Focus Your Resources to Attract the Best Students

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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Part 5 of 12: What I Wish I Knew as a New Marketer

This week we’ll turn our attention to an important word: Focus.

There has never been a greater need to focus. Multiple audiences clamoring for attention, decreased budgets, shorter turnaround time, and myriad messages across countless platforms. All these dynamics spell chaos.

As a result, the only sane way forward is to focus.

Of course, focusing is tough. It requires prioritization. Some people and programs will not get the attention they think they need. Politics will rear its ugly head. People will say that it’s not fair. And they are right. It isn’t. But it is strategic.

Rather than spreading critical resources even wider, focus your resources so you can break through the clutter and attract the students you need.

For recruiting and marketing, focus occurs in four areas:


First, focus on the kinds of students you serve well. Look at who actually graduates from your institution rather than just enrollment data. This will provide a much better sense of who you serve well. Once you have begun to identify one or more student cohorts, look at their predispositions, interests, and abilities. What motivates them? Which colleges did they consider besides yours? What are their post-college expectations? Identify their media habits and the college-choice variables of greatest interest to them. Understand who influenced them.

With these data in hand, create detailed personas for each cohort. You do this for two reasons. First, breaking your larger heterogenous student pool into smaller homogenous subsets allows for much more customization. Second, it gives you a better sense of the personality of each subset. This means they look less like data and more like people.

Programs and Services

Second, focus on the programs and services you offer that best meet the needs of these students. These are the programs of keen interest to students and must be of unparalleled quality. Equally important, this quality must be known in the marketplace (see below).  Remember, it is not about all the programs and services you want to sell. Instead, it is about the products and services these students want to buy.

Read Part 4: First Among Equals: The Importance of Audience Centrality

Target Geography

Third, focus on the target geography with large numbers of these students. Though you may be nationally known, the reality is that the majority of your students come from three or four (or even fewer) states and not all 50. You need to own these areas. Identify feeder high schools, community colleges, or four-year colleges. Identify and secret shop active competitors in this area. Understand how you are perceived (and misperceived) by students and influencers in this area. Identify the demographic and employment trends in this area. Look for opportunities to co-brand.

Marketing and Strategy

Finally, focus your marketing and strategy. Build your brand and recruiting messages around the specific programs you have identified, in the minds of the students you have identified, and in the target geographies you have identified. And whatever you do, don’t get distracted by other messages to other people in other places. Remember the key word? Focus.

The only way forward with limited budget, time, and talent resources, is to focus on those audiences, programs, and target geographies that truly matter most.

Read Next: The Language of Value

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