Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter… September 2020

 September. Most colleges and universities across the U.S. are open… in one form or another. Results re COVID-19 are mixed, with outbreaks at some schools forcing an abandonment of face-to-face classes. Enrollment results are mixed, with some increases and (probably) more decreases. Higher education life, marketing included, is far from settled and we move into a new recruitment year for traditional students. We’ll know much more by October 1.

What “top tasks” do people want to complete when they visit a website to learn about COVID-19?

To answer that question Gerry McGovern completed a top task survey in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Norway. He’s presenting results in a September 3 webinar. Why should you care? Many top tasks results for a given topic are remarkably similar no matter the country or audience. Attend the webinar and note the common tasks. Check those against your COVID-19 content. You may want to make additions… or deletions. Webinar registration is here.

Terminal 4 has just opened the 7th annual “Higher Education Web & Digital Marketing Survey.” Start the survey here.

Join 851+ higher education professionals on the Top Tasks: Higher Education Website Content group at LinkedIn. Request membership at

Follow along with 7,200+ people for daily marketing updates on Twitter.

Forward this newsletter to a friend. Only email required here to subscribe for a personal copy.

And now, your marketing news and notes for September.
Cartoon of the Month: “Rise of the Customer Service Bots”

Nearly 60 percent of marketing executives in a recent survey said that reducing customer contact calls was a top priority between now and 2025. Is that really a smart marketing goal?

Zappos has a contrarian corporate award for logging the longest phone time with a real person. Might you have something similar for your admissions staff as you seek higher conversions from a smaller inquiry pool?

See and read how Tom Fishburne weighs in on the value of person-to-person contact at “rise of the customer service bots.”
Washington Monthly: 2020 college rankings

Just out is the 2020 version of Washington Monthly’s rankings, an attempt to add the “good” done by colleges and universities into a ranking scheme. In the magazine’s own words, “we rate schools based on what they do for the country. It’s our answer to the U.S. News & World Report, which relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige.”

You will find some familiar results. Among the top 10 national universities, Stanford is first, Harvard second, and MIT third. But you’ll also see Utah State University as #10.

Among liberal arts colleges Amherst and Wesleyan University are first and second. Berea Colleges takes the #3 position.

Results differ more from what you might expect when you check rankings of Master’s Universities and Bachelor’s Colleges.

To find your school and your competitors, visit “Washington Monthly 2020 College Rankings.”
Hechinger Report: College and university financial warning signs

The Hechinger folk use 4 measures to determine the financial footing of a 4-year private sectors schools.: Enrollment, Retention, Average Tuition (revenue per student), and Endowment/Expenses. For public sector universities, state appropriations replaced the endowment and expenses category.

Of 2,264 schools with enough data to evaluate, “more than 500” were under stress in two or more of the four categories. Ohio (36 schools) and Illinois (26 schools) had more than 10 percent of the stress total.

Find your school and others that interest you at “Analysis: hundreds of colleges and universities show financial warning signs.
Advertising for Online Programs: The COVID-19 impact

The Century Foundation issued an August report by Taela Dudley based on tracking online advertising from the 100 colleges and universities with the highest online enrollment in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

Report sections include “pandemic themed ads” (only 8 schools used them), Google search ads (85 percent use these), search engine marketing (a distinct increase in the use of COVID themed words), social media ads (121 schools using these), and display ads.

You’ll find specific amounts spent by various schools and many ad examples when you visit “College Marketing in the COVID-19 Economy.
New Rules of Marketing: 2020 edition

Heather Park outlines 17 marketing points under 4 headings in this HubSpot article. You’ll find them under “Rules of Marketing” (3 points), “Digital Marketing Rules (2 points), “Email Marketing Rules” (7 points), and “Social Media Marketing Rules” (5 points).

Two of my favorites were “Keep it Simple” for email and “Don’t force engagement” for social media.

Review a mix of what you already know and what you might not know (or agree with) as you plan for adaptations to your marketing plan at “The New Rules of Marketing [2020 Edition].”
Virtual Tours: When are they most important?

In the COVID-19 era many organizations are placing new marketing reliance on virtual tours.

The Nielsen-Norman Group is reporting on new qualitative research with this summary result: “Virtual tours are an occasionally useful secondary tool for checking on specific details, but most users find them to be high effort, slow, and of limited value.”

University examples were included in the research and Nielsen-Norman will be doing a future “university only” report.

The research showed that people making an early visit to an organization that might be of interest were more interested in photo galleries. Interest in tours came later after interest in an organization deepened. That’s a key point for online student recruitment efforts.

More from Nielsen-Norman at “Virtual Tours: High Interaction Cost, Moderate Usefulness.”
Online Courses: 4 students detail a successful effort

Online courses, starting with the abrupt switch from in class courses last spring, have not fared well in the PR world. But imagine the marketing strength from students who report an unexpectedly successful experience in the online world.

Online courses can work in ways that rival an in-person experience. That’s the message from 4 students enrolled in an online course that replaced a planned study abroad course. The students describe their initial skepticism, praise the efforts of the professor who designed their course to avoid common online pitfalls, and highlight 4 elements that were vital to the success achieved.

Make time to read “Socially Distant Yet Intellectually Close.”
Private College Enrollments: Early report on gains and losses

Some colleges have met or passed enrollment goals and others have not.

Inside Higher Ed reports on those with higher than expected enrollment (Shenandoah University, Colorado College, Assumption University, and more) and others that did not fare as well (Muhlenberg College, Salve Regina University, Otterbein University, and more.)

Details and additional results at “Will students show up at private colleges?”
New Book: “How to Market a University: Building Value in a Competitive Environment”

Terry Flannery, once the chief marketing person at American University and recently appointed as the chief marketing person at Stony Brook University, is sharing her remarkable wisdom re higher education marketing in a new book that’s available in January.

Like to plan ahead? Read a summary of the contents and pre-order your copy on Amazon now.
Most Popular Topic in August Newsletter: Value proposition for higher education

Tom Fishburne pokes fun at “The Value Proposition” in a cartoon introducing a short essay on how “COVID-19 is forcing a re-evaluation of how brands across the board are valued.”

More from Tom on how the value proposition for higher education is broken at “the value proposition and lessons from higher education.”
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D.

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