Back then, the role of the marketing office was to provide air cover to enhance awareness and reputation in the market while admissions and enrollment management worked the front lines, providing direct contact with prospects. Now, though, it’s all hands on deck, and institutional marketers—who see the big picture of where brand messages are deployed—are in a strong position to guide initiatives that can positively affect yield.
Nowadays, the enrollment pathways for students are new and fungible. Your institution must be able to recognize, track, and communicate effectively with website lurkers, AdWords, and affiliate marketing sites that offer up a myriad of starting points for prospects. There are also the new rules that allow Prior-Prior Year FAFSA submissions (PPY) so students can submit their FAFSAs and receive estimates of their financial aid packages before even inquiring or applying. What had previously been a very effective down funnel communications point for many schools—the financial aid award letter—has now become a first point of contact for students, often before they’ve had the opportunity to encounter the brand in a more holistic form.
Inflated application pools also muddy the waters when it comes to yield. Many schools are finding themselves in situations where their applications are up, but their yield outlook is uncertain—and institutional marketers are in a position to step into the gap, to prompt and guide critical conversations about where and how your brand connects with prospects. Infusing your brand story at all touchpoints and developing a broad understanding of the prospective student’s journey from search through enrollment is critical for building and sustaining relationships and successfully enrolling the desired class.
As we move forward in this ever-evolving landscape, it is important for us to continually identify and define new best practices to guide our work.
- Consider every communication opportunity with a prospective student as a marketing touchpoint and a possible entry into a brand conversation. Conduct an organization-wide communications audit to determine who is communicating with students and parents, when, and with what message.
- Conduct brand training with communicators in all units. Are the rec center, student services coordinator, key faculty, and other student-facing staff up to speed on your institution’s brand narrative? Do they understand your key marketing messages, recruitment timelines, and your general approach to recruitment? Do they see themselves as brand ambassadors? They should—and if they don’t, help them by conducting training workshops in collaboration with your admissions office prior to the launch of the recruitment season.
- Examine your communications flow through a wide-angle lens. From admissions to financial aid to student affairs, or any other touchpoint, ensure that each communication supports the brand and welcomes prospects into the conversation. Be sure to monitor all of the various deadlines that a prospect will face so your communications make timely sense and are not conflicting or confusing.
- Personalize and segment at all points in the funnel. One size fits all actually fits very few in this era of customized, personalized, data-driven consumer relationships. Segmentation is about building meaningful relationships and signaling to your prospective students that you know who they are, and where they are in their process. Be strategic about the kind of data you collect and align your messages with what you know about their mindset throughout each stage of the enrollment process. Beyond just collecting basic contact information on your inquiries, include a question or two about what excites or makes them most nervous about attending college: making new friends, paying for college, the rigor of college-level work, etc. You can then use this data to deliver targeted messages about topics that they care about the most.
- Pay special attention to your website as the front door to the brand; not just the home page, but the pages deeper in the site—program descriptions, faculty bios, etc.—that may be the first place a prospect lands. Is there a clear path to the brand story you want to tell from these deeper pages? Is your brand reflected in web strategy and navigation, as well as content?
Competition for top students is fiercer than ever, and a strong institutional marketing team—armed with a well-defined brand and the tools to project that brand—can make all the difference. Just ask yourself, would you rather be in a situation where your yield is creating a “bed space” problem (“where will we put them all?”), or would you prefer to trim budgets year after year because tuition revenue falls short of projections? While the choice is not entirely yours, you can help your colleagues in admissions achieve the success they—and you—need.
Published in Inside Higher Ed, April 17, 2017