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Early on in my consulting career, I learned a powerful lesson: being effective is much more important than adopting trendy or cutting-edge tactics.

That’s particularly the case today. A marketer can drive herself crazy trying to decide where to devote time and dollars. Let’s start marketing on Snapchat! No: let’s shift our marketing dollars to paid social! Or, no: let’s develop a virtual reality classroom tour!

None of these are bad ideas (and you can learn a lot by experimenting). But getting results is more important than any single new idea. So here’s what I believe smart marketers will be doing — or doing more of — in 2016.

1. Developing powerful mobile experiences

Last year, 84 percent of teens said they looked at college websites on their phones while making their decisions about college.

Why is that? Because, like many people, they’re in the habit of picking up their mobiles to get the information they need, just when they need it. That’s what Google calls a “micro-moment” and it’s increasingly important in consumer decision making.

So expect even more visits from mobile devices — as other important stakeholders like alumni, donors, current students, parents, members of the local community, and the media — use their phones in those micro-moments when they need to learn something about your institution.

Is your website optimized to delight and inform these visitors? Can they find out what’s happening and get around your site (and your campus) using their phones? Can they sign up to do things? Can they search for offices and staff members and contact them quickly? Can they make a gift?

2. Identifying and mobilizing ambassadors

In the last few years, fundraisers have learned that a campus Giving Day can be extremely powerful for fundraising and increasing spirit and awareness among constituents. They’ve also learned these initiatives won’t succeed without mobilizing an institution’s ambassadors.

And who are they? Your ambassadors are the people who feel connected to the institution, want to help, and have a legion of friends, fans and followers who trust their recommendations and will help them when asked. (Remember — in general, people trust peers more than institutions or brands.)

So there’s a lot of opportunity for institutions that can mobilize ambassadors. One example was the successful campaign that rallied voters in Madison, WI, to pass a referendum funding construction at Madison College (a profile of this campaign appears in Social Works. The Association of Yale Alumni has successfully successfully mobilized its digital ambassadors. Some institutions turn over their Instagram channels to students (ambassadors!) — because prospective students visit social channels to learn about the college from the perspectives of their peers.

3. Focusing on content marketing

According to Wikipedia, content marketing “… involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.” Many campus marketers are doing their best to create and share high-quality text, images, and video to tell a more authentic story about their institutions and to deepen connections with stakeholders.

In 2016, it’s time to up your game. If you're not doing systematic content marketing, get started. 

  • Begin with your academic programs: how can you create powerful content underscoring their value to students and parents? 
  • Connect the content you develop to your content strategy. Know how it reinforces or reveals your institution’s messages.
  • Plan how you’re going to share each piece of content: where, with whom, who’s going to be responsible for sharing it. 
  • Create fewer, but more awesome, pieces of content — especially videos.


These to-dos don’t seem trendy or cutting-edge because many college marketers I know are already doing some of them — even all of them. But the challenge in 2016, as in the years to come, is to ensure your marketing strategies and tactics are making a difference for your campus. That is, getting results.

So what will you be doing to invigorate the marketing on your campus in 2016?