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What Should Admissions Marketing Communications Do?

Really, there are just a few possibilities.


By focusing on which of the following is the most important to you ahead of time, you’ll produce better results.

Many organizations produce an array of communications to meet every perceived need. It’s easy to get into the habit of creating a brochure, email campaign, micro-sites, press releases or events in response to every request or quiver in admissions data. A slightly panicky reactive communications strategy is expensive and hard to manage. It’s not nearly as effective as figuring out what you need and prioritizing goals.

“Strategic” is always better than “reactive.” So, before you jump in to create another admissions email…. ask yourself, do you feel lucky? Or are you ready to get focused? Which of the following do you really to do?

Option 1. Create awareness.

Does your market know who you are and what you do?

Marketing that creates awareness has to be memorable, sticky, make an instant emotional connection. You also need to know exactly who your market is and what makes them tick.

What awareness building is not, is loaded with detail. What won’t work is relying on a text-heavy tome or website or anything generic. People who don’t know your name will be overwhelmed if you tell them about all your organization. Try getting your story across with 25 words and a fantastic picture. Can you do it?

Here are three good metrics for schools and nonprofits to see if your awareness activities are working:

1. Your website’s branded search (are people googling you by name? more on that later).
2. Total website visits
3. Press mentions

Track these for a while. Your marketing should be making these numbers go up.

4532422412_355013ba95_oOption 2: Feed Curiosity

They may know you, but do they care? Are people interested in your institution? Are you talking about things that matter to them?

Don’t assume that if people know you, they’re interested. Interest means engagement, curiosity, desire. An independent day school, for example, may well be widely known in its local area, but the number of interested families may be small. In that case, marketing that focuses on creating interest will be more effective than marketing that focuses on awareness.

Remember that you are talking to people who know, sort of, who you are. That means your communications need to spark and then reward interest. People should feel smarter, entertained, more connected, more “in the know” after spending some time with your communications or activities.

How to measure it?

1. Visits, open house attendance, requests for information
2. Pages viewed/Unique visitors

Option 3. Create Trust

Do people believe what you say? Does your institution “walk the talk?”

Creating trust is the hardest part of admissions marketing. Trust comes from the market’s experience of your communications and activities. Creating trust means not spamming people or sending them material they simply don’t want. It means offering proof of what you say without hype.

For some organizations, creating trust means overcoming or addressing preconceptions. And sometimes you have to go well beyond what you think of as “marketing” and thinking about programming. A new scholarship program, a free speaker series, a summer camp can all create trust and fuel curiosity quickly, if marketed well.

Another way to offer trust? Answer the questions people have about your institution. Provide well-organized communications with the information they require. Make a good case for your program. Have a website that’s up-to-date and works well. Don’t underestimate how important the user experience is for your audience when you’re updating your website or designing a new viewbook.

A few metrics to help you think about your success.

1. Social media sharing and liking and other word-of-mouth measures
2. Attendance at public events
3. Email sharing (if your email system doesn’t allow this, find one that does!)
4. Impressions/conversion (whether online inquiries or info requests)
5. Inquiries

Option 4: Deliver Inquiries

This is moment when most admissions marketing simply falls apart. The inquiry form. The “Part One.”

Inquiry forms are often too complex and ask for too much info. Is there any way you can shorten it? Think user first, internal needs second.

Many schools and some colleges do not use a form that allows you to measure the number of people who start and don’t submit a form (much less where they drop out), so you never know if your online form itself is preventing some people from inquiring. Given how much you invest in your website, it seems crazy to us not to be able to assess the quality of your online inquiry form and where it can be improved for users

Even worse, some systems do not allow you to connect what leads a visitor to a inquiry form. You have no idea, for example, if after reading about your science program, lots of new people then inquired. If you had that info, you could build a much more highly effective set of communications going forward.

We know. There are a million reasons not to change your form–from integration with your admissions database to the proprietary website platform you use. But if you are serious about getting the most from your marketing and communications budgets, the form is the place most institutions should start.

The key metrics?

1. Number of info request/inquiries
2. Number of inquiries
3. Form dropout
4. Conversion path
5. First contact type/inquiries

Option 5. Validate

Maybe it seems silly to “market” to the people who have already chosen you. But your families are the source of your most potent word-of-mouth. They are your fiercest friends. Your most generous and enthusiastic supporters. They are your advocates and evangelists. Give them something to talk about. Deepen their sense of connection. More on that here

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