Evolving with the Times to Compete for Adult EnrollmentsMargaret McCarthy | Senior Director of Marketing and Enrollment Management, Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies
In just five years, our marketing department has changed from a small, locally-focused shop using print, radio, and direct mail, to a data-driven, multi-unit team keenly focused on our national digital presence. The evolution of our team’s focus and skill set was driven by our entry into the competitive distance learning market. We are still changing at a rapid and radical pace, but there are a few overarching guidelines that have been key to our success in the online marketing landscape:
- value-rich, authentic content;
- multi-channel, multi-touch; and
- honoring intended use of marketing channels, specifically social media.
Can’t Compete on Spending, Can Win on Content
Few non-profit institutions can match the marketing spending of the for-profits, so most marketing units feel inadequately funded to compete in the online space. One strategy we found that can level the playing field is introducing value-add content—faculty achievements, student success stories, instruction quality, marketplace value of our degree—leveraged as much as possible across channels.
Our current focus is on generating more multi-media content and improving our distribution efficiencies. We recently transformed a general marketing assistant’s responsibilities into a focused content creation and management role. We increased our demand for content from academic staff and faculty and implemented a formal workflow stemming from a central email account for news submissions. We are in the process of creating a knowledge management warehouse to better track gaps, expiration dates, and simply to better organize our content. We will soon retire our highly functional but non-scalable Excel file for a good old Access database with reporting functionality to improve content tracking.
Secret Sauce Includes Old Ingredients
Our marketing plans still include old-school tactics, but we like to think we give them a modern twist. We love direct mail because we can buy a list that is honed to a program’s audience. People still come home at night and grab their mail on the way in—it’s like a 100% email open-rate. Now we are having our list vendors cross check against our prospect database to better measure direct mail campaign effectiveness.
We make a great effort to touch our prospects multiple times in a variety of ways to build awareness and credibility, and to drive action. We are still on the radio, although significantly less. We buy outdoor advertising. We attend select conferences. We use every online advertising option that makes sense for our brand. Our recipe has changed, but online advertising is not our only ingredient; we believe this a winning strategy.
Honor the Spirit of Intention
It is estimated that one in every nine people on Earth is on Facebook. We need to be where our prospective students are, and therefore social media is a primary marketing vehicle for us; however, our presence is primarily paid display ads rather than relational interaction. We feel strongly about using social media in the spirit of its intended use and until we have the bandwidth to support an authentic two-way conversation, we will focus on the available advertising opportunities in the social media space.
Social media advertising allows us to target at a highly granular level—more precisely than traditional print and radio, and more accurately than online banner ads. Finely-tuned targeting is particularly helpful in marketing our programs that have very specific audiences. We can target by education level, associations, employers, job titles, broad topics, et cetera. With our current approach, Facebook is the top or runner-up referral site for all our distance learning program prospects, and LinkedIn is a significant source of leads as well.
In One Word, Maybe Two
There are additional factors that are key to our success, such as investing in new and crucial positions(SEO specialist, national media planner/buyer), as well as supporting infrastructure (CMS, new website). We strive to be diligent thinkers; integrated in our efforts and always adding new initiatives to our marketing mix. However, if pressed to identify what is at the core of our success, it is our dedication to authenticity that guides our efforts and decision-making—that and a whole lot of data.
Author Perspective: Administrator