SS Snippets

New study shows it would take significant resources for a university to move up in the US News & World Report rankings, and that for most institutions, a move up or down of up to four spots is “just noise.”

Be Bold, Don’t Be Digital Road Kill—great tips for higher ed marketers: authenticity, engagement, boldness, digital literacy.

Need a laugh? Watch University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s Perls of Knowledge videos. Also entertaining? His Twitter feed, a great mix of serious messaging and irreverence.

Measure What Matters

Often times one of the biggest struggles higher ed marketers face is in bringing attention, consensus and decision-making around the goals and objectives their marketing efforts should support. What’s the challenge we are truly trying to solve? But as higher ed marketing continues to mature, talented marketing leaders are forcing discussion of what successful marketing outcomes look like.

SimpsonScarborough CEO, Elizabeth Scarborough, and I recently led a webinar on the topic with Academic Impressions. And the topic was heavily discussed at CASE’s annual conference on marketing and branding.

Higher ed marketers have become more successful in recent years delivering “top of funnel” marketing measurement. Many marketers deliver regular reports or dashboards on things like levels of awareness, reach, impressions, PR/media coverage, direct response and email, web and social analytics to their leadership.And “down the funnel” measurement has gotten easier (if you can get your hands on the data). Those are things like inquiries, apps, campus visits (in recruitment); membership and event attendance (in alumni relations); and direct response and giving (in development).

So what does a new model of mROI in higher ed look like?

Well, first of all, it involves bridging some challenging gaps in heavily decentralized environments. You can’t truly get at mROI without solid partnerships with colleagues in your CFO and Institutional Research offices that can help you in gathering the data you need to do your measurement.

If you can make that happen you might consider things like:

  • Marketing Cost Per Student (Total Marketing Spend/Total Students Enrolled)
  • Revenue Contribution by Academic Area/Segment (Revenue Generated/Total Institutional Revenue)
  • Market Growth (Student Increase This Year/Student Increase Last Year)

And if you saw University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono’s Twitter post earlier this week, you may have noticed the idea of measuring an institution’s market share. How would you do that? Consider using federally-reported IPEDS data that reports the graduates in various academic disciplines by market over time. Using IPEDS effectively can show where market growth opportunities lie and give your institution a sense of how you are performing.

Consider this example illustrating the growth in graduate students in the greater Philadelphia market from 2000-2008.


What’s it show? Well, if you’re a marketer, it shows tremendous growth of market share by Drexel University, which saw its share of graduate enrollment move from 7 percent to 16 percent in just eight years.

If you’re making a case for marketing, make sure you’re using all available data to illustrate the true mROI of your efforts.

Embracing the “B” Word

Despite strides made in higher education marketing, “branding” is still often considered a dirty word on many campuses. As this article on museums and branding shows, it’s a perception problem not unique to higher education. Nevertheless, writer Robert Jones makes a strong case for branding as a tool that helps organizations solidify what they stand for and how they can communicate that more clearly. “The fundamental role of brand in museums is not to dumb down,” Jones writes, “but to help scholarship reach more people.”

David Perlmutter’s article Your College Needs a Brand. Help Create It. in the Chronicle of Higher Education echoes many of the same sentiments. He acknowledges some of the valid criticisms often lobbed at branding—selling a dignified educational experience like a product, reducing something complex into simplistic slogans or images, making unrealistic claims, taking money away from other areas that might be seen as more important—but argues for branding as a something “not only useful but necessary for our survival” when families are asking tough questions about cost and value. Smart branding—good branding—he says, is not about inflated, false or overly simplistic claims, but rather about discovering and communicating your brand truth.

CASE Takes a Look at Big Marketers on Campus

Grab your current issue of CASE CURRENTS and read “Big Marketers on Campus,” which explores the rise of higher education marketing, including the increase in cabinet-level positions and influx of high-profile marketing professionals from the private sector.

Through interviews with high-level marketing officers and industry professionals (including Lipman Hearne CEO Rob Moore and our own Elizabeth Scarborough), writer Caroline Mayer delves into some of the reasons for this shift, why institutions are turning to outsiders and why corporate marketers have been drawn to higher education (Bentley CMO David Perry describes it as “much more rewarding than marketing cereal”). In addition to Perry, the article highlights SimpsonScarborough clients Mary Baglivo (Northwestern University), Ria Carlson (UC Irvine), Terry Flannery (American University), Matt Mindrum (Butler University), and Teri Lucie Thompson (University of Arizona).

Higher Ed Data Goes Mainstream

At SimpsonScarborough we’ve professed—and proudly too—that we’re big `ol data geeks. Data drives our insights around marketing and branding in higher education. That’s why we were really excited about the explosion of infographics. And now comes data-driven reporting in mainstream media.

Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times and a graduate of the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, recently launched FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregation website that publishes articles on a wide variety of topics, typically creating or analyzing statistical information. Several recent stories have focused on topics like high school graduates skipping college, colleges with the best ROI, and interestingly, the inequality that exists in college towns.

Vox, started by Ezra Klein, formerly of the Washington Post and MSNBC and a graduate of UCLA, is also doing deep-dive stories with analytical and data-driven frameworks like these on the what truly constitutes the typical college student and state cut-backs in higher education funding.

It will be fascinating to watch these and other higher ed topics play out in the mainstream press in the coming months—and it just goes to show that data drives everything.