Why Yield Season Might Be Too Late

Tim Jones advocates for an institution-wide, perpetual push

April 26, 2017

Yield season. It’s one of a few times during the year that higher education feels unlike any other industry. Very few others — if any — hinge a significant portion of their economic viability to the decisions a large number of 17 and 18-year-olds announce just before May 1.

This time of year can be terrifying, pouring over current deposit numbers, comparing historic data, and pacing endlessly trying to find the thing that will nudge a few more admitted students over the decision hump. Clever emails, smart social content, exciting open house events and personalized outreach escalate each day as the deposit deadline draws steadily closer.

But there’s good news within the final count uncertainty and late season efforts to fill an incoming class. College decisions are rarely as impulsive as they may seem, despite the tendency for many prospective students to make them known dangerously close to the deadline. That’s not to say those intense outreach plans from January to May are in vain — only that they must be an extension of a much broader strategy that extends well beyond the admissions office. Enrollment management requires integrated marketing. Otherwise, it might be too little, too late.

Everything Speaks – Make Sure It All Says The Right Things

Disney gets it. The company has a face-palm simple quote that puts it all into perspective. “The importance of guest experience can be summed up in two words: everything speaks.”

From K-12 programs that introduce colleges to students at younger ages or the public perception of an institution, to the signage that directs visitors to parking on campus or the stream of social content that fills Instagram and Snapchat, everything speaks. Everything. Even the hallway “decorations” hung carefully by faculty that visitors see on tours, the decision to send a digital viewbook instead of a glossy publication, the smiling (or scowling) face of every staff member on campus, and the usability of the college website. Every single interaction across every touchpoint shapes perception and ultimately influences a prospective student’s decision to search, visit, enroll, stay, and give. Invest early in cultivating consistent experiences that bring the institution’s brand to life. Dig deep, and consider everything — no matter how small — that could positively impact a prospective student’s experience. And don’t forget family and friends. They speak, too.

Experiences are Cumulative

Bad experiences spread quickly, and tend to take a long time to heal. Frustrate a mildly interested prospective student with a clunky, dated website, expect to work (at least) triply hard to recapture any interest whatsoever. Some research points to one negative experience requiring 12 positive experiences just to break even. Trying to squeeze all 12 of those positive experiences into March and April to influence yield probably won’t work. Start early. Make sure prospective students have far more than 12 positive experiences before deposit deadline. And remember just how disastrous a single negative experience can be before deciding it’s not worth attention — bad experiences reach twice as many people as praise for a good one.

The Product Must Fit

There’s no greater crime in marketing than selling something that can’t be supported, sustained or fully realized. In the final push to fill a class, it can be tempting to try desperately to convince anyone willing to be persuaded that this college is the right college. Phrases like “You can make it whatever you want” drip from the mouths of desperate administrators hoping (and often believing) that it’s true. And it can be. But it can also be patently untrue. There are thousands of college choices for prospective students to consider. Helping match the right institution to the right students is the goal of higher education. By lining up experiences that support, extend and positively shape brand and continuing to do so through every stage of a relationship, institutions can ensure they attract (and yield) the right students who thrive and go on to become loyal alums. Be true to the brand, and seek those to whom it’s most valuable.

College choice is complicated. It’s a major, life-changing decision with decades of impact for the individuals and institutions searching for that perfect fit. Treat the decision with the right amount of gravity, and don’t wait until it’s too late to make the case.

For some inspiration on cultivating exceptional experiences, check out the Disney Institute’s blog.

Tim Jones is the Chief Communications & Integrated Marketing Officer at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

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