Invest in your message more than your method.

We’re often asked to build strategies for the various conversion points during recruitment. Common among these are search, campus visit, application generation and deposit solicitation. In previous posts, I’ve made my thoughts clear on the evolution of search and how new, readily available technology has made it easier for institutions to run search on their own, but here I’d like to describe what other benefits might come from implementing reasonable, accessible technologies into your recruitment strategies. And, where you should invest energy.

If, as I’ve said previously, common CRMs have flattened the playing field in terms of marketing automation solutions, it isn’t just search that’s now relatively easy to deploy in house. Search, as purchased from the various providers that you’re well aware of, consists basically of two conceptual steps:

1. Intentionally compiling a list that aligns with institutional priorities.
2. Soliciting that list to generate some sort of meaningful response.

With basic data collection and a clear picture of how the class should be shaped, deploying search is not mysterious.

That’s it. There’s no other complexity beyond those two steps. Which is not to dismiss the science of predictive models, but given basic data collection and a clear picture of how the class should be shaped, deploying search is not mysterious. The response to my previous posts has been somewhat controversial. I’ll admit that I am suggesting there should be significant disruption in the professional services that institutions invest in with search, but that’s because you’re not acquiring new information. You have data. Your CRM sends email. And there is a proliferation of end-user software that presents a second path, marked by autonomy and lower cost.

Search, rightfully, holds reverence in higher education. It should. It’s the beginning of a conversation with a human being, your first chance to send a message about who you are and who you’re seeking. However, beyond that, search should be considered a process, with best-practice strategy applied to it. If we’re being content-agnostic for the moment, that process is a series of emails automated at thoughtful intervals, maybe some print and a way of collecting responses online. If you boil away the buzzwords in sales pitches, that’s what’s left of the method itself.

Well, if that’s it, what else can this process be replicated for? Almost anything.

If the process has been set in-house (in a solution like Marketo, Act-on, or Marketing Cloud), it can be thought of as the basis for other conversion campaigns. For instance, the same model for search can be used for inviting prospective students to visit campus: create compelling content, replicate the search “process” and deploy.

Efficiencies within marketing automation can be applied throughout the funnel. I like to think of them as “kits.” You may set a flow for search that ends in fulfillment (some way of delivering on your offer). That same flow, let’s say seven emails, a print piece, a social push and a landing page for collection of responses, can be kitted and applied again to campus visits. To application generation. To FAFSA completion. To scholarship weekends. To deposit generation. To battle melt. And so on.

So this is good. It means you have technical and strategic processes in place, relatively simple and repeatable ones, and you can apply them toward your conversion goals. The fact that they are replicable and have been proven to be effective means less effort is required to develop new ones. Now the onus on their success, in the context of conversion, relies on the quality of the message—which is exactly where it should reside.

Nothing matters more than your message.

This is where we enter subjective territory. Again, there are two basic premises to follow when working toward a conversion in recruitment. Conceptually they are simple, but they can be difficult to pull off:

1. Make a compelling offer.
2. Deliver on that offer.

When it comes to making that compelling offer, the key to being successful starts with a frank and honest assessment of who you are as an institution. This requires a clear understanding of your position, and the confidence to present yourself as an “only.” If your institution hasn’t already been through this stage of soul searching, this is where your resources (time, energy and financial) should be invested. Do the research and introspection required to help establish your position, and find out what you offer that no one else has. Once you know what you have to offer, then you have to deliver.

Here’s an example of how this strategy might look as applied to campus visits:

Making a compelling offer.

What will a student get by visiting campus? Why is it necessary for this to take place on campus? What can a student find on your campus that they won’t find anywhere else? In which way(s) are you an “only?”

Deliver on that offer.

You’re located in a snowy climate where students can play hockey on frozen ponds in the winter—show that. You’re in an extraordinary food neighborhood? Great—expose and encourage students to the world of those delicious meals. You’re accessible by innovative public transportation solutions like a light rail? Instruct your visitors to arrive via the train.

And the list goes on. But my point is, these descriptions and offers lie outside of a strategy that is easily achievable and may already exist on your campus. The rocket science is no longer sending email or setting up a landing page—you know how to do that, the technical processes are in place, so don’t spend time and energy looking for them externally or re-inventing them internally. Now the effort lies in crafting an irresistible message that inspires students to convert. Invest your energy there.

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Sam Waterson

Sam is President at RHB.