Marketing, Change and Higher Ed

Guest blogger Paul Richlovsky examines personalization and student-centered marketing.

January 26, 2016

In a recent interview with Marketo and Mashable, Chris M. Kormis, CMO of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, named what she thought were the biggest trends in higher education marketing:

  • Targeted newsletters
  • Remarketing
  • Informational in-person interactions.

What is notable about these three methods of communication is that they’re all examples of personalization. Email newsletters can convey different content depending on both audience segment (underrepresented population, geographic area) and the individual (name, stage of application process). Remarketing serves ads to users who previously visited your website or clicked on an ad, reminding them to take the next desired action based on their previous behavior. Face-to-face meetings are about as personalized as it gets and they can build trust more quickly than anything else a marketer does.

The fact a prominent higher-ed CMO named the old-fashioned personal meeting a hot trend is telling: Sometimes technology takes a back seat to the traditional, despite the (often too-easy) wonders of instant and ever-present electronic connection.

What is Kormis getting at? Simply put, she knows why institutions are hiring CMOs and paying an unprecedented amount of attention to marketing. To borrow a buzzword, she is talking about student-centered marketing. She knows the first question everybody who does the job of marketing—from admissions to advancement—should be asking: What’s in it for the students?

Kormis also talks about the significance of marketing in the context of reaching a new group of students every year who, in their initial research process, often know little about the institutions they’re evaluating or how their experience there will affect their own long-term career advantages. The more institutions cater to these would-be students by providing vital information that can help them evaluate their choices based on their own individual selection criteria (vs. what might be in a glossy pamphlet), the better.

Everything is changing: and what that means

The education industry is being upended by several forces, as pointed out in an Economist cover story last year. It argued that exorbitant tuition, changing labor markets and MOOC technology are forcing change that will reinvent course delivery, instructor pay and student composition.

At the same time, the discipline of marketing is on fire with shifts in the buyer-seller relationship and technology’s ever-increasing influence on, well, everything. “Marketing has changed more in the last five years than it has in the last 500, and will change even more in the next five years,” as Sanjay Dholakia, Marketo’s CMO, is fond of saying.

The marketer is in the driver’s seat. And the marketer’s primary responsibility is to relate to people. Yes, actual people. Not faceless buyers. Not data points. Not robots. Not abstract notions of a brand. Or, put another way, the faces and relationships associated with a brand (i.e., your school) are what make the brand come alive. From the marketer’s perspective, knowing that the person on the other side of your communication is … well, a person … must dictate the experiences you create.

So, embrace your inner marketer. Embrace the creative artistic power to inspire through your communication. Be a marketing artist. Use technology to your advantage, but never forget the power of putting down the spreadsheet and having a genuine conversation with a student or a prospect. Your institution—not to mention your inner artist—will appreciate it.

Paul Richlovsky, an avid fan of both writing and ballroom dancing, is head of Content Strategy at Fathom.


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