Marketing in Higher Education... A Symposium to Celebrate Success
The 2014 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education last week in Austin was the 25th anniversary edition. Really... 25 years since Tom Hayes started the event at Xavier University. Tom is still at Xavier, now professor of marketing and chair of that department, and has never missed a symposium.
I had the pleasure of chairing the symposium for 9 years, starting in the early 1990s in New Orleans and continuing until the 2003 Miami event. At the start most people attending were from regional public universities and less selective private sector colleges. For many the symposium in early years was a refuge where people could openly use the "M" word. Once upon a time, only the symposium dared to put "marketing" in a higher education conference title.
Things have changed today. "Marketing" is now an imperative at colleges and universities of almost every type. The symposium is a celebration of success. This year's event drew more than 1,100 people, including many sponsors and exhibitors. I was especially happy to find more than 50 people at my "Digital Marketing Strategy" tutorial.
Congrats to co-chairs Deb Maue and Jason Simon and the planning team for a fine program.
6 Lessons from Symposium Sessions
Adding to my highlights from the 2013 Symposium, here are a few personal points from sessions and keynote talks, in no special order:
- University magazine content: DJ Stout in the opening keynote noted the need for university magazines to not only celebrate what truly is "special" about each school but to also include the bad as well as the good in content selection. To be part of an effective content marketing strategy, magazines have to move past the traditional PR "all is always happy and well" approach and include the realities that every school faces today. That's starting to happen.
- Important lesson: reality marketing is alive and well.
- Direct marketing principles work on social media: Jon Hinderliter at University of Missouri - St. Louis gave an excellent example of a targeted use of online advertising. After uploading a profile of 300 students in the primary recruitment area around St. Louis who had attended on-campus recruitment events, Facebook found about 400,000 people who matched that profile. Result after initial ads and retargeting: a 37 percent visit increase that surpassed the capacity of the existing program and "forced" the addition of new visit events.
- Important lesson: Do more in your core marketing before venturing too far afield.
- Short forms really do work better: Jon also showed the original and lengthy registration form used for the visit events that had an 80 percent abandonment rate. A new and much shorter form dramatically increased completion.
- Important lesson: The longer the form, the fewer people will complete it.
- Calls to action, everywhere on the website: It is often a challenge to find an inquiry or application call to action on a higher ed website without revisiting the admission page. The website for Notre Dame de Namur University solves that problem with calls to action prominently displayed on not only the home page but just about everywhere else a potential student might be visiting.
- Important lesson: The easier you make it for people to take an action, the more will take it.
- Higher education as a buyers market: Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, walks with those favoring the disruption of the traditional higher education delivery model. For marketing, Jamie predicts schools will have to focus in the future on a new flexibility that allows people to create educational plans from a variety of sources and methods. Read everything he had to say on the Lumina website. If he's right, only a handful of prestigious schools will have the ability to demand adherence to their education style.
- Important lesson: Fear the future and you will lose.
- Content reduction really is possible: Columbia College Chicago, as part of a major website redesign, eliminated 97 percent of the content on the previous website, from 36,000 pages in 2013 to 944 in 2014. In this mobile era when less is better, major content reduction is critical to marketing success. Kudos to Will Vautrain, Columbia's director of digital and marketing strategy.
- Important lesson: If you are redoing your site, start with content reduction, not design glamour.
That's all for now.