Few endeavors in higher education embody the Anna Karenina principle as clearly as launching an integrated marketing campaign.
There are seemingly limitless ways for marketing to go wrong: Poor data collection and goal tracking. Leads falling into a black hole. Messaging that doesn’t match the student experience. Bad ROI. (And these are just some things you might have limited control over—don’t get us started on competitor taglines or sudden changes in the political climate).
For a campaign to work, there needs to be some amount of agreement and buy-in from all stakeholders affected. But how do you get there?
The following questions for internal assessment are from the idfive book, “Nobody Cares About Your University… Yet: The Marketer’s Winning Playbook.” You need to ask them to make sure your team is on board, or else. Seriously.
1. What Happens if We Do Nothing?
Forging ahead in a new direction—ANY new direction—will bring plenty of naysayers and backseat drivers out into the spotlight. By asking this question before any others, and demanding honest answers to it, you have a chance to galvanize support for new initiatives. This is not a rhetorical question. What, specifically, is the cost of inaction?
2. What Are We Trying To Accomplish?
Every school wants the same things: permanent top rankings, constantly replenishing pools of high-achieving applicants, nonstop enrollment increases, infinite endowments. You know, pie in the sky. But before ending a meeting with “we’re going to be the best school in the world,” talk details. Look at goals you can achieve. Don’t just “raise awareness,” or “increase enrollment,” talk about by how much, using what measurement, and over what time frame. Setting goals that nobody can accomplish is just going to ensure failure.
3. What Does Success Look Like?
Once you agree on specific goals, there needs to be some shared awareness of how to measure and actualize progress. Should enrollment figures ramp up gradually, or should you reposition your school for an explosion in enrollments among targeted populations three years from now once a new building is completed? Are you okay with lowering your admissions standards and altering your brand with a demographic shift in your student population, or would that represent more of a failure than a success? The more specific you can get about what it looks like, the more likely you are to realize success.
4. What Resources Do We Have Available?
We’re talking about ALL resources here. Budget, yes, but also staff and technological capacity across all departments affected by the results of the marketing effort. Factor in hardware, software, and physical space limitations. Relying on other departments for support? Make sure you have buy-in and commitment. An “available” resource is not the same thing as a possible resource. Don’t plan to use anything you might not get.
5. Who Are We Trying To Reach?
Every campaign has an audience. It’s likely you already understand the broad demographic categories your targets fit into, but who are these people? What type of person are they? What motivates them, and what makes them a good or bad fit for your institution or institution’s message?
6. Why Them?
If your institution goes after more or less the same applicant pool every year, you will eventually find yourself at the whim of demographic shifts that are beyond your control if you don’t ask why you’re targeting these people. Let’s say you’re going after high-achieving students because they’re good for rankings—what other populations that you haven’t considered could also be good for rankings?
7. If We Do This, What Are We Going To Do Less Of?
You know your resources. And you’ve probably discovered that they aren’t infinite. So allocating resources effectively should be a priority. Take a good hard look at initiatives that are underperforming, or whose performance can’t be measured qualitatively, and ask your stakeholders to do the same.
8. Which internal processes or politics will have an impact on what we’re trying to do?
Uncomfortable yet? Taking a long look in the mirror isn’t usually easy or fun, but neither is undergoing a massive campaign that has zero chance of succeeding because of the way your internal constituencies interact. You don’t have to solve every little internal struggle, you just have to agree on what and where they are so you can build planning that has a chance for success. It’s hard to be candid about this. Stress that you’re looking to understand, not police, and it never hurts to underscore that understanding with a little extra external help from a trusted secret shopper.
9. Who’s Going To Be In Charge?
Knowing in advance how an initiative’s decision-making responsibility (and its evil twin, blame) will be assigned can make the difference between failure and success. Remember, there are consequences for inaction, and even more dire consequences for failed action. This question may not present a clear answer, but it may at least open lanes for the decision-making process and reiterate the marketing effort’s status as an institutional priority.
These might not be the most comfortable things to ask your stakeholders, but moving ahead with a marketing strategy without asking these questions first can lead your organization to some very unfavorable outcomes.
You can learn more about how to ask these questions, what to do with the answers, and how we recommend you proceed with a marketing strategy in the newest idfive book “Nobody Cares About Your University… Yet: The Marketers Winning Playbook.” Available now on Amazon.