Monday, October 22, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Branch Campus Marketing

Early in my administrative career I became interested in marketing.  Before a new campus dean and I were appointed, the campus had drifted toward the low end of its enrollment cycle, which also contributed to a budget deficit.  I don’t remember how I moved from thinking about recruitment and retention to educating myself on marketing, but when I did, I found a natural fit for a psychologist interested in social behavior.

I don’t want to overstate my own marketing contribution, because we had staff working on marketing and advertising, and we also used a local marketing firm.  However, I did a lot of reading, and I talked with anyone I thought could help us.  I also think I brought some leadership, in terms of linking marketing with academic and other strategies.

The single most useful thing I did was to create a marketing advisory committee, including several small business executives.  These folks gave me a master class in marketing, and I’ll be forever grateful.  I think we became relatively smart about our work.  Along the way, both at Ohio State and at Ohio University, I learned some things.

First, I learned that any marketing effort should be preceded by market research and followed by assessment of its effectiveness.  Some of this work isn’t easy, but it is necessary, in order to manage limited resources.  Relying on intuition is not nearly enough to support decision-making, and I have seen many examples where habit and belief were seriously disconnected from effectiveness, especially in my consulting work.

I can’t go into detail, here, but your best marketing options depend on the most cost effective way you can reach a specific audience.  Sometimes that is through direct mail, but other times it will be online banner ads.  Sometimes, in specific situations, it may even be a billboard.  Regardless, the goal these days is to make sure the right people see your message and are drawn to your web site to learn more.  The web site should not only provide important information, but also encourage your prospects to get in touch.  Once prospects seek more information, you need a clear, reliable set of messages and follow up contacts that move them through that well-known recruiting funnel.

Second, I learned that professional marketing people are creative and have real knowledge.  In particular, they provide design skills that are well beyond the ability of most of us.  Nevertheless, you still need to reserve final approval for yourself, if you are in charge.  As the client, presumably you know how any given marketing effort relates to other elements of your enrollment strategy.

Finally, I learned that my role, as a leader, was to keep us focused on strategy and target audiences.  For example, the best of us can be drawn to the latest “sexy” ways to advertise, but thinking strategically and programmatically is essential.  Otherwise, you’ll risk spreading dollars thinly and miss the best opportunities.  Effective marketing is too rare, but it is a sweet thing, when it is done right.

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