Do College Marketers Get A Passing Grade?

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Colleges and universities do a lot of marketing directed at high school seniors and their families, trying to influence this big ticket decision.  It seems to me that a lot of their marketing effort is wasted.

What can we learn from their mistakes?

1.  Do You Stand Out?

99% of colleges use the same tactics:  a paper tsunami of letters, postcards, and brochures, all featuring happy students on leafy campuses.  Their brochures look and sound the same!

2.  Know Your Target Audience

Here’s the problem:  17 year old’s don’t consume information from snail mail — and they are mainly influenced by their peers.

Are your communication methods effective for reaching your target?

3.  Is your list up-to date?

Many engineering schools sent a special pitch to my home.  Problem:  the 15 yr. old would-be engineer is now a 17 yr. old aspiring jazz musician.

Are you working off an old list … or worse yet, not building a current one? Is your message still relevant?

4.   Create An Army of Evangelists!

Here’s what  a 17 year old pays attention to:

  • whether the representative who visits his or her school is nice …
  • what friends say about the school their sibling attends …
  • the impressions gathered during a campus visit.

Also, you’d think a campus welcome center would be welcoming?  Not always, it turns out.

Takeaway for business: first impressions are important … and finding unique ways to create a personal connection will pay off.  It also can’t hurt to have an objective person experience all of your customer touchpoints undercover, and report back.

Your website matters

You’d be surprised how many colleges are using dated websites to market to digital natives.

Takeaway for business:  pay attention to what your website says about you:  does your stale website with lousy navigation, and dated graphics send the right message?

Updating your website and then keeping it up to date (with a blog) is just the cost of doing business.  If you haven’t updated in 2 or 3 years, it’s time to take another look.

Influencers Count … Use Them!

The college search process typically starts with a conversation with guidance counselors.  Imagine my surprise when I heard some pretty negative comments from this group about specific schools on our list.

Takeaway for business:  Creating evangelists among your influencers is key.

Put Yourself in Your Prospect’s Shoes

Here are some other suggestions:

  1. Know your target!  Write a persona:  determine what message resonates, where and how your target gathers information.
  2. Your prospects want to connect in real ways:  in this day and age of social media, is that so hard?
  3. 3rd party endorsements matter:  who are your decision influencers?  Investing in influencer relationships can pay big dividends.
  4. Put yourself in your prospects shoes, to really understand how to reach and to move them.  Oddly enough, no one used music to reach out to my aspiring musician.

If you have a college-bound student, have you noticed any college marketing tactics that stand out as particularly effective?

Make my day … leave a comment!  And, stop by and say hi on my facebook page, where I share marketing tips, opinions, and news.  Thanks!


About Rhonda Hurwitz

Rhonda Hurwitz is a content strategist and marketing consultant who helps mid-sized businesses develop more effective online strategies. @rhondahurwitz on Twitter, and on
This entry was posted in marketing communications, small business, word of mouth and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Do College Marketers Get A Passing Grade?

  1. Excellent points.
    “Put Yourself in Your Prospect’s Shoes” is the most basic thing that is consistently overlooked. We’re all so self-centered, that we frequently forget that there even is another viewpoint.
    Great post!

  2. Great post, Rhonda. I think that many businesses (and perhaps colleges, too) forget that they are there to solve a problem for potential customers. Once customers know that businesses are aware of their problems, it makes that business (or school) a more attractive option.

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