How Research and Brand Refinement Improve Higher Ed Marketing
It’s not easy to make meaningful marketing connections with 18- to 24-year-olds, even though we’ve all been one of them at some point. The success of many higher ed recruiting campaigns, however, hinges on getting it right.
Some audience research and refinement of your brand and messaging may be in order.
Why It Matters
Nationally, college enrollments remain below pre-pandemic levels at public and private four-year colleges, although fall 2022 saw some improvement in freshmen numbers. In the Midwest, undergraduate enrollments dropped at twice the national rate. Community colleges did see slight growth, thanks to dual-enrolled high school students.
So the competition for a potential student’s attention is fierce among higher education institutions. A better understanding of this audience and how they see your brand can help you stand out in the crowd — because your competition for attention is more than just other schools.
An often-quoted statistic says the average human attention span is just 8.25 seconds! (Take that with a grain of salt. The research is considered murky, and the reality is our attention spans vary a lot depending on the task and other factors.) What’s clearer is that the distractions for your audience’s attention are numerous — smartphones, social media, Internet, video, etc.
So you need smart, strategic tools, data and planning to make your college recruiting efforts a success.
Start With Research
Start with research. It’s a foundational piece of a strategic plan, and it’s a good way to assess a brand’s perception among the target audience. Ways to do this:
- Online surveys
- Focus groups
- One-on-one or small-group interviews
A focus group of first-year students is one example. What insights can they offer on why they chose to attend and what marketing messages and materials they considered effective? Also, what didn’t they like?
Or a survey of students who started down the recruiting path but didn’t select your institution of higher ed. Why, and what is their perception of the brand?
Armed with this qualitative data, you can refine your marketing messaging and tactics to better reach and connect with potential students.
Refine Brand Positioning
What if the problem is brand alignment? Maybe your marketing messages or brand story is inconsistent across campus. And because of it, the target audience doesn’t have a clear understanding of who you are and what you can do for them.
We’d recommend getting down to basics and doing some brand development work. Again, start with research, specifically to check points of alignment (and misalignment) between:
- Organizational strategy
- Operational strategy
- The student experience
- Brand positioning
Those insights help determine what needs fixing and how to position the organization moving forward. Our proprietary Creative FusionSM process can help you do that positioning work. We peel back the layers and take a deep look at your brand promise, your target audiences, your vision for the future and even your culture.
That data is then used to better define who you are and refine your brand story. Because when you can clearly and quickly convey your value proposition, you have a better chance of catching the distracted attention of those elusive 18- to 24-year-olds.
If you found this helpful, sign up for our newsletter below and get smart insights for higher education marketing delivered to your inbox. And if you’d like more information on AMPERAGE’s research, brand development and planning & strategy services, contact Rachael Holland at rholland@AMPERAGEmarketing.com.