Winning over prospective students visiting campus
In the first of this two-part series we talked about marketing as an exchange process and identifying and reaching your market segment. We concluded that good academic marketing strategy relies on solid market research and quality content marketing. Prospective community college students respond enthusiastically to content marketing that communicates clear information about how education will advance their careers.
In this second part we will discuss recruitment plans. When a college sets out to recruit a class of incoming students they are attempting to convert potential students into customers. There is a great deal that goes into the recruitment process. However, what colleges ultimately hope to do is to sell customers on the idea of their central mission: to educate, inspire, and provide a vital credential. Prospective students are being asked to make one of the most expensive purchases of their lives in return for this service.
Unlike a product, which a customer can inspect carefully before purchasing, an education cannot be viewed. In the Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Marketing, Tom Hayes explains that marketing a college education differs from marketing a product in four ways: it is intangible, inseparable, variable, and perishable. A successful recruitment plan must account for these basic differences between marketing an education and marketing a product.
Overcoming Intangibility: Selling what can’t be seen
When a prospective student visits campus he or she is looking for indications of a quality education. However, because a quality education can’t be seen, they are likely to zero in on other indications of quality, like a beautiful student center, recent technology in classrooms, and general upkeep of the grounds and facilities.
Community colleges vary in what they can offer in this respect. Although some have quite sizable operating budgets, few can compete with state and private schools that are housing their students in lavish dormitories and creating cafeterias with omelet stations. However, that doesn’t mean community colleges cannot overcome the intangibility issue. It is possible to communicate quite clearly the value of a community college education.
Even without fancy facilities, a community college can showcase the success of their former students and explain how education was a key part of that success. They can also make explicit and concrete the connections between the majors and programs offered by the school and the student’s future earning power. Through content marketing the college can communicate all of this clearly and consistently to prospective students, demonstrating that the education they will receive is of the highest quality, worth the kind of money the student will pay for it.
Inseparability and Variability: When you’re only as good as your last contact
In some respects, higher education is just like any other service for sale. Importantly, it is inseparable from the people providing that service, from professors and admissions officers to the campus phone operators. This means every campus representative is capable of making a positive impact on a prospective student, showing that an education at the college is worth the cost of tuition.
It also means that the service the campus provides will be as variable as the providers. For instance, if a student visits a class and hates the professor’s lecture or style, she is unlikely to think highly of the quality of education at the school as a whole. This kind of variability is unavoidable. Humans, unlike iPhones, have bad days, make mistakes, and fail to perform consistently. Services are, by nature, both inseparable and variable.
However, the college can retain some control over this apparently external factor. First of all, presumably the college makes hiring and tenure decisions with an eye to quality. Secondly, it is the college’s job to make sure that positive messages outweigh negative interactions. By producing a constant stream of positive content directed at potential students, the college can mitigate the damage done by poor interactions.
Perishability: How long does a quality experience last?
Good service is not like a shipment of TV’s that can be stockpiled in a warehouse to meet market demand. Colleges cannot preserve positive interactions for future use. Good service is in this sense a highly perishable product, one that constantly must be renewed in every interaction. Whether or not this can be done consistently will depend on human factors that are outside of the college’s control.
However, it is important and possible to counteract this kind of perishability. One way the college can do this is by seeking to retain excellent faculty and administrative employees. Yet another way is to invest in marketing that reaches potential students with important information about the quality of services the college does provide. This shows that the college is committed to building on previous successes.
Why a strong content marketing plan is a strong community college recruitment plan
The biggest obstacles to convincing a prospective student that he should invest in a community college education can all be overcome by content marketing. Prospective customers are wondering about the quality of the service the school provides, whether they will have positive experiences, and whether the school can continue to provide those experiences. They have few indicators about the answers to these questions, since the school is selling a service which is intangible, inseparable, variable and perishable. Unsurprisingly, this makes prospective students hesitant.
Marketing departments need to take charge of answering these questions. They are ideally placed to send a clear message about the quality of the service the institution provides. Because of this, strong content marketing is a strong recruitment plan. And you don’t need to act alone to create high quality, meaningful content. Contact Aperture Content Marketing today for a demonstration of everything we can do for you.
Hossler, Don and Bob Bontrager. Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. vol. first edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015