2014: The Year That “Search Differently” Was Born

Towards the end of 2013, the admission and marketing folks at a Pennsylvania college asked Carnegie to present how our approach to Student Search and Enrollment Marketing is different than what they’ve been doing for years. From there, a movement was started. Well, not so much a movement, but certainly a challenge.

It was in that meeting and presentation where Carnegie’s theme "Search differently.” was born. And throughout 2014 we challenged schools to rethink how they find, reach, engage, and convert prospective student audiences.

Helpful in the process was the Twitter activity focused on #collegemail that made the rounds last January and February. Scores of tweets were popping up from high school students with pictures of the stacks and stacks of letters they were receiving from colleges and universities . . . all on the same day! Right there, in real time, and on social media was the perfect representation of needing to think about things differently. How are you as a school standing out and making an impact with these students if you’re mixed in with the dozens of letters they got?

Let’s talk some specifics about Search differently.:

What are you doing with your names? Breaking news—students (and their parents) are spending their time online. If your campaigns rely heavily on just mailings and e-mails, then you are truly “old school” (and not in a good way!). The technology exists today to not only reach specific addresses from your lists through digital marketing, but also reach specific individuals via social media channels. The one-to-one targeting capability now available online has changed the landscape dramatically.

What is your timing strategy for Search? Is a big envelope in the mail the first time they’re hearing about you? And if so, are you hoping a few e-mails in the weeks to follow helps in case they threw out that mailing? Planting some seeds with digital targeting in advance of your mailing goes a long way in building brand awareness. And are your campaigns for juniors, seniors, or newly available lists separate—or part of one continuous thread? Think continuous Search—being everywhere students are all the time. Search can’t be just a campaign, with a defined start and end date; Search needs to be an approach on a continuum.

What are you doing with your data? Is every student on your list interested in the same program? Are they all potentially eligible for the same amount of aid? Are they seeking the same exact kind of environment when it comes to a college campus? No. So if you have the data, use it to help personalize the communications you’re having with these students as much as possible. The postcard, the letter, the online ad, the e-mail, the landing page, the response mechanism: all of these can be extremely customized to each individual on your list, rather than a broad-brush message that needs to appeal to the masses.

What are you doing to boost your results? Reaching larger audiences that are the right fit for your institution is now an opportunity through digital data. Through look-alike modeling, the information from your enrolled student or Search lists can be used to expand your reach to new audiences. In addition, strategies can be applied all the way through the funnel to drive higher conversion rates. Think of the stealth applicant who can be Retargeted earlier in the process. Or the undecided accepted student who can be influenced through a well-timed and personalized outreach prior to May 1.

2014 was just the beginning. The technologies and innovations that enable us all to engage students in the right environments throughout the entire cycle continue to evolve every day. So whether or not it’s viewed as a movement, I do offer up this challenge to anyone reading this for 2015: what are you doing this year to Search differently.?

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