better marketing results on a limited budget
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How to Get Better Marketing Results on a Limited Budget

For small community colleges with limited resources, making the most of your marketing budget is key to building enrollment.

The economy is up, which means many community colleges are feeling the pinch as potential students join the workforce instead of going back to school for additional training. With lower enrollment numbers, many community colleges are trimming their marketing budgets to get by. While it’s never good to be in a position where you have to achieve more with less, there are steps community college marketers can take to try to get more out of their limited budgets. Here’s where to start.

1. Be clear about your objectives for success.

Many marketers at small community colleges inherit a list of tasks from their predecessor with minimal guidance as to what these initiatives are for, or whether they even work. It’s often the safest path for many of them, particularly if they’re new to the position, to follow what was done before rather than attempt something new.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a number of fractured strategies, none of which are driving a specific result. The marketing may achieve something in the way of brand recognition or boosted morale, but it won’t grow enrollment or raise revenue.

Instead, when working with a small budget, it’s important for marketers to regularly re-asses their initiatives to determine why they are running them and what they are achieving. If they identify a program that isn’t achieving the results they need, they can cut it and use the funds elsewhere.

2. Define your audience.

It may seem that community colleges have pretty clear audiences already, but the people who attend community college are actually highly diverse, and marketers can achieve more by speaking to these sub groups directly.

For instance, some students take a break from education after high school, and then return to community college to attend a vocational program. Others dual enroll as high school students, then later transfer to a four-year university. Finally, many students join after having spent a decade or more in the work force, either to receive training in a new career, or because they have a special interest they wish to pursue.

Generic branding that speaks too broadly can leave many students feeling as though community college isn’t really for them. But by directing marketing campaigns toward specific groups, you may strike a chord with your audience by delivering a message that resonates with their life experience.

3. Focus on marketing initiatives you can measure.

There’s an old adage in marketing, attributed to John Wannamaker, a turn-of-the-century businessman, who said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

While there’s certainly a case to be made for marketing initiatives with soft metrics (i.e., ones that are hard to measure), schools with limited budgets can’t afford the luxury of investing in campaigns that don’t show demonstrable results. This is part of what makes content marketing so effective: students not only pay attention to stories that match their needs and interests, they’re also more likely to interact with that content online in ways that can be tracked.

That’s not to say you can’t measure the success of offline initiatives. If you do use these programs, have your online enrollment form ask a few questions about where the student first heard about your program and what caused them to enroll, or ask your student counselors to check in with students during orientation. If something is working, you don’t want to cancel it simply because you didn’t have the digital tools to trace its path.

4. Track the return on investment for your marketing initiatives.

Determining how successful your marketing campaign was means looking at the numbers. At this stage, it’s important to know several variables: 1) How much did you spend on each initiative? 2) What did each initiative achieve? 3) What is that achievement worth in a dollar amount?

For instance, if you spent 20K on a marketing initiative which resulted in 100 new students enrolling in your program, and each student paying a tuition of 3K for the semester, then your 20K investment brought in 300K additional resources.

That may sound like a great number, but it’s important to remember that those resources have to cover a lot of costs, from wages to maintenance. If, according to the above numbers, it costs $200 to attract one new student, then the resources that student brings to the school need to more than cover that investment, even after the other costs of enrollment are accounted for.

5. Save some of your increased revenue for future marketing campaigns.

Finally, the goal of a successful marketing program is to increase overall revenue, not merely cover expenses. When revenues go up, many colleges are eager to take all those additional profits and invest them in various projects. At the end of the year, the marketing department is likely to find itself with the same budget as the year before, but with the expectation that they’ll outperform themselves.

This isn’t just a tough order, it’s also a missed opportunity. If a marketing program can increase revenues on a small budget, how much more can they achieve on a larger one? It’s therefore important for colleges to reward successful initiatives by returning some portion of their income back to the marketing budget.

Marketing success on a limited budget means a tight focus on what works and what doesn’t.

When you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can’t afford slack in your system. By zeroing in on projects that are the most effective, marketers can do more with their budgets and help schools make it through their lean times.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we’re here to help you reach your audience and see a greater return on your marketing investment through high-quality articles, specifically designed to speak to the needs and interests of community colleges students. If you would like to learn more about what our program can do for your college, contact us today.