Call him Ishmael.
Ishmael is a self-professed SoCal-based marketing guru working with a large Western USA university on brand. In-state enrollment is struggling. Out-of-state students don’t stay like they should.
To him, mountains and piney lands are something to push. “Man, this is gorgeous!” The sky is impossibly blue. The kids are laid back. He’s done the research and reviewed the data, but is making his recommendations for creative (or CREATIVE as he’d say) on a gut-feel passion for the place.
Wow! Gorgeous vistas. Killer teeth per smile. It’s stellar.
It’s also wrong.
Barrier to enrollment for all—isolation. So, lone kids amongst mountains and trees, and streams and amber waves of grain/antelope playing in all supporting imagery? Oops.
Biggest draw to in-state students—academic reputation and return on investment (ROI). So, the open field and kayaking camp feel? (“Who wants to see science labs? The world out there is a science lab!”) Oops.
We all make mistakes on targeting messages, but consider Ishmael’s pursuit of his white whale passion in lieu of something provable (“Damn be the data!”) and these other true examples of misjudging audiences:
- Struggling professional college faculty has a come-to-Jesus moment from research findings showing key single issue holding them back is out-of-touch mothership leader making grand gestures without substance. President of the mothership comes in the room having not read the research (he was given) and first statement: “I’m here to help if there is a problem. What can I do for you today?”
- Lack of ethnic diversity at small private rural school confounds a new VP. Damn history and location, and lack of staff/faculty of color. New snappy flagship publication rolls off the presses. Single African-American student used in photo shoot is in cover photo. And photos on page four and the inside back cover, albeit in different outfits.
- New adult online STEM program promotional campaign hits the digital space. Relevant, flip tone, attitudinal. “Cutting edge of the bleeding edge of technology! For more information, call us at 1-800…”
Know your audience. It is often the missing magic that keeps great thinking from generating relevant action. Proving marketing ROI hinges on knowing your immediate and Big Picture targets.
To that end, Ishmael moved on from higher ed to a different category. I am awaiting his new “volunteer mobilization” campaign targeting the homeless, since he senses they are “looking for something to do.”