As an enrollment marketing strategist who has the benefit of a front row seat to how schools allocate enrollment marketing dollars, I can offer you some ideas on creative forecasting this budgeting season.
1.) Save Trees to Grow Leads
I spent my early career developing creative and compelling printed marketing collaterals that produced results. Today, among the many millions of dollars I budget for enrollment marketing clients each year, I devote less than 1% to print. I still save every great postcard and mailer I receive, and sometimes get a little teary-eyed when my mail is utterly devoid of anything cool or creative. The point is, there’s probably a giant line item in your budget for viewbooks, mailers, postcards, program info packets, posters – and there’s an even bigger line item for postage. Cut it. Reduce frequency, economize language, create experiential, small viewbooks not novels, and think about how print can plug into a digital strategy to create impact. As an example, we printed 100 small postcards on a tactile card stock with only the college’s logo at the top. We hand wrote notes to 100 prospective students telling them how much we (our client) looked forward to meeting them at an admissions open house. An amazing 90 out of 100 attended. Remember, if you’re recruiting people under 45, they moved on from print a long time ago. In fact, recently at a large New England university, over 2,000 undergrad students petitioned the president to send updates via Snapchat—and eliminate email. These are the people you’re trying to recruit, whether it’s today or in a few years.
2.) Emphasize New Process as Much as New Tools
We all love new tools, technology and gadgets – especially when those platforms and products come with the promise of making our teams more productive, generating insights, and expanding the volume and reach of our marcom and recruitment efforts. Core technology components of modern enrollment marketing include a marketing automation platform, customer relationship management (CRM) software and analytics/reporting tools. When it comes to how well a college or department is using a consistent suite of these tools, it’s all over the map. Since our firm is platform agnostic, we make use of the platforms our client already has, or if none, we bring free/low cost tools to the table as needed. We also find ways to create better processes to manage the work, from lead reporting and nurturing content delivery to content engagement, lead scoring and follow-up. It’s just as important to focus on how you manage the work as it is to choose what tools you use to manage the work; but often the focus is on the latter instead of the former.
We’ve found that some schools have onboarded technology platforms only to find that resource availability or interdepartmental collaboration challenges relegate them to using only the tiniest fraction of the platform’s full capabilities. As you look at the technology line items in your budget, consider whether you’re using them to their full functionality. Is this tool adding value based on both the time and monetary investments? If you have a hard time building a case, consider consolidating tools, scaling packages down, or identifying what synergies and recommendations your agency can bring to you before renewing what you have or adding new ones.
3.) Reset Expectations to Help Administration Get Real
We all feel the crushing blow of when enrollment goals are not met. We’ve run programs where it takes six months to 24 months to start seeing growth in deposits and enrollment. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced is attending a board meeting with a college president, administrators, trustees and enrollment executives and telling them “I know the numbers still look bad, but they’re going to get better.” You know what’s even harder than that? Explaining to the administration that its budget is set up to fuel continued enrollment declines. Crunch the numbers on media spend, leads, app/deposit conversions for each program then look at historical data and trends. With cost per lead data (CPL) and conversion data, you can project the number of leads and conversions you can realistically expect next year if media pricing and paid/organic campaign performance remains the same (it won’t because media pricing almost always goes up). Based on the analysis, are you projecting an enrollment lower than goal? Then show the data to your leadership because it’s hard to argue with data. Sure, there are great, cost-efficient ideas (like handwritten postcards), or identifying new, affordable media channels or ad products, but even if you simply get close to the enrollment goals that you’ve historically achieved, you’ll be defying the odds. It’s better to be realistic, then offer a projection on how you can exceed your goal with the proper funding.