lead. Curate photos — considering how stories, events, and schedules might align. But don’t prioritize convenience. If you’re not photographing for story first, you will end up with images that fill space but fail to serve a need.

Student Faculty Encounter: As Wesleyan College President Michael Roth writes: “The richness of the curriculum and high quality of the instruction may receive a nod, but they are rarely celebrated. Promoting everything except what happens between faculty and students may be good for short-term appeal, but the result is to make the entire enterprise of higher education more fragile.” Rather than simply “book” photo appointments with faculty/students, it’s worth a conversation to discover how best to capture the encounter. Each relationship has distinct contours, and the photo should capture something essential.

Scouting: The best way to ensure a productive shoot day is to scout early and often. Send both an art director and writer – each brings a different perspective.

Bonus Tip:

Stylist: Some photographers will insist on working with a stylist. That may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it’s worth paying the extra level of attention to the details of hair, clothing, accessories and overall vibe. This is one place where you might find a staff member or student worker who clearly brings an eye for this detail, and knows how to work a comb, brush or touch up mirror under pressure.

 

 

 

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By now, you may have started in on your summer reading list for beach, cabin, She-Shed or hammock. Why not a summer reading list for the office?

Yes, higher education marketers often move even faster in the summer months. All the more reason to give yourself a once-a-week moment for reflection and inspiration. This list of 10 books, curated with the help of friends who routinely write, photograph, film and illustrate, may help ignite the creative spark.

Color:

A Dictionary Of Color Combinations by Sanzo Wada

Based on Japanese fine artist Sanzo Wada’s original 6-volume work from the 1930s, this book offers 348 color combinations that remind us that great design always takes grounding from the past as it places the audience in a still developing future. 

Subject:

San Francisco, Portrait of a City: 1940-1960 by Fred Lyon

Fred Lyon’s mostly post-war San Francisco study reminds us of why we love cities, especially one so compact, composed, defiantly pedestrian and residential and yet aware of its precarious geological and climatic  reality. Every picture begins and completes a story.

Tempo:

Mirror by Suzy Lee

Suzy Lee’s dynamically illustrated, wordless book is part of a series (Wave, Lines, Shadow) that quiets the busy editorial mind and reminds us of the role of tempo, mood and narrative beat structure.

Aperture:

A Comedian Sees the World by Charlie Chaplin

Editor Lisa Stein Haven adds some context and insight to this collection, originally published as a set of five articles by Charlie Chaplin in Women’s Home Companion from September 1933 to January 1934. Part memoir, and part history lesson, Chaplin’s lens on the world remains relevant to anyone — students and staff — engaged with college study abroad.

Memory:

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

In an age when we perpetually mine the raw material of life (social media), Vivian Gornick walks us through great works of memoir (Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras) with a simple goal, to help us distinguish between the situation and the story.

Structure:

Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball

David Ball’s patient investigation of plot, character, theme, exposition, imagery, conflict and more may help you to rethink every aspect of the enrollment dance (online, on paper, on campus) as part of a larger craft and work.

Visualization:

Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack

Former Bill Clinton speechwriter John Pollack gives plenty of examples of analogies that clarify, as well as some that confuse and deceive, a good primer for anyone routinely charged with creating infographics, or writing “vision” pieces for a college president.

Reflection:

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte

Poet David Whyte knows this borderland between language and relationship, and he uses a reflection on 52 ordinary words to remind us that we are — in our personal development and professional practice — the story we choose to tell.

Language:

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn McEntyre

Remind yourself that author Marilyn McEntyre published this book in 2009, which makes her declaration that “caring for one another is not entirely separable from caring for words” all the more prescient. Our vocabulary for lifting higher education is certainly as depleted as any, and this book arrives like two charge paddles to shock us back into writing with greater purpose and verve.

Reporting:

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro

For the legions of young PR, advertising and communications graduates working within your college marketing teams, Robert A. Caro might loom like a dinosaur of the highest order. But the reason most college communication fails can be traced to either a lack of reporting instinct or effort. Caro reminds us that the point of the interview is less for the reporter to learn something new, and more for the subject to reveal something to themselves that they could never before acknowledge or articulate.

 

Admission numbers are trickling in. Highly selective and less selective colleges are both missing their enrollment targets.

We believe that enrollment VPs and college presidents ought to be examining their shared, but ineffective habits, instead of blaming the usual suspects: unfavorable demographics, increased sensitivity to the rising cost of college, society questioning the overall value of a college degree, reduction in international student applicants, and students applying to multiple colleges. Not that these forces can be ignored, but the real test of leadership for enrollment leaders is to claim an outsized share of an uncertain and dwindling market.

In our view, Enrollment professionals share, and must break, the following ineffective habits:

1. They are buying names of high school seniors and juniors instead of cultivating names of right-fit prospects.

Instead of attracting right-fit prospects with inspired marketing, they are employing tired enrollment tactics from firms who buy names in large numbers, then throw commoditized direct mail/email at prospective students, hoping to snare a few. These outdated methods disregard the habits of savvy Gen-Z kids who are maintaining five to six email accounts to filter out email noise from colleges, and are mercilessly tossing away the similar-looking direct mail pieces. These tactics result in the traditional admissions funnel.

Traditional Admissions Funnel

Instead, the Enrollment VPs need to market to create an inverted funnel. They ought to be focused on promoting the various segments of their star students and alumni, which in turn will attract look-alikes, creating tribes of like-minded prospects. This will increase the number of prospects who are likely to convert into applicants, engaged students, loyal alumni and lifelong donors.

Inverted Admissions Funnel

2. They are investing in expensive or ineffective paid digital media instead of data-driven machine-learning strategies.
Many VPs of Enrollment Marketing, comfortable with traditional out-of-home advertising, are investing in ineffective display advertising; they are also buying expensive Google paid advertising where the prices have been jacked up by for-profit schools; publics like Arizona State and Purdue; and privates like Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire.

The should invest in cheaper, less wasteful paid social advertising, A/B testing, look-alike marketing and micro-targeting which all leverage partly human judgement and partly machine-learning based on data-rich social media.

Deploying these smarter strategies will turn admission funnels into admission pipes.

3. They are communicating exclusively with students instead of a broader set of audiences.

Instead of making a shortlist of colleges on their own, Gen-Z’s are heavily influenced by the opinions of their social network of peers, teachers, college counselors, principals, parents and friends.

Instead of investing most of their marketing dollars on high school seniors and juniors, the VPs of Enrollment should target a mix of students, parents, teachers, college counselors in high schools, and principals. This creates a stereophonic set of messages that surround and engage a prospect with what’s distinctive about a college.

4. They are investing in an ineffective media mix of direct mail and emails instead of one-of-a-kind memorable pieces.

Gen-Z kids are maintaining five to six email accounts to filter out email noise from colleges, and are mercilessly throwing away the similar-looking direct mail pieces they are receiving. They are only paying attention to and keeping the most memorable pieces (what Seth Godin calls “the purple cows”).

Instead of wasting money on big print pieces which are tossed, or generic emails that are never opened, the VPs of Enrollment ought to be creating smaller attention-grabbing pieces. Harvey Mudd’s playing cards and North Central College’s iSpeak book are good examples of innovative marketing.

5. They are presenting their academic product pages on their websites as commodity products instead of programs of distinction.
Mobile-friendly, price-sensitive, data-driven Gen-Z and their parents are researching programs/schools with more intensity than ever before.

Program pages, what we call “money pages” on a college website, are where many college decisions are made and college preferences are created. Even though the colleges are asking families to pony up fees that are close to the price of expensive cars, it’s rare to find the level of romance and presentation that even economy car companies put into their entry-level model pages.

Instead of settling with bland program pages packed with facts, the VPs of Enrollment Marketing must create program pages that romance prospects and their families. They must feature stories of peer students, faculty and labs, facilities, studios, and centers of excellence where the students’ minds will be shaped and skills will be developed. They must paint pictures of exciting opportunities that await them after graduation and offer stories of alumni as demonstrable proof of their program’s distinction.

6. Their teams are overly dependent on tools, technologies and analytics rather than leading from the front.

Enrollment is sales. It demands the highest form of persuasion and consultative salesmanship.

Enrollment teams must be equipped with data to help guide their conversations, but they can’t hide behind a sea of data with limited instinct and ability to create trust and comfort with the most important decision of a student’s life.

7. They are producing a sea of content but aren’t weaponizing it.

Google page 1 is destiny. As is high-fidelity, persuasive content “discovered” on social media.

Staff at many colleges don’t have the wherewithal to weaponize the content they create for the digital world in which Google page 1 rankings are shaping institutional reputation. They are creating new content (news, social media, university magazine, blogs, website, etc.) at a furious pace without informing it by a Keyword Lexicon – comprised of high-value words and phrases they can rightfully claim and “own” to drive right-fit conversions and marketing ROI.

8. Their enrollment marketing budgets are meager in comparison with their competitors and online juggernauts.

Most non-profit colleges and universities are investing between 2% and 5% of their total revenue on marketing (most rarely invest marketing budgets in excess of $1M annually) . Many of them are reluctant to grow the marketing budget annually despite the fact that the pay-per-click costs and media costs are rising annually. They are also oblivious to the large sums of money that for-profit colleges are throwing into the market – investing almost 20% of their total revenue on marketing. The University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University alone spend over $100M on their marketing respectively. Even non-profits like the Southern New Hampshire, Western Governors, Arizona State, Purdue and Liberty each spend over $100M on their marketing budgets. A handful of public educational systems, like University of Maryland and University of Massachusetts, are about to join the $100M marketing club.

In the face of such odds, the enrollment VPs must embrace the mantra of “money makes money”.

In conclusion, blaming the usual suspects isn’t going to solve the problem of enrollment declines. As the author Rita Mae Brown famously said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” I urge VPs of Enrollment to shed their tired habits and adopt new and innovative ones – or at least invest in new tactics that might give them a fighting chance at reaching the promised land.

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