From education to employment

Take three principals – and their recruitment and marketing problems

In the last few days I’ve spent time with three college principals. Each thought they had a problem unique to them, and each of these problems was almost exactly the same.

All three agreed that course income cuts had hurt, and would continue to hurt, their college budgets. All three were struggling to hit recruitment targets. Each of them knew that if recruitment failed to hit targets they would not be able to balance their budgets.

All three were desperate to improve marketing but weren’t sure how to do this.

Is good marketing sufficient to solve recruitment and budget problems?

These colleges were geographically widespread and two of them had marketing teams that I’d rate as good. The problem is that good is no longer good enough.

In all three of the above cases the approach to marketing was quite traditional. They each depended on a large printed prospectus, had a website that was designed several years ago and was therefore not mobile friendly, and advertised extensively on the sides of buses and on roadside billboards and in shopping centres.

Seeking the logic in outdoor advertising dependency I asked if they had ever observed anyone in a shopping centre stop, look at their huge billboard, and use their mobile to phone them (or go to their website). None had, and all thought it was unlikely that anyone would ever behave in this way.

So I have to question the use of outdoor media. Yes there is some brand exposure, but at a huge cost in a world were it can be gained on social media, and elsewhere, at nil cost.

Each of the three colleges had ventured into social media but none had a social media strategy or could really explain why they used it except it was the “latest thing” and “young people expect us to use it”.

What does it cost to recruit a student?

In all cases no one seemed to be calculating the “cost of acquisition” of the marketing tactics employed. They understand ROI but didn’t practice it. Likewise none of them had profiled their typical customers, i.e. prospective students, to better understand more about them and what form of marketing they would respond to.

We have to up our game

If we are to improve FE marketing we need to up our game.

Firstly we need to profile our prospective customers, and I include young people, parents, employers and employees here. We need to ascertain what age and gender they are, where they live, what they read, which websites and social media they read, and much more.

Only then can we target our marketing at them.

This is essential because if we base our marketing on marketing myths, such as young people are leaving Facebook in droves, we are likely to miss golden opportunities to obtain huge responses from low cost marketing.

Secondly we need to reduce our dependence on very expensive printed materials and improve our websites. They need to resonate with the prospective student, be easy to navigate, contain the sort of content that gets them high in search engine results, be mobile friendly and contain effective calls to action.

Next we need to reduce our dependence on newspaper and magazine advertising. The main reason I’m told for this, and outdoor marketing, is to be seen by staff and governors who do not believe we are marketing unless they see large expensive adverts. We need to explain to them that precisely targeted ads are far more effective. These ads also provide extensive research data. For example we can see that, say, females aged 16-19 in Anytown are more interested in a given course than those in Everytown.

We also need to integrate our traditional and digital marketing. Each has a place in FE marketing, neither is superior to the other. That said I firmly believe that the key to effective FE marketing is a very good website.

Measuring ROI

There are of course many other areas of marketing that need addressing, but space is limited here. So my last point is the need to measure the ROI of every aspect of your marketing. You need to know if an advert on a newspaper site is working better than an advert on Facebook, or if the Open Evening leaflets distributed by schools work better than, say, direct mail to pupil’s home or Facebook video promotions.

In many cases it will be a combination, but we cannot afford to waste time and money on marketing tactics that don’t deliver.

The reason many marketing teams cite for why they don’t measure ROI more effectively is that the metrics they can use are spread over many websites ands pieces of software. In this case they need to consider how they can get them all on to one dashboard so that daily comparisons can be made. It is possible, but only the best marketing teams understand this. And only the very best make an effort to measure ROI at this high level.

Three principals adapt

All three principals spent many hours with me going over these basic principles and all three are changing their approach to marketing. They understand and accept that the new world of marketing, with new techniques coming online daily, needs a new approach if we are to remain viable. Do you?

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US – visit:

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