Marketing Mistake #10: Student recruitment isn’t marketing

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Fact: an effective and integrated student recruitment program is based on the foundational principles of good marketing … understanding your audiences; communicating benefits and distinguishing features; integrating all communications for a consistent look and feel; and creating a clear and compelling reason that will generate response by the right individuals. Basically, good branding.

In the world of college and university recruitment, there is a great deal of effort and money expended in searching for potential students, communicating with them through online media and printed materials, personal communication at college fairs and through high school counselors, and through events and open houses. Over the course of time a high school student (sometimes as early as 8th grade) will be bombarded with information from many different institutions of higher learning, all trying to say “look at me! pick me! we’re the one you want!”

In some ways this is marketing at its most intense. After all,  it’s a huge investment of time and dollars for a student to attend college. It’s a major life decision. As such, colleges invest heavily in pushing those decisions towards their institution. Marketing. It’s really marketing. And the most successful programs incorporate the tenets of branding.

We’re amazed when we see “cookie cutter” solutions (think three in a tree) for colleges and universities that are trying to distinguish themselves from the crowd. When the strategy is to do what the other guys do and to look like a college, it’s tough to persuade potential students to dig further to find out if that specific institution is a good fit. Unless, of course, you’re Harvard or Yale and you already have thousands of students clamoring for just a few hundred seats.

But that’s not the case with smaller, interesting, innovative and distinctive institutions. They MUST brand in order to stand out. They MUST have a compelling story,  supported by factoids, proof points, quotes or more to bring their story to life. The photos chosen MUST support that concept and story and reflect the character and persona of the campus.

So it’s time to get off the “we don’t use the term branding” or “it’s not marketing, it’s recruitment.” It is marketing. And to be successful, the principles of marketing and branding must be part of the ongoing conversation, the development of recruitment materials, design and content and management of the Website … and every other contact with potential students or their referral sources.  Integration. Clear communication. Consistent look and feel. Let’s do it!

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