Published on 2013/06/19

Five Ways to Modify Marketing Practices for the Commoditized Higher Education Marketplace

Five Ways to Modify Marketing Practices in the Commoditized Higher Education Marketplace
Implementing more effective marketing practices can provide the base on which institutions can succeed in the commoditized higher education marketplace.

Higher education marketers know well that the rapidly increasing level of industry competition doesn’t translate to proportional increases in their marketing budgets. When we don’t have more money to work with, we need to look at improving our return on existing expenditures. This means identifying inefficient marketing practices and creating a plan to eliminate or improve them.

The following five tips are important steps to running a more efficient marketing operation that will serve as a more stable foundation for future marketing success and provide a given institution a platform on which to succeed in the hypercompetitive, commoditized higher education marketplace:

1. Understand what you’re actually great at and what you just think you’re great at.

Is your institution flexible, affordable, convenient, high quality, respected and student focused? What a coincidence; so is mine! We can all identify examples of how we possess the characteristics I’ve listed here, but the question to ask ourselves is which, among the list, we are truly special at delivering to our students. Survey those enrolled in your programs to identify and promote how your institution performs. Your true strengths will rise to the surface as you do so. This is a starting point, with the next step being to drill down in your research to identify what makes you exceptional in particular areas. Now you can tell a more real and compelling story of your unique value and how you stand out from the pack

2. Leave the marketing to marketers.

While our faculty, deans, program directors, executives and public relations colleagues are invaluable sources of information to develop meaningful content and messaging for marketing efforts, the execution should be left to marketers. Marketing is becoming increasingly technical and data driven. If executing a marketing campaign or prospect-focused web content requires an assembly line of approvals and modifications to serve the unique tastes of dozens across an institution, your marketing will not only face a postponed launch date, but the quality of output will suffer greatly as well.  Expect an inability to practice agile responsiveness to opportunities, an elimination of your institutional marketing strategy, a combination of watered down and inside-baseball messaging and a disregard for any marketing approaches not yet understood across the institution. The most significant influence in your marketing execution should be the data you have gathered, not the collective wisdom of your administration.

3. Don’t be terminally unique.

Having unique offerings and value propositions is critical to an institution’s success. However, too much of a focus on how unique you are can blind you from the realities of the market you compete in. We must remember the point of marketing is to attract the attention of our target audiences to our institutions.  Even the most brilliant of offerings are only useful if they address a need and there is a clear alignment between your offering and the market’s need. Our messaging must first consider the needs of our audience, and only then can we create powerful messaging to propel the offering to appropriate markets.

4. Quit starting from scratch.

A common symptom of data-free marketing is a continuous attempt to create that hail-mary pass of a marketing campaign that will go viral, attract widespread attention and pay dividends for months or years. This type of approach assumes each new initiative that didn’t work was an all-together failure, when the fact may be there was simply a weak link in the chain. Perhaps the advertisement you created was highly effective, but the landing page was awful. Rather than starting from scratch, follow the data to identify and rebuild only the aspects of your marketing that should be improved. It’s a simple, but often overlooked, concept that could make all the difference in saving your marketing department time, money and frustration.

5. Put down the bull horn.

Sometimes we want to spread our message so wide and far, both in geography and context,  we end up spraying our message wide and thin when we should have been saturating selectively. Efficient marketing requires knowing what you are best at (see # 1), then researching which markets those strengths will align with best. It’s all about matching specific needs with specific offerings and aligning them with desired outcomes.

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Readers Comments

Alicia Ramos 2013/06/19 at 9:54 am

Institutions need to strike a balance between stubbornly keeping traditional marketing techniques long after they’ve ceased to be relevant and adopting every new strategy that falls from the sky. I’ve seen both types of institutions and neither was particularly effective. Instead, each institution should identify its key target markets and develop strategies that address those specific markets.

Lynn Pittelli 2013/06/19 at 1:59 pm

I think Maslowsky hit the nail on the head with #1. While there’s a certain degree of hyperbole to be expected in any promotional initiative, there’s something to be said for honest marketing. Now, more than ever, potential student-consumers have the means to review and analyze your claims, as well as compare them to what others are selling. Being honest will go a long way in building potential students’ trust in your institution and its reputation.

Leslie 2013/06/21 at 3:28 pm

Excellent points and well-known challenges to anybody who has been involved in higher education marketing. Slap the name of just about any institution on the top of just about any higher ed website/brochure and nobody will know the difference. Right?

#2 is very relevant since marketing has changed considerably in the last few years and specialized knowledge must be sought out and valued without all the procedural roadblocks getting in the way. Give input for content as the article says, but then it’s best to get out of the way.

#4 isn’t unique to higher ed at all. It’s too easy to think a new approach, better SEO, snappier Social Media will solve your problems. A well-thought out strategy built out with a systematic approach is the only way to truly, consistently, generate and convert leads. Do you really care about viral videos? No. You care about consistently attracting more students at the best return.

And one last word: Blogging. If institutions and schools regularly followed this one simple tactic tied to a proper call to action, they’d be ahead of the pack in a lot of ways. Just one way to de-commoditize.

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