Admissions Marketing: Out with the Old in with the New?

The world of marketing and communications has grown to be quite complex over the past two decades, especially due to divergent communications technologies. Because of this, higher ed. marketers are faced with a tough job keeping up with all the new channels as well as completing a never-ending to-do list. Add in a shrinking budget and a new “hot” social tool to check out each week, and there’s a need for best practices information to sperate real opportunities from noise.

As a trusted vendor and consultant our goal is to help provide perspective and signal in a world full of noise. After spending the past few years working with clients both in and out of higher education on digital and social marketing, I’ve seen the new shiny objects don’t always outperform some tried and true methods.   I’ve also seen skeptics pass over obvious opportunities to use new tools while they wait around for “conclusive data” that will take years to develop.

After reading the Noel Levitz 2011 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Report, I wanted to share an overview of some of the most and least effective practices (both digital and non), according to the modern admissions professional.

Most Effective Student Recruitment Practices for 4-year institutions

  • Hosting open house events – 98% use; 96% report very or somewhat effective
  • Campus visit days for high school students – 93.5% use; 98% report very/somewhat effective
  • Encouraging prospective students to apply on website – 98% use; 96% report very/somewhat effective
  • Using enrolled students in recruitment/marketing – 90% use; 95% report very/somewhat effective

Don’t always follow new shiny objects

You would think as a social networking company we would hail each shiny new object from the blogosphere. No, although we believe in innovating with new digital approaches, marketing tactics should always be rooted in sound logic and strategy in order for them to have an impact.

Below are the least effective web/digital practices.

  • Social networking site like Facebook – 38% ineffective
  • Virtual tours – 56% of respondents thought they were ineffective
  • Blogging space for faculty or students – 65% ineffective
  • Podcasting – 76% ineffective
  • RSS/XML syndicated feeds – 78% ineffective

The irony here is that Social Networking, Blogging, and Virtual Tours should enable using enrolled students in recruitment and marketing in intelligent and scalable ways.  So, it’s obvious that these tools would be deemed effective if they operationalized the interaction between prospects and current students.  See the way the Schools App does that here:

Least used, but potentially most effective new methods include:

  • Mobile apps ranked among the least-used practices across institution types, despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of respondents from four-year institutions rated them “very effective” or “somewhat effective.” Only 25% of schools were utilizing them, but 63% believed the practice had merit.
  • Statistical predictive modeling for enrollment of admitted students – 43% use; 77% find effective
  • Text messaging with prospective students -16% doing; 60% effective

Where true strategy meets these mediums is when the channels are used to push or pull students toward real milestones in an admissions funnel:

  • Campus visits
  • Open houses
  • Weekend visits
  • Group meetings for perspective students

According to the research, over half of the respondents reported using practices that a majority of their peers labeled as “minimally effective.” Below are 5 things you should kick to the curb for the class of 2016 marketing budgets.

Least Effective Student Recruitment Practices

  • Telephone directory ads
  • Listings in commercially published directories
  • Mailing course schedules to residents in area
  • Podcasting
  • Ads in high school yearbooks or newspapers

While I want to thank Noel-Levitz for conducting and publishing this research a word of caution for those who may mistake the survey respondents’ perception of effectiveness vs. the actual overall effectiveness of any given medium. The truth is there will always be a level of uncertainty in your marketing budget, but you should measure with both metrics and a gut-check to throw out old practices and experiment with strategic innovation.

Are there any methods your institution uses effectively that are not listed in the report? Tell us what you think of the findings in the comments below!