As we all know, many of today’s “hot topics” in higher ed focus around important, yet negative, issues such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, hate crimes, active shooters, rising tuition costs, budget cuts, inadequate aid packages, and substance abuse, to name a few. Data from many of our recent institutional research studies reflect this. Within the past year, “a safe campus environment” has increasingly become one of the most important attributes in the college decision-making process for prospective students and their parents, whereas in past years, it lagged well behind other attributes. In fact, in one recent study, “a safe campus environment” was selected by two-thirds of the College’s prospective students, more than any other attribute tested.
Because of the increased attention on campus safety, we decided to look at what some colleges and universities around the country are doing to demonstrate safety on their campus.
Campus safety information pages
Schools have websites in place to address information about animal complaints, crime logs, safety escorts, scams, and more. They are even including contact information for police departments and/or campus safety coordinators who students can contact if they need help such as an escort at night or to report an incident. The University of Virginia even includes specific tabs for different audiences like parents, faculty/staff, or students to help everyone more easily access the appropriate resources should an incident occur.
Some schools have implemented mobile safety apps for anyone on campus with a school email address. These apps have contact information for guardians, emergency call buttons, alcohol poisoning information, links to transportation options, and the option for users to send texts or photos to the department of public safety for any suspicious campus activities. A couple of years ago, The University of Florida developed a safety app that was designed to automatically send an alert when an earphone plug is yanked from the socket of a smartphone — potentially by an assailant (the user has 10 seconds to rescind the alert if it’s not an emergency).
Just recently, we were on a college campus where all faculty were attending a training course on what to do in the event of a campus shooter. This course was then going to be rolled out to all students during in-class training events. In addition to active-shooter trainings, various institutions have provided other safety programs related to alcohol awareness and self-defense.
It is becoming recognized as a best practice to issue emergency alerts without delay to ensure the campus community is notified as soon as possible of an emergency event. These alerts are via text, email, website, social media, and sirens.
In addition to developing tools designed to provide safety information and resources to the campus community, colleges and universities must also ensure that their front-line communicators have the necessary information to convey accurate and positive messages about campus safety. The impressions that prospective students and their parents take away from a campus visit will be significantly informed by the interactions they have with current students, faculty, and staff. These brand ambassadors must have the necessary information to confidently speak to safety issues for your campus.
What are you doing that demonstrates your campus is safe? Beyond talking about various aspects of campus safety, how are you showing it when students and parents are visiting campus? What information, tools, and actions will help alleviate their safety concerns?
Here at SimpsonScarborough, we have been contemplating how campus safety fits into a school’s proactive marketing efforts. Gone are the days that we can simply say that we are “safe” without having any questions asked. Now, more than ever, we need to clearly communicate, and truly demonstrate, what safety really means on our campuses.
Since becoming an intern at SimpsonScarborough, I have grown accustomed to searching for various articles about marketing and higher education. One particular topic that has caught my attention is this widely-cited 2018 Pew study, as well as similar articles, reporting that teens and college-age students are ditching Facebook in favor of other social platforms. Specifically, the studies report that younger generations prefer YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat to Facebook. And some have been as dramatic as to say, “Facebook is dead.” In my experience as a college student, I disagree. In fact, I see Facebook as the one platform that connects all age groups.
When I was in high school, Facebook was THE social media platform to use. Students could update their status, post photo albums, and keep tabs on all their friends via “the wall.” However, this platform that was once mainly a social media tool has now transformed into an application used primarily for communication. In the past several years, Facebook introduced Messenger, a free messaging platform that offers multiple services: video calls, face filters, stickers, voice recording, and more. And in the latest news, Facebook is now piloting subscriptions for groups. With these recent product features, here’s a look at how Facebook can be used as a valuable higher education communications tool across various key audiences.
- Current Students. Every college student I have come into contact with always mentions Facebook as a key platform in their college experience. Though it no longer represents our number-one form of social media, it is our platform of choice for communicating. Student-run clubs typically create a group page meant specifically for posting meeting locations, providing constant updates, or communicating directly to the entire group. For example, I am a member of 15 Facebook groups ranging from Sociology Society to Running Club. Facebook Messenger also allows students to communicate via the application, thus making it easier for Android and iPhone users to text and video call — some group texts become disorganized with all the various models of phones, but Facebook Messenger streamlines the communication flow.
- Parents. Facebook pages allow parents to come together and offer each other advice. For example, Cal Poly created one page for university parents, students, and volunteers that facilitates discussion among the entire group. This page is essential for parents of prospective students and provides important information that cannot be found elsewhere, such as giving insider tips for parents of incoming students, sharing personal experiences with businesses or products, or generating excitement about upcoming events.
- Prospective Students. When I was looking at colleges, the first thing I did was check out how often the university’s Facebook page was updated. After making sure the posts were recent, I proceeded to join every group created in order to be kept up to date. The admitted student page was particularly good, as it allowed me to directly connect with current students as well as future classmates. Prospective students can also join groups for activities or clubs that may be of interest to them, such as the UCLA Women’s Ultimate Frisbee. These groups allow students to see what the institution has to offer prior to settling in on campus.
- Alumni. Although I am not yet an alum of LMU, I am already a member of the LMU alumni group on Facebook. Many college students are beginning to join their university’s alumni page simply as a way to gain a more established network. I joined the page in hopes of securing an internship through the alumni of both my majors. The page has motivated me to interact more with alumni of all fields as I begin to learn more about what my future may hold. The alumni page allows me to stay connected with recent graduates and see what older alumni are currently doing in their field. Engaging current students with the alumni page is a phenomenal way of cultivating a strong foundation of alums. By starting early, future alums will already be more involved within the broader university community. The LMU Alumni Page not only keeps graduates up to date on what current students are doing and new things being introduced on campus but also provides students like me the opportunity to message fellow group members — students and alums — within Facebook Messenger.
Across all audiences, Facebook groups and pages still reign — though maybe not in the same way they did five or 10 years ago. They allow easy, personalized communication channels and encourage safe and supportive communities for people of all ages. Facebook may have lost some of its popularity, but it still offers benefits that are incredibly valuable for colleges and universities.
Kira Jatoft is an intern at SimpsonScarborough. She is a fourth-year Sociology and Spanish double major at Loyola Marymount University and loves to nerd out over data analysis, binge-eat muddy buddies, and travel (mainly to Disneyland).
There’s no question that a big part of your marketing strategy is (and should be) digital. But a big question that arises across institutions is, “How effective is our digital marketing strategy?” And even though many digital marketing activities have the potential to impact marketing goals and objectives, optimized, targeted strategies have a considerable impact on your ability to increase effectiveness. From where to place digital ads for increased exposure to aligning digital strategy with the needs, desires, and nuances of target markets, market research is the best way to uncover the truly meaningful information that should be driving your digital decisions.
Here are three major benefits you can expect to gain in your digital marketing strategy from market research:
- Meet audience needs. Sometimes the best marketing strategy is simply knowing your market. When you understand your target audiences, you can position your digital ad campaign to address their vital desires and concerns. Market research gives you the tools to do that.
- Improve efficiency. Without market research to back your strategy, you could be throwing good money at a bad idea. Market research allows you to maximize the benefit of each dollar you invest.
- Identify problems. With the strenuous routine of building, growing, and maintaining your brand, things like misperceptions, inconsistent voice, or poor targeting are not always top-of-mind. Market research provides an objective, outside-in assessment that can identify issues before they become critical.
Still hesitant about how market research can impact your digital marketing? We conducted market research for the institutions below; take a look at their quantifiable results — the kind of results that you can easily communicate to your president, board, VPs, deans, and more.
- Stevens Institute of Technology, Office of Pre-College Programs
Based on a strategic decision to grow program awareness and participation, the Pre-College Program at Stevens Institute of Technology came to us to gather market intelligence on financially able parents of highly motivated, academically talented high school-age students. The insights and perceptions of these parents — the decision makers in enrolling students in summer enrichment programs — were crucial to informing programming, format, delivery, and strategic marketing decisions.
Based on the research findings, the marketers of the Pre-College Program made changes to messaging and imagery in their digital ads and have realized quantifiable results — ad click-through rates have jumped from 0.45% to 1.58% and applications are up 15% compared to the previous year.
- Miami University (OH)
In 2014, we partnered with Miami University on a comprehensive research study that would form the foundation of a new long-term brand and a robust integrated marketing campaign. Long recognized as a Public Ivy, one of Miami’s key objectives was to quantify associations with the term. The results were clear: To key internal and external stakeholders, “Public Ivy” means prestigious reputation, academically rigorous, and high-caliber education at a public school price. Two years later, Miami’s Public Ivy campaign delivered: ~42M impressions and 120K clicks, culminating in a reported 26% brand lift during the six-week digital ad campaign. Miami also benefited from more than 16M impressions and 70K clicks during their six-week, paid social campaign, and more than 1M impressions and 263K total views of their brand video on YouTube.
What did all of these impressive statistics lead to? The 2020 class was selected from the largest applicant pool in Miami’s history, average test scores of incoming students are the highest in the university’s history, and the 2020 class is the most diverse yet at 15.5%, up from 13.7% last year.
- Buena Vista University
In Storm Lake, Iowa, Buena Vista University was experiencing the perfect storm of enrollment challenges: a seriously declining population of high school students; a state competitor set featuring two massive, well-known public institutions and more than 30 other small private colleges and universities; and strong public perception that “private” equals “expensive.” We were brought in to conduct extensive market research to discover what perceptions (or misperceptions) were preventing prospective students from considering BVU and identify the critical “must haves” in their school consideration set. Armed with that data, we partnered with OHO Interactive to develop and launch a bold advertising and digital campaign to help BVU increase awareness and drive enrollment.
The campaign had tremendous success. Within four weeks of its launch, more than 100 applications were submitted and over 40 campus visits conducted. Over the campaign’s five-month run, there were more than 1K applications submitted for Fall 2018, 272 campus visits, and over 170 graduate program applications received — more than three times the University’s overall goal.
The insights gained through market research extend far beyond your digital marketing strategy. When applied broadly, they reach every corner of your brand. And if you are consistently exploring your perceptions and practices, you are always primed for action and growth.
Some say the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is not appropriate for higher education. I respectfully disagree. And I’m befuddled as to why the NPS is so polarizing. As I wrote previously, the NPS is not the only metric you should use to monitor brand health, but it is very useful as one component of an overall brand tracking strategy.
Just last week I was reading an anti-NPS article in which the dissenter called out three reasons he felt the NPS wasn’t right for higher ed. The first: We do not recommend colleges the same way we recommend other products or services. While this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t negate the value of the NPS in any way. It’s still one (of many) valuable measures of brand strength. It’s true that if I am in a position to recommend my alma mater, I will consider the characteristics and needs of the person to whom I am making the recommendation. Do they want to go to school in that area? Can they get in? Can they afford it? Does the school offer their major? But this is the case with any recommendation. For example, If I’m in a position to recommend a movie, then I would consider similar factors. What types of movies does this person usually like? Can they relate to the subject matter? Will they like the actors? Recommendations are rarely indiscriminate, and they almost always depend on the person you are making the recommendation to.
The second point of dissent: We personalize college choices more than we personalize other goods or services. Rubbish. Lots of brands of goods and services are highly personal. Consider Apple or Wegmans or Lululemon, which all have fanatical brand followers. Harley Davidson lovers often tattoo the brand on their bodies. How many times have you seen someone with a tattoo of their undergraduate institution? To say they are less passionate about Harley than most are about their alma mater just isn’t true. To be honest, I am fanatical about my hair salon. I’m intensely loyal to the business and literally seek out opportunities to recommend it to my friends. Recommendations are always personal; that’s what makes the NPS a powerful metric in every industry, higher ed included.
And finally, there was this: NPS responses are rarely segmented, even though college experiences vary. This is also not true. We segment NPS all the time. And it reveals incredibly useful insights. We often find, for example, that NPS varies dramatically among current students and alumni depending on their major. We recently calculated the NPS for one large public institution’s alumni and found the NPS was twice as high for Milennial-age alums than it was for those in their 40s and 50s. For an elite private college, we recently found the NPS among faculty was much higher than we normally see for similar schools, and it was highest among faculty teaching in certain disciplines and faculty of a particular political persuasion. All super-useful insights that reveal opportunities upon which the institution can develop plans to capitalize. Segmentation of the NPS is often where the most valuable insights lie.
Here I stand, defender of the NPS. It has great value in the higher education context. And it becomes especially useful when you’ve calculated it for over 200 colleges and universities, as we have at SimpsonScarborough. When we report NPS among current students, for example, we are also able to report a high, low, mean, and median for like institutions, making the metric that much more revealing.
So, please, don’t throw out your NPS! It’s a valuable metric to have in your brand-health toolbox.
Over the past decade, marketing has undergone an incredible amount of change. The marketing and advertising industries continue to evolve to meet the needs of the digital age and have begun to shift dramatically as three macro trends emerge:
- The demand for good visual content is on the rise. A recent report from Libris and Contently found that the need for photography and video is increasing — an overwhelming 70% of respondents found a marketer’s message to be more effective when it included visual content. And visual content is now much more than a simple photo or ad; today, companies are producing content for mobile, social, web, print, television, physical spaces, and a host of other channels.
- Creative is increasingly going in-house. In the past five years, Apple’s in-house design team doubled, Chobani’s creative was brought in-house and subsequently introduced a widely popular new identity, and Capital One acquired a design and user experience firm. Many feel as though in-house departments are better equipped to collaborate with internal stakeholders and are able to develop a deeper understanding of customers’ needs.
- The traditional agency model is being disrupted. Historically designed for long-term client partnerships and marketing plans, agencies are rethinking their business and staffing in an attempt to remain at the forefront of creativity and technology. Real-time marketing and the increasing focus on customer experience requires that teams be agile and nimble and willing to adapt to frequent change.
Amongst all this change, the good news for marketing professionals is that businesses and brands are starting to understand the real value of design and visual expression. More than ever before, creativity and business are closely aligned, and for some, good design has become core to good business. The bad news? Creative professionals are overwhelmed. A recent survey by InSource and inMotionNow found that creative teams are producing 10 times the volume of work than in previous years, and it’s not uncommon for a team of fewer than 10 creatives to support the demands of 50+ stakeholders. I suspect that many higher ed marketing teams are grappling with the same challenges.
As the role of your in-house design team becomes even more important, here are a few recommendations that can help set up your marketing communications organization and creative team for success:
- Provide adequate resources. The Libris/Contently report found 51% of companies have 2-5 full-time employees tasked with creating visual content. This is similar to the SimpsonScarborough and The Chronicle 2014 CMO study that found that Doctoral-granting universities have an average of 2.4 full-time employees dedicated to graphic design and .8 to creative direction. As noted, however, the demand placed on creatives has grown exponentially. Successful organizations staff to manage workload, whether that means increasing full-time employees or creating a more flexible operation that utilizes freelancers, part-time staff, and consultants to support design, writing, photography and video needs.
- Treat them as strategic contributors. While some still see designers as the mythical unicorns in the corner coloring, expected to generate an endless stream of original ideas, your creative team should have a leadership voice and strategic role in your marketing communications organization. Expect—and trust—your in-house creative team to be accountable for managing the brand as well as managing their workload.
- Create a sound asset management system. Not only does your team need to have systematic means to account for, complete, and work on deadlines, but more than ever before, in-house creatives must be efficient at managing assets to quickly locate and share visual content. Close to 40% of Libris/Contently respondents report that they do not have a clear method for tagging and organizing all their visual assets, and 1 in 3 report locating the right asset as the biggest obstacle in quickly sharing content. Ouch.
These considerations will empower your team to work smarter as the speed of delivery continues to accelerate and help define the business advantage of not only your creative team but the entire marketing communications department.