Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter… June 2020

June. “Understandable uncertainty continues as colleges and universities begin to announce an “intent” to open in the fall, replete with­ caveats. The definition of “open” remains flexible. No early word yet on May 1 enrollment deposits from the majority of schools that did not extend until June 1. Those reports should start soon.”

Those sentences from the May newsletter still stand. With this exception: I saw nothing in the month of May re May 1 enrollment deposits from schools that did not extend the date until June 1. Granted, May 1 always was an artificial deadline for most places but it did seem reasonable to expect any school that reached a goal to announce that. Did nobody who had a May 1 goal reach it?

Now we’ll see what’s announced after June 1. We did note that the number of colleges reporting to NACAC re remaining spaces (never a complete number) increased from 400+ in 2019 to 700+ in 2020.

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And now, your June marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: Generic Advertising in “these uncertain times.”

Do your COVERT-19 ads and messages sound like those from every other college and university?

Tom Fishburne pins common words and phrases to avoid, however strong the temptation, in “Generic advertising ‘in these uncertain times.’”
Advertising in Higher Education: 2001 to 2017 Spending Trends

College advertising, primarily in the for-profit sector, grew from just over $400 million in 2001 to a peak of nearly $1.2 billion in 2013 and then declined to less than $800 million in 2017.

The major decrease is at for-profit schools and roughly tracks enrollment decline in that sector. Expenditures in the non-profit private and public sectors have been relatively steady.

Major advertisers, however, are not limited to for-profits. The “top 5” schools in 2017 were University of Phoenix ($75.9M), Southern New Hampshire University ($51.4M), Grand Canyon University ($28.7M), Western Governors University ($25.5M), and DeVry University ($24.7M).

The May Brookings report includes acquisition cost per student. It notes that IPEDS allows schools to include ad spending under “student services,” distorting the student services amount available for enrolled students.

That data and more in “Commercials for college? Advertising in Higher Education.”
Variable Pricing for COVID-19: One University’s Approach
Lasell University announced early in May that it will offer students 3 choices at variable price points “depending on the services we are able to make available to you.” Addressing price, a smart marketing move, was unusual then and remains unusual today.

Choices in the “Fall Flexibility Plan”: (1) live on campus and take classes on campus, (2) live on campus and take courses online, and (3) live off campus and take courses online. While specific prices are not yet on the website, this does recognize the dilemma that many students and parents planning for a residential college experience don’t believe online courses are of equal value to campus courses.

More on how Lasell presents these options in a presidential letter after the “Fall 2020” home page link to the “Fall Flexibility Plan.”
COVID-19 and Graduate Students: Impact on School Selection and Attendance

We’ve read about surveys of future residential undergrad students. But how about graduate students?

From a May survey by Carnegie-Dartlet we learn that the impact likely is significant. Nearly 40 percent are “not at all confident” that they’ll be able to afford graduate education and nearly 26 percent say there is a “high chance” the virus will delay the start of their graduate education. About the same percent say there is “some chance” of a delayed start.

More details at “Critical Insights from Prospective Graduate Students Regarding the COVID-19 Outbreak and Its Impact on Grad School Selection and Attendance.”
Conversational Marketing: A Guide to Effective Chatbot Use

The “conversational marketing” review from Mongoose Research starts with a simple but essential marketing point: “Allow students to accomplish routine tasks quickly” on your website than your competitors and more potential students will favor your college or university.

Of course, a chatbot system can be done well or not so well. A key point: “Chatbots don’t replace your existing marketing channels, they streamline the process…” The need to connect quickly with an admissions person when needed isn’t going away but a chatbot can reduce time spent searching about for answers to basic questions. Like most things online, faster is better.

More on how to use and not use a chatbot at “Conversational Marketing helps more constituents achieve their goals.”
Website Performance: Metrics That Matter

What’s the marketing strength of your website? Hanna Svendor at The C2 Group gives us a clean, simple starting place that moves past 4 common “Vanity Metrics.”

Hanna highlights 12 metrics grouped equally in 3 categories: “Acquisition” metrics, “Behavior” metrics, and “Conversion” metrics.”

Pay special attention to “cart abandonment rate.” Measure yours by how many people start but don’t complete your online inquiry form and admission application form. More at “How to Identify KPIs for Measuring Website Performance.”
Word with Power: “Virtual Tour” vs. “University Tour” vs. “College Tour”

Dave Olsen at West Virginia University wanted to know whether or not the word you use to link to a campus tour made a difference in how many people responded. And it does. “Virtual Tour” was by far the leader in recent searches. “Virtual” was the leader before that but by a small margin.

Dave used Google Trends in the “jobs and education” category to measure how the difference changed between May 2019 and February 2020. See the exact results at his chart posted to Twitter.
Website Design: “It’s nice for a website to look nice. But it’s not that important.”

Shane Diffily, digital lead at Central Bank of Ireland, has advice important to anyone in higher education who focuses overly much on the “look and feel” of their website. When a website isn’t performing as expected the most likely cure is not a redesign of how it looks.

Instead of a redesign Shane urges careful examination of how the website works. That means first exploring if visitors can “Find” and “Read” and “Understand” the content that’s important to them and then take any desired “Action.”

I’ll add that in almost every higher education Customer Centric Index survey potential students don’t complain about the “look and feel” of a website. The number one complaint is always poor “menus and links” that keep them from finding what they want to find, i.e., completing tasks.

More from Shane at “Great websites have content that is easy to Find, Read, Understand and Action.”
Disney World COVID-19 Disclaimer: Will Higher Education Do the Same?

Some college and university presidents are looking for safeguards again law suits if students return to campus and contract COVID-19. So is Disney World.

Parts of the Disney enterprise plan to reopen soon with this website disclaimer: “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. Covid-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. And “By visiting Walt Disney World Resort, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

Will any colleges and universities do the same? What impact might that have on enrollment?

More on the Disney approach at “Disney Issues Blunt Disclaimer…”
Most Popular Topic in May Newsletter: 42 Digital Marketing Trends

Here’s a comprehensive grouping of digital marketing elements to review for additions to your kit bag. You are likely already using many of these. But not all of them.

My favorites included (2), programmatic advertising, (6), video marketing, (12) social media stories, and (28) Google ads smart bidding.

Visit the full array at “42 Digital Marketing Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2020”.

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