Can We Market What We Can’t Define?
From whether or not to market to how to market
“Marketing” hasn’t always been part of the higher education lexicon, and the concept of having to sell your school to a prospective student may still cause discomfort in some hallowed halls. But schools did start to market themselves more actively in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in response to declining enrollments and competition born out of the then-newly minted U.S. News College Rankings.
Traditional marketing and advertising made up for most of any available budget and consisted of billboards, posters, mailers, radio, perhaps television, and events.
As prospective students became increasingly savvy consumers, the more adventurous schools, especially those focused on online, continuing, and professional education, engaged in more sophisticated digital marketing programs that provide a more personalized experience for consumers of education.
But what is it we are trying to sell . . .
Today’s higher education market is experiencing what could be its greatest identity crisis yet. Debate continues to rage between the need for more workplace-focused education and the lack of soft- and critical-thinking skills amongst today’s job candidates.
Coding academies, once considered the enemy of traditional and continuing higher education, continue to grow in strength, in number, and apparently in their presence on the college campus.
Watson is tutoring our students and performing job interviews.
What’s a provost to do?
The world has changed, and how we prepare and reskill people to thrive in it has to change as well. So does the manner in which we reach out to and engage them.
. . . and to whom?
Student populations are shifting drastically. As universities start to see overall enrollments decrease, they have also begun to recognize the value of the “new traditional” learner, those 25 and older, and to consider their needs as well as those of their younger counterparts. And that population is changing as well.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, in “The Future of Enrollment,” reports not only a decrease in the overall number of students graduating high school between now and 2023, but also in where they are coming from.
“The largest groups of students coming out of high school in the coming decade,” reports the Chronicle, “ will be Hispanics, low-income, and those who are the first in their family to go to college—all segments of the population who historically have been unable or unwilling to travel far distances for college, if they went at all.”
As the demographics change, and as the needs of the workplace evolve due to increasing dependency on technology, schools need to consider what they are offering, how they are delivering it, and to whom they are providing it.
An Ongoing Challenge
Change is the one sure thing here. As corporate learning providers continue to move ever closer to a model of just-in-time learning, so too does the university need to determine how to provide the right learning, in the right doses, at the right time.
At the same time, we need to understand today’s audience better and reach them where they are at:
Let the data do the talking.
Optimize your website to provide a more seamless experience for potential students, and to collect the data you need to understand them better.
Use marketing automation to send the right information to the right person at the time of need rather than overloading prospects with endless emails.
If something is not working, change it.
Get the right people into your funnel. Quality does matter.
Manage and track your leads with a CMS that will talk to your other technology platforms.
You can market to a moving target if you listen closely enough.