Using Micro-Ideas to Win Big in Enrolment Marketing
Higher Education is notoriously ‘safe’ when it comes to marketing; some would even say ‘boring.’ Those that know me - know that I am not the kind of person that settles for boring. So over my time at SAIT, and Queen's University before that, I used some niche marketing strategies to test some (and even win some) big ideas in enrolment marketing: collaboration, cohension, content marketing and cash (we'll leave cash for a future post).
If you, my reader, are a marcomm person in higher ed - what are your biggest pain points in strategic enrolment marketing? By answering that question, you get to the heart of what we are so darn boring. Go ahead, find a piece of paper (analog these days is fun, isn't it?), write down your four biggest pain points. I'll wait............
Did you write down budgets, stakeholder buy-in, fear of being unsuccessful, or lacking the knowledge or skill ability within your team? If you did, keep reading. If you wrote down something else entirely, you'll find this less interesting.
So let's define micro-campaign first before I give you all the answers:
defined started and end
clear, measurable outcomes
You don't need all of these, but the more perimeters you can put around, the easier it will be to measure and communicate success and lessons learned.
So the answers you have all been waiting for:
Cheeky content wins the words challenge. In particular, students' own words win at geting you around using words like 'interdisciplinary' in your email newsletters. We used a student newsletter with a subject line that started with 'Looking for a bird course - we've got 2'. We stole the 'bird course' phrase from a student Facebook group based on its most popular post. The newsletter had a 92% open rate (compared to 80% average before) and was screenshotted and shared on social by many students. The best result, though, was that it promoted two under-enrolled courses in biology (on birds) that achieved their highest enrolment numbers in over a decade. We also won more debates about whether a 'pedagogically-rich course' should be used in subsequent newsletters.
The death of posters - hopefully once and for all. Ok, maybe not all posters, but can we do less, please? We won this one by creating a fully integrated campaign targeting a niche audience that we uncovered in our decline study. Play up an asset you have that no one else has to an audience no one else has thought of: for Queen's, this is sailing. Kingston is the freshwater sailing capital of the world, and sailors all around the world know this. When you study at Queen's, you can sail, in world-class conditions, 1 minute from your residence room. Targeting yacht clubs across the world, the campaign 'come for the sailing, stay for the degree' was launched. The campaign had a 100% conversion rate from lead to a student; some stayed on now for grad school. Think of the lifetime value of those students! Not a single poster was printed in this campaign.
Visual identities don't tie a campus together, but a strategic messaging frameworks can. Brand decks should become your BFF! Most post-secondary institutions have decentralized systems of marketing and communications. Even at SAIT, where most are centralized, there are still many voices publicly sharing and talking about SAIT on various channels. To achieve a level of integration and cohesion for our stakeholders, we create quarterly messaging frameworks and frameworks for every campaign in market. These include a mini-style guide, an image folder, b-roll, and templates for everyone to make use of throughout their channels. They are free to interpret them into their voice and style within the parameters of colour, voice tone, and stylistic concepts. Still waiting to see how this turns out results-wise, but inside, the team is reporting much easier collaboration, more cohesion, and externally, SAIT seems to be getting noticed more (if I look at our vanity metrics so far, at least).
There's more to this story, which is hard to capture in a blog. I initially presented this at the SEMM Forum 2020; you can find my slides and speaking notes here.