Having been in the advertising and marketing field my entire professional life I sometimes feel I can see behind the curtain of the marketing efforts of many organizations. I’ve found myself feeling like I’m back on the other side of the fence in the last few years when it comes to higher education marketing. With one son having just completed his freshman college year and another son embarking on his post high school journey, it’s fascinating being the one marketed to.
I have to admit that these teenage boys haven’t been particularly interested in planning college visits and researching areas of the country they may want to spend four years of their lives in. So, in order to gently nudge them along, it’s my contact information the colleges received. I can’t be the only parent in this position. As a result, I get to experience college marketing tactics, platforms, frequency, and follow-up. Helping support a number of higher education clients at RDW, it has been enlightening to engage with some of the strategies and tactics we sometimes develop. Here are some of the experiences that have stood out to me so far.
Give in-person events a digital edge
There are so many ways in which colleges target you. In-person events and fairs are one outlet. We’ve visited numerous college fairs, and a social media tactic used at one made quite an impact. A college produced a Snapchat geotag that popped up on the students’ phones while wandering around. Smart move. It got the college noticed by the very student they are trying to attract.
Another example of the ways higher-ed institutions are using technology to improve events are QR Codes. Sometimes thought of as an outdated tool, I’ve found some recent experiences with them quite useful. At some fairs, we were given a personal QR code that the admissions officers scan to get all our information in one quick shot. This turned out to be very helpful, as there’s often little time to chat with all the attendees. A couple of days later, we received an email with the admissions officers’ photo and contact information, a good reminder of whom we briefly spoke with. This not only kept them top of mind but helped us organize which colleges should make it to the next round.
Position your print for parents
The students don’t give the printed literature a passing glance. It’s the parents you see looking at the glossy photos of campuses far and wide and listening to the admissions officers talk about enrollment and cost. In this respect, it seems the institutions are covering their bases. They should ensure the content of their materials has language and material suited to their parent audiences.
Don’t go overboard with your digital outreach
The online marketing filling up my inbox and popping up on my Facebook feed makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees. After a college visit, I appreciate being contacted to get my opinion on the experience. There’s a certain feel-good factor involved when you are thanked for your time. This goes a long way when you know you are an influencer in your child’s decision-making process. One college did exactly this, then waited about a month before sending a follow-up. It worked for me. It’s obvious that they understand the nature of this process. Parents are looking at multiple colleges in a short period of time. Too many contacts and I just hit delete.
Dark social leads to consideration
I tend to revisit the printed marketing pieces I pick up, usually by being reminded when my Facebook feed shows an online ad because I’ve researched a particular college, or when a marketing email lands in my inbox. On occasion, the interns at the college are tasked with making a phone call to the prospective student. It makes the student feel just a little bit noticed when most of the contact is anonymous in nature. Old school isn’t all old hat.
We’ll be winding down the search as colleges curtail visits and open houses in the coming weeks but we’ll hit the campus trail one last time in early fall before applications start. This experience has proven that my belief in every aspect of the college marketing plan has a place. Every detail matters. One college even invited the whole family to lunch in the cafeteria. Now that sat well with me (even if the food didn’t). At least I know he’ll have plenty of options if he gets tired of burgers and fries.
Julie is a production manager at RDW Group with many years prior experience as an advertising designer and production artist. When she’s not keeping work on track at RDW, you’ll find her renovating her house (still) and raising Cooper, a rescue puppy.