Understanding demand generation
As many deans know, there is a vital relationship between their admission and marketing offices, but not all deans mandate sharing asymmetric information between the groups.
Marketing offices focus on the school’s overall brand by translating what the institution stands for into a consistent theme and message, which if executed properly, gives that school the one-of-a-kind look and feel like no other. That is the charge of marketing. Admission offices focus on establishing relationships with potential students by bringing to life what the brand on paper is, and more challenging, articulating why it’s relevant to each, individual student. That is the art, or the craft of admissions. So how can administrators go about solving these issues to ensure a cohesive unit and recruitment strategy? It starts with the understanding of demand generation.
Admission offices are not designed to sell or create demand for the institution’s programs. They’re built to respond to demand and the admissions process. And, while they can glean insights from their direct contact with prospective students, they have not been given the resources to analyze the data or even look at it in a systematic way. The key is for Admissions to regularly share the trends they observe with marketing.
Marketing offices are good at big picture brand identity and promotion, but lack the personnel and skills needed to create personal relationships with prospective students and conduct the market research after each admissions cycle that is needed to understand what has changed vs. previous cycles, and thus reach these students. Marketing needs to take the trends Admissions shares with them, and determine which are most relevant --through keyword search terms, image ads, A/B testing of creative, etc. – for demand generation.
When this is understood, you can create programs that play to these offices strengths and tackle the critical steps needed to meet enrollment targets.
First, survey the enrolled, admitted but declined, and most importantly, those who did not apply (granted, they will be less likely to respond). These must be conducted on an annual basis with the same questions to gather year over year data.
There are probably 50 great things about your institution, and your website is the place to showcase this. However, not one student will care about all 50 things equally. Most likely it’s one or maybe two of these, which an individual will value and thus persuade them to apply and enroll. Admissions is listening to prospective students, they will tell you what those things are. And if your marketing team is given appropriate resources, they can quantify those survey results into insights, not based on demography, but on values and behavior.
Once you’ve identified what is valued by individuals, it’s time to leverage digital tools to signal to each individual student that if they value “attribute A”, for example, this is the place for them – this is the essence of demand nurture.
Digital is the best form of communication to reach these busy students because it provides two-way communication: you know what content is being consumed and what's landing flat. If you are not measuring what content each individual student is clicking on/consuming, you’re just guessing. Even worse, that shotgun approach feeds the stigma held by some students that “the school doesn’t know me and just sends me spam”.
When the enrollment cycle is completed it’s time to ask and listen again.
Deans face many challenges, but by mandating a knowledge transfer between admissions and marketing, and allowing marketing to leverage available digital tools to drive enrollment, demand generation and demand nurture don't have to be among them.
—Mike Fogarty is founder of MF Digital Marketing, a higher ed consultancy that leverages prospective student data, and apply behavioral economics through digital marketing to graduate schools.