David & Goliath: How a College with a Small Marketing Budget Can Win

Kristi Kidd

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Thus concludes the introduction to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2015 book
about overcoming seeming obstacles and disadvantages. And it got me
thinking about how, sometimes, resource challenged colleges and
universities seem unable to gain marketing traction against the
well-funded marketing machines with outsized media budgets, large
staffs, and deep connections with influential friends. As Goliath taunts
David, these marketing giants seem to be saying, “Am I a dog that you
should come at me with sticks?”

Small Colleges Must be Nimble

Fortunately, if you’re a David of the higher ed marketing world, the
tables have turned for you, as they did for the biblical David so many
centuries ago. The “sticks” of digital and content marketing are
becoming the great equalizers, giving institutions with a small
marketing budget the ability to be more nimble, more responsive, and
ultimately more effective than their better resourced competitors.

Most well-heeled higher ed marketing departments are still enamored with traditional media – the big campaign, top-notch production values, “reach and frequency.” Nobody stops to think about the time it takes to plan these campaigns, their episodic nature, and the requirement to commit to weeks, if not months, of media buys.

And that’s not to mention that the rules of engagement have changed and no one under the age of 20 is consuming mass media anymore! Like Goliath’s head-to-toe armor, big media can prevent institutions from responding quickly to changing conditions on the marketing battlefield.

A Sharper Strategy will Defeat a Bigger Bludgeon

With digital and content marketing as your rocks and slingshots, your Davidian institution can now challenge the giants to reach, engage, and convert prospective students in new and effective ways. Take for example, the practice of micro-marketing. Using innovative techniques such as geo-fencing, IP-addressing, retargeting, and long-tail search, you can now take your message directly to those who will be most interested in it, quickly and cost-effectively.

And if it doesn’t produce the results you want, you can change your medium and messaging on the fly. Using these tools and techniques will also give you the ability to market 24×7, 12 months out of the year. The days of trying to time your campaigns to recruitment cycles (junior search/senior search) are long gone. It doesn’t take more money, it just takes more smarts.

Or take user-generated content. It doesn’t take more money, or
require expensive, time consuming video shoots. It just takes someone
with the creativity, discipline, and insight to generate it, curate it,
and promote it through inexpensive channels.

Gladstone quotes former Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, “David
fought Goliath by… knowing how to exploit a weapon by which a feeble
person could seize the advantage and become stronger.”

Let’s chat more about how modern enrollment marketing methods can
make your institution a stronger competitor. Call me in Albany at
518-591-4640 or email me at randy.burge@stamats.com.

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