Fine New Home Page… Leads to Ugly “Request Info” form at SUNY Potsdam

Tactics can kill marketing strategy… a new example at SUNY Potsdam

SUNY PotsdamLet me confess to a marketing obsession… higher education marketing in the last few years has seen a explosion of “brand strategy” efforts in the belief that colleges and universities can “rebrand” themselves to solve marketing challenges and boost enrollment.

I’ve no problem with attention to brand position and marketing efforts to protect and strengthen it. But I see far too many examples of how inattention to marketing tactics can sabotage the best brand efforts. “Strategy” is sexy; “tactics” are not. But each is as important as the other.

Before starting down the path of new brand strategies, schools should make sure that “everyday tactics” are as good as they can be. If they are not, conversion at various recruitment stages will fall. Resources spent on “brand strategy” will be wasted. Strong attention to what makes a good visitor experience is essential.

The new home page at SUNY Potsdam… a bright new day

Earlier today the fine folks at the idfive agency tweeted about a new website created for SUNY Potsdam:

  • “Nestled in the shadow of the Adirondack Mountains, provides a unique and extraordinary student experience. Partnered with the university, idfive designed a website that showcases their brand and attracts students who are a perfect fit.”
  • Included was a link to a brief description of the project and an invitation to visit the website and “See it in action.” And so I did just that.

Visitors to the new home page immediately see three prominent links to either “Request Info” or “Visit” or “Apply.” That’s a nice trio that recognizes that not every visitor is ready to apply for admission. Too often the “application” link is easy to find but the “request info” link can be a challenge. For a first visitor early in the college selection process requesting information may indeed be an early task to complete.

The new home page likely will increase traffic from first time visitors to the “Request info” page. That’s probably the intent.

The “Request info” form at SUNY Potsdam… a poor visitor experience

SUNY PotsdamWhat happens to the people who move from the home page to the Freshman inquiry form is, put as politely as possible, not marketing smart.  The information requested is not the major problem. While not as brief as it might be, the form does not require the name of a high school or the CEEB code for the school. Nor does it ask “how did you hear about us.” Neither is gender asked.

But the form itself is ugly. Bureaucratic in appearance. Too many boxes. And, for people who might want to use it on a smartphone, challenging to complete. Direct marketers will cringe. And cry.

On mobile, only the most interested people will finish the form. If the strategy is to reduce inquiries from people without a high level of interest, that’s OK. We suspect that’s not a strategic goal in this case.

Try the form. It would be hard to create a more irritating process than the continual finger-flicking required to slowly complete the form. For sure, not mobile-friendly.

Tyranny of the database… and an alternative

The problem here is not unusual in higher education… the inquiry form was not created by marketers but by the company providing the university database software. In this case, the software is “Banner by Ellucian” or “the world’s leading higher education enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.” But it could be any similar database software provided by other firms. The plague is widespread.

University of Wisconsin Stevens PointIs there a marketing-smart alternative? Of course.

Consider the freshman inquiry from at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. The first impression of the form is that it will be easy to complete, on mobile or on a large screen device. For instance, just one box for “name” replaces 6 on the SUNY Potsdam form. That lets form creators use larger boxes. It makes form completion faster. It increases conversion. It is marketing smart.

Most inquiry forms used by graduate and professional schools seem to have escaped the database tyranny curse. Let’s hope that as higher education marketing advances more undergraduate forms will move in the that direction.

That’s All for Now

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One Comment

  1. The Banner form is simply inexcusable. It’s ugly and clunky and does not appear to be responsive. It has too much required information for a simple inquiry, and the form elements are poorly chosen from a user perspective. Why use three different fields (two drop-downs and a text box) for a simple date? Why use three text fields for a phone number? Clearly the priority is on data standards and not user experience. The Stevens Point form is far superior.

    While programmers are to blame for poor form design, I’ve also found that admissions people often insist on too much information on these forms. If your goal is to get prospects into your communications flow, you should start with some basic information and go on from there.

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