Student Recruitment, Top Tasks, and Content Strategy
Each September since 2006 Gerry McGovern has assembled his Carewords partners for two days of reflection, strategizing, and planning for the new year on how to best advance the “top tasks” philosophy.
Top Task Philosophy… A Different Marketing Approach
“Top tasks” is a philosophy… for website design and content and for marketing communications in general.
If you believe in this philosophy, you believe that organizations, including colleges and universities, can best advance their market positions by paying close attention to the tasks that are most important to the customers they hope to have.
- In this context, “customers” very much applies to potential students. Understanding what tasks potential students want to do on website visits early in the college selection cycle and then designing a site to let people complete those tasks quickly and easily requires a different marketing philosophy than one based on brand claims and spectacular design. Higher education marketing hasn’t moved very far in that direction.
- What’s my evidence? The dismal state of most higher education website content in individual academic program areas and in helping people understand the actual net cost early in the selection process. (Exceptions exist. See the link below that takes you to 11 top task examples in higher education.)
Top Tasks and Content Strategy
Writing those words was easy after thinking more about 4 top tasks notes made during our Carewords meeting in Lisbon last month.
1. “Possible trend? Market researchers see value of customer experience research to identify top tasks for better websites.” We think there is hope that a stronger focus on customer experiences online will lead to more task research. Task completion = happy people. But here the philosophy is important. Letting top task research results dominate website content strategy and marketing communications in email, text, and printed publications means giving substantial content control to the “customers” who are the potential students. That’s a challenge for many traditional marketers. And for many college presidents.
2. ” ‘Customer-centric’ is as important for struggling colleges and universities as for an any organization.” Yes, some schools are so much in demand that they can afford to act as they wish re student recruitment and retention. Most can’t. Most struggle to meet enrollment (and revenue) goals.
This is not a plea for more lazy-river construction. Or more websites opening with drone videos swooping down on people strolling across campus quads. Or even more tuition “resets.” It does mean paying more attention to market research telling us what students want to know about a school than what presidents, deans, and marketers think people ought to know. It means treating potential students of every age, including teens, as rational people who will make rational decisions.
3. “Example: Enrollment results will improve when highered email responses use customer-centric approach.” I have a large collection of inquiry-response emails. Very few pay serious attention to helping potential students complete early cycle recruitment tasks. Ditto for the wise folks who also text. Focus content on tasks, not self-promotion. For instance, nearly every online inquiry form asks people to pick at least one academic area of primary interest. And that makes sense… many potential students indeed have strong interests in a particular academic program. But in my extensive secret shopping over the past 5 years, only one school, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, has included program-specific responses in early recruitment communications: emails from the chair of the Biology department and the head of the pre-med committee.
That’s a serious marketing mistake. Some people tell me program-specific responses are not done in part because the academic program websites are so bad. That’s a worse marketing mistake. Presidents should pay more attention to the marketing strength of academic program pages than to glitz and glamour on the home page.
4. “Don’t implement a customer-centric approach too quickly. One task at a time works. But you need to know need top task research results to set priorities.” Many tasks have value. But top tasks are most important. Identify them with objective research. Research will identify the small tasks that can’t become stumbling blocks on the journey to top task completion. Our top task research tells us, for instance, that few students of any age are interested in news stories. Don’t give them more prominent position on a home page than tasks important to potential students. Two areas should have priority in student recruitment content strategy: affordability and academic programs. Start with those. Bellarmine University is doing it. So can you.
11 Examples of Colleges and Universities with a Top Tasks Philosophy
To see how some schools are effectively using a top tasks approach to web content and design, double back to my May blog post: “11 Champions of Top Task Website Design in Higher Education.” You’ll find home page examples. And others from an admissions entry page, a library, and a Registrar’s office.
Did the people who crafted these sites know they were following a top tasks philosophy? I don’t know. But follow it they did. And so can you.
Content Marketing: Focus Website Design on Top Tasks
Join 527 people on the Top Tasks: Higher Education Website Content group on LinkedIn. Request membership here.
That’s All for Now
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