One of the unique benefits of working for a consulting and marketing services firm focused on higher education is we get to see many schools in action. The ability to draw parallels across schools to understand what truly works, and what doesn’t, particularly in driving enrollment growth is much of the value a consultant can offer. With this goal in mind, I’d like to offer a few lessons I’ve learned along my journey:

Lesson 1: Resist the urge to spread your media across so many channels, that none provide the reach and frequency needed to generate sustained results. It’s often better to heavily weight your media spend on the one or two things that really work. This could mean giving up the annual flight of billboards, bus wraps and even print ads in favor of more digital and direct media. In my experience and depending on program, digital media, TV and radio have historically generated the best results if you’re focused on inquiry generation. Direct mail can be especially effective but only if you can aggregate your target audience. Best of all, these are among the easiest channels to track ROI!

Lesson 2: Focus externally, not internally when it comes to marketing. Since the type of marketing that now needs to be done in higher education is new to most organizations, I’ve found that staff in traditional college communications departments (which generally become the marketing teams for their institutions) are more focused on photography for the alumni pub, or event posters and other collateral that only lives within the four walls of the institution. These activities while not unimportant will not fill your classes and it’s unfortunately where many college marketing teams spend the majority of their time.

Lesson 3: Content will always be king. Slick ad copy can standout or even disruptive imagery may grab attention for a moment, but the narrative below the headline is what really matters. Let’s face it, if a student is looking for an MBA program and you’re in their market whether on-ground or online they will find you. If they’re not equipped to research programs and institutions online, they’re probably not the kind of student you’re looking for anyway. If you buy into this premise, then your website is by far the most powerful marketing tool you possess. Little else you do will matter if you don’t create deep, rich and compelling content on your site to describe the expertise, program options and experience of what it’s like to be a student at your institution.

For more information on how non-traditional students think and how higher education marketers are trying to reach them, register for the Adult StudentsTALK webinar presented by Becky Morehouse on July 16th at 2:30 EDT.

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