Telling the Outcomes Story

Information about career outcomes has quickly become one of the most important factors for prospective students and their families in the college search and decision process. These audiences are actively seeking content that demonstrates the value of your institution in the form of quantifiable data on job outcomes, graduate school placement, and salary information, but also student testimonials and alumni success stories.

Given just how critical this type of information has become for traditional prospects, adult prospects, and parents, you need to reach beyond the viewbook and website homepage and integrate this type of content across key channels as a regular part of your content strategy. Here’s how a handful of colleges have approached it.

  • American University’s interactive microsite offers an in-depth look at where AU students land after graduation. Users can filter by various majors and schools to track placement rates, salary information, employers and other information. It is a nice feature that adds value for both adult and undergrad prospects who are eager to understand more about potential career paths.
  • Northeastern University also developed a microsite dedicated to preparedness. The thoughtful user experience design does a nice job of taking the user through Northeastern’s approach to experiential learning and co-ops. And the use of interactive features and graphics helps showcase the key data points and results of a recent survey of employers.
  • Colgate University used social media to congratulate students on their job and summer internship accomplishments. The social shout-outs, photos, and short testimonials from students added a personal touch and showed successful collaboration between the main Colgate social accounts and the Career Services office. This is a relatively easy way to integrate information on students’ careers and academic success that doesn’t require a ton of research and can be quickly worked into your editorial calendar.
  • Butler University clearly articulates its strong 95% placement rate on their website homepage, but couples the hard data with a selection of prominently displayed student and alumni success stories. This combined approach meets a parent’s need for data, but also offers prospects an inside look at the Butler experience from the student and alumni perspective.
  • Bentley University does a fantastic job of articulating their “Prepared” brand consistently through their integrated marketing efforts. PreparedU View serves as the hub of their marketing ecosystem and a powerful storytelling platform that features a continual rotation of fresh content such as news articles, white papers, infographics, and video.

Net Promoter Score and How to Truly Measure Brand Health

I’ve heard both sides—”I hate the NPS” and “I love the NPS.” I understand the perspective of the naysayers. In 2003, when Fred Reicheld introduced the NPS in Harvard Business Review, he called it the “one number you need to grow.” Great title, but obviously there is no one single number that can tell the whole story about your brand. That’s like suggesting there is one number that can tell you all you need to know about the strength of the economy. Which number is it? GDP? That may be the most frequently used metric, but what about job growth, the deficit, housing starts, industrial production, and jobless claims? All of these together help paint a picture of what’s really going on. Your brand is the same. NPS is one measure—a good and useful one. But it’s not the only one you need to track to understand the health of your brand.

As I wrote in a blog post last July, NPS is a metric calculated based on the answer to the question, “How likely are you to recommend [college/university]? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1=not at all likely, and 10=very likely, respondents who answer 1-6 are considered “detractors” while those who answer 9 or 10 are considered “promoters.” The NPS is the % of promoters minus the % of detractors. You can ask this question of your current students, your faculty and staff, parents of current students, or alumni. In fact, comparing the responses of different audiences can be quite revealing.

We’ve calculated NPS scores for all these audiences for a wide variety of institutions. It stimulates a lot of discussion among the administration when the NPS score varies widely among audiences or segments within the institution. In one case, a university had an NPS of 36 among alumni overall, which is quite strong. But, when we isolated the alumni who attended one of the institution’s satellite campuses, the NPS rose to 51. For that institution, the NPS also differed by up to 20 points depending on the decade the student attended the university. In another case, current students who attended one college within a university had an NPS of 63 while the current students in another college had an NPS of 8. It’s even possible to have a negative NPS. That means there are more detractors than promoters and it’s a serious indication of critical issues for an institution.

NPS is a strong and useful indicator, but it really should be combined with other measures to truly capture the full picture of your institution’s brand strength. What is aided and unaided awareness of your brand? How familiar are your target audiences with your brand? What level of quality is associated with your brand? To what extent is your brand preferred compared to alternatives? To what extent is your brand perceived favorably? And, are those perceptions better or worse than they were in the past? All of these questions, if asked of your target audiences, will generate metrics that can be combined with NPS to provide a complete report of your brand health. Regular measurement (every three years or so) will help you and your leadership develop a familiarity with these important measurements of one of your institution’s most important assets – your brand.

Not Just the Same-Old, Same-Old: Articulating a Distinctive Brand

One of my favorite episodes of the short-lived, late-‘90s sitcom Veronica’s Closet features Kirstie Alley’s lead character, Ronnie—the flashy, brassy CEO of a large lingerie company—blithely approving a press release in which her employee has used the made-up word “accribitz” because he’s tired of using the word “increasing” over and over to report on the company’s financial successes.

I think the reason I love that episode so much—and still remember it 20 years later—is because I’ve been there so many times. I’ve struggled along with countless college and university clients trying mightily to differentiate themselves when many of their offerings are so similar to their competitors’. Perhaps that’s why a recent Inside Higher Ed article on the topic really struck a chord when it stated, “To sell themselves, colleges try to stand out. But often, their marketing efforts look practically identical.” That line really hit home, particularly among the legions of college marketers who try—really try—to find new ways to say “nurturing critical thinkers,” “inspiring global minds,” and “preparing the leaders of tomorrow.”

Short of making up new words—tempting though it may be!—there are a few steps marketers can take to encourage and lead their institutions in developing language and taglines that describe their attributes and offerings in more compelling, authentic ways.

Keep an eye on the competition. This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many institutions couldn’t tell you the taglines of their closest competitors. Several years ago, I did a quick scan for one of my clients in the U.S. West and found that three of its 14 closest competitors used the word “mountains” in their taglines, SIX used “minds,” and some even had both! Needless to say, both words were quickly eliminated from the list of tagline contenders. In addition to reviewing competitors’ websites regularly, check the Stamats tagline repository as well as just spend some time doing general searches on words and phrases you’re considering. Keep an eye out for any other wide-scale uses that could be potentially problematic, see how other organizations are using similar terminology, and gather ideas for how you might vary the structure of your tagline or messaging in order to stand out from the crowd. And, last but not least, always do a trademark search for any tagline that makes it past file 13. The last thing you want is to develop a full brand strategy using a tagline that’s already registered under a competing category.

Get specific. The foundational purpose of most colleges and universities is to educate citizens to be productive members of society who contribute to the economy and greater good of our states, country, and world. It’s how your institution does it that sets you apart and provides students a choice. Don’t rely on generalities and clichéd platitudes to convey the spirit and personality of your campus and its people. Through research, both qualitative and quantitative, look for attributes that add a unique dimension to the overall educational experience. They might be found in your location, in a particular academic approach or perspective, or in a discipline for which your institution has achieved distinction. They key is to show how this attribute or idea is integrated across disciplines and throughout the different layers of campus, positively and distinctively influencing the experience of every individual who engages with the institution. For example, SimpsonScarborough’s research for Bentley University pointed to the institution’s uncommonly good track record for career preparation. Instead of just leading with the dry facts, we worked with Bentley’s creative partner to develop the brand concept Prepared, which portrayed the emotional and literal benefit to the student.

Let a wordsmith do the wordsmithing. We always counsel our clients to assign a proven professional writer as the lead for developing institutional brand and messaging platforms. Don’t leave it up to a committee of administrators and academics to come up with the language that you will put forth to the world. Their input and ultimate approval is critical, of course, but so is capturing the authentic language of your campus and presenting it with compelling prose that motivates and inspires. In our recent partnership with Stony Brook University, for example, the brand mantra “Far Beyond” was developed. The words aren’t new, but listen to the way the idea is described to university audiences: “Stony Brook University unites an imaginative community in the relentless pursuit of tomorrow’s big ideas.” No institution-speak here. The bottom line: You wouldn’t ask the president to draw the architectural plans for the new science building or have a geography professor run the endowment, right? In the same way, you should hire a skilled reporter and writer to craft your institution’s unique and important story.

How to Reach On-the-Go Student Audiences with Geotargeting

For higher education marketers, continually reaching and engaging on-the-go student audiences is a must. Luckily, with the majority of your students and potential students accessing multiple devices several times per day, there are plenty of opportunities to reach them. In 2015, Time reported that 18-24 year olds were checking their phone roughly 74 times a day. These moments when potential students are accessing digital media are all opportunities for you to increase applications, information requests, and RSVPs. One highly targeted and measurable way to accomplish this is with geographically-targeted campaigns, commonly referred to as “geotargeting.”

What is Geotargeting?

Geotargeting is the process by which your online audience is targeted to be served specific ads depending on their geographic location. This can be determined by IP address, country, city, state, region, or even exact location using GPS.

When Would I Use Geotargeting?

The goal of geotargeting is to ensure that specific ad messages can be delivered to very specific audience members at a particular location, at a certain point in time. The applications for digital marketers and advertisers are immense – consider the many different geographic areas, regions, businesses, and other places your prospective students like to visit or where they might be with their families or friends on the weekends.

Geotargeting and Geofencing: What’s the Difference?

One very specific type of geotargeting is called geofencing. Geofencing is a little different than just general geotargeting, because it relies on a location-aware device (normally a smartphone) that uses a GPS. With mobile use climbing steadily, there are an increasing number of applications for the use of location-based targeting.

Geofencing allows you to target an audience within a very specific radius of other physical locations. Depending on audience size and budget, higher education marketers can use geofencing to target areas where students and potential students congregate. For example, to advertise for a campus info night, you might try geofencing campaigns in places where potential students spend their free time, like shopping malls, sporting events, or other relevant areas near campus. If you are trying to increase visibility and get student conversions from a specific city or region, you can use broader geotargeting to target a larger geographic area. In short, geofencing is normally used for a very specifically-targeted geographic area, radius, or “pinpoint,” while geotargeting can cover a much larger area.

As with any digital marketing initiative, however, it’s very important to consider whether your target audience is large enough within your given geographic radius, as well as whether you have the proper budget to support it.

Rachel Sadacca is a Marketing Specialist at Mogo Interactive. Mogo is a leader in digital advertising, programmatic media buying, and real-time-bidding (RTB). As a partner to higher education institutions nationwide, Mogo combines advanced technology and customized campaign tactics to drive the success of higher education marketing programs. 

Reminder: CMO Study Underway

SimpsonScarborough has partnered with The Chronicle of Higher Education and CASE for a comprehensive study of higher ed marketing that will build on the inaugural 2014 study. Results of the 2016 study will be released at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in December.

If you have not had the opportunity to complete the survey, it’s not too late! If you are a CMO or the highest ranking marketing and communications professional on your campus, please email Chelsea Woodard at for a customized link to complete the survey. Thank you to those of you who have already completed the survey in the past few weeks – your participation is key to tracking our industry’s progress.