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Is your Marketing Actually Helping Competing Institutions?

The present economic climate has put a number of graduate and continuing education programs in a difficult situation. The tight economy has caused both public and private institutions to put equally tight leashes on marketing expenditures. But while available budgets are shrinking, the need of marketing for higher education is growing. The pool of students who can afford to return to college to pursue a new degree or sharpen their skills is shrinking. More now than ever programs for nontraditional students need effective lead generation methods to find real prospects. How can Vice Presidents, Deans and Directors provide their programs with the outreach they need and still avoid wasting precious marketing funds?

Does your marketing actually help your competitors more?

Of the available marketing communication strategies, the one most often used is to promote the college through advertising, using radio, newspapers and the Internet. But these efforts may actually end up helping competing institutions as much or more than they help your own. The research habits of many prospective students virtually guarantee it.

Prospective students are often very busy and they face a wide array of choices. There are many online institutions competing for their attention. A number of these have sophisticated marketing programs and admissions counselors who are ready to pounce on telephone or online inquiries day or night. In addition there are often several well established colleges and universities within driving distance of the prospect’s home or work location. Realistically, at how many institutions with the desired program will the average adult prospect look – two or three? Four? Which college is sure to receive his or her inquiry? The last one they visited that fit their criteria.

An example close to home

Think about the last time you bought a car. If you visited more than one dealership and found the car you wanted at a good price, did you go back to the first dealership you visited to negotiate and buy it from them? Most people don’t – that’s why some dealers advertise “Shop us last.” Certainly, a good education can mean a lot more to one’s future than a car, but the point is clear. Often it’s not the best organization with the best offer, but rather a good organization with acceptable offer in the best position that wins the client.

So even if your well-designed ad prompted the prospect to begin his or her college search and even if your institution is a perfect fit, you still may not get his inquiry or application. Your prospects’ busy schedules and decision-making strategies put the last college they checked out, not the first, in the driver’s seat. Your good advertising has actually delivered students to a competing institution. How can you avoid this situation?

Put your institution in the best position

One way is to give prospects a compelling reason to inquire even if they’re at the beginning of their college search. One of the first universities to do this was Franklin University, an adult-only institution in Ohio. Several years ago, a link on Franklin’s website offered visitors a customized eBrochure to the program of their choice. After providing his or her contact information, a PDF brochure for the desired program would arrive in the prospect’s email inbox. The adult learner had what they wanted – a convenient brochure with all the pertinent information and the university had what they desired – the prospect’s contact information and consent to further communication. Franklin’s marketing staff reported that this program increased their adult inquiries by 35%; an industry Best Practices report showed that it also helped them get an astounding 48% conversion rate from that inquiry to application.

At present, similar (but vastly improved) programs are capturing prospective traditional undergraduate students at schools like Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, and Monroe College. Soon both the University of Rhode Island and Rivier College will be using it as well. These undergraduate programs trade the instant gratification of a customized eBrochure that pops up within sixty seconds and the personalized direct mail that follows for the prospect’s contact information and interests. Prospective students appear to feel it’s a fair trade – at last check, up to 47% of visitors to Quinnipiac’s Stealth eBrochure website applied to the university. Could graduate and continuing education programs in New England achieve similar results?

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