Student recruitment challenges: Part 2
In the last ten years, many higher education institutions have gone through an elaborate, lengthy and often expensive rebranding process.
On-campus interviews, surveys of current students, faculty, staff and alums have all been conducted to determine the key ideas that differentiate this school from others. One goal of a rebrand is to focus on characteristics and ideas that are unique to the institution and that match the aspirations of potential students who are a good fit.
Carefully selected messages and design systems
Once that research is done, more work brings forth a tagline (brand promise) and a brand identity to embody those key ideas. This work is intended to elevate the consistency of design elements and integrate former “silos” of communication–
Admissions vs. College Relations vs. Athletics vs. Faculty and Staff—into a united and uniform brand identity.
Essential messages designed to appeal to the right students are integrated into recruitment publications and campaigns. A color palette, fonts and imagery are selected to visually connect with different audiences—from prospective students to alums and donors. Those visual brand elements are applied to everything from the stationery to signing, publications to the website.
But how do those key messages show up online?
An institutional website must serve multiple and often disparate audiences—current students, alums, potential students, departments, faculty, staff and athletics. Yes, this is a challenge.
In many schools, the website is still a separate silo of information, incorporating some of the new brand elements, but providing a different visual experience and a separate set of messages.
Some schools still house their website with the IT department, even though the website is about communication, marketing and outreach. Other institutions believe the website is more important to internal audiences than external.
We believe the website must be a keystone in brand messaging.
The website, as a central communication source for all audiences, must also support the key brand messages that research and the institution have identified as critical to the organization’s persona, perceptions and ongoing communications.
Stealth applicants, and most applicants, start online
How well does your website reach out to potential students who are searching online, and give them what they’re looking for? How well does your site support, enhance, explain and bring to life the key messages that research has identified as the differentiators for your school?
If an anonymous searcher becomes a stealth applicant, something was appealing. Something got them interested enough to apply. But how many others might have applied if they knew more about what you stand for?
Here’s an example:
A small college has identified their study abroad program as an effective recruitment message that draws potential students to look further. The study abroad program is emphasized throughout publications and in personal presentations.
Yet what happens if a student who didn’t know the college’s name and hadn’t received any materials conducts an online search for “small college study abroad”? Would that school come up? Probably not.
If admissions has determined a significant factor that drives application decisions is your size, location and reputation for preparing students for a career in politics, what will happen if a student searches for “small college in the Northwest close to government” … will your school come up as an option?
Getting into the minds, and fingers, of stealth applicants
How integrated … truly … are the key messages–identified in the rebranding process–into the essential communication platforms being used today by everyone—from potential students to alums and donors?
If they’re essential, will your school show up as an answer to an online search for those ideas or characteristics?
It’s time for a shift in higher education marketing
It’s time to fully integrate the online and offline visual and verbal brand. It’s time to integrate inbound marketing into the recruitment process. It’s time to offer what searchers are looking for, in the context of who your institution is, what differentiates you and what you stand for.
Those ideas, those keywords, those messages must be baked into the content of your website. Your website must be optimized for those terms. And the content must be optimized for what students–the students you want in your applicant pool–are looking for.
Read more about inbound marketing and content marketing in Student Recruitment Challenges, Part 1.
Jennifer Larsen Morrow
Jennifer founded Creative Company with two partners in 1978 in Salem, Oregon. Her training as a graphic designer has guided the company's focus on brand persona founded in design and message, generating the brand optimization methodology. Award winning design, on point messaging and strategic positioning have generated response for clients since 1978.