The 2016 Carnegie Conference: Standing Out Authentically

A few weeks ago, over 225 enrollment marketers gathered in Disney World for our fifth annual Carnegie Conference. The excitement still hasn’t fully settled down. And, in my ongoing effort to perpetuate said excitement, I thought I’d share my favorite takeaways.

Looking at my #CarnegieConf tweets (follow me @meghdale on Twitter), I noticed I had several where I talked about “authenticity.” I’m a huge believer that lack of passion and authenticity can kill a marketing campaign or even a conversation. And, as I reminisce about the conference sessions, the encouragement for authenticity rang throughout!

Kicking off the conference and helping us be authentic in our message was Rand Fishkin, the Wizard of Moz (aka, the wizard of amazing hair). His entire session focused around how we, as marketers for universities, can stand out “amidst the noise” online. The easiest takeaways: choose the keyword less traveled and be visual.

Everyone is vying for the same pricey keyword; instead, ensure you’re going after the long-tailed keyword strings and capture those thoughtful users. What does that mean for higher education marketers? Here’s an example: potentially nix the overpriced “MBA” keyword strategy and consider “MBA programs in [insert city here].” Targeted, focused, and an attainable click.

Also, don’t forget the visuals—studies confirm the influential power of imagery (just don’t use “stockneric” images…amiright?!). In the 140 character–mindset world we live in, the decision to swipe left or right is made quickly, and visuals will resonate with your audience faster.

Later that morning, “brand alchemist” Tyler Borders made a really powerful and related point when he said, “Brand is reputation. Perception is reality. Be human.” And we come right back to that authentic messaging concept and standing out in all the right ways.

Nothing is more powerful at a conference than those key points you can actually implement the next day. And two sessions in particular were chock-full of them: Justine Jordan from Litmus and Oli Gardner from Unbounce were able to get us all thinking about our e-mail and landing page strategies. So taking these authentic messages we have, pushing them out, and effectively capturing the students they reach.

Let’s start with e-mail—though it’s hard to pick my favorite tips. There was so much good. Like preview text, subject lines, and cats (obviously). We need to remember that e-mail is not “blast.” The purpose and goal lend to the audience, and our messaging should coincide. And bigger is better. From buttons to images, in this mobile-obsessed world, thumbable e-mail content is critical.

Taking action based on Justine’s preachings is key to a successfully executed e-mail campaign, where students click through and end up where we direct them. And we all know: #NSAMCWADLP*.

How do we then make that landing page (be it an event sign up form, an application first step, a top-of-funnel info/inquiry page) convert how we want? Oli introduced us to landing page mascot Frank and gave a ton of items to consider like reduced distractions, clarity, and the power of scrolling. And, most interestingly, that “because” is a powerful word because it is trustworthy and because Oli said so. Because.

With all these ideas, theories, and actionable recommendations, what’s the final goal? Conversions, right? But as Adam Singer from Google reminded us: it’s not just the macro (enrolled student) conversion we need to focus on—we need to consider all the micro conversions too. Did the campaign get traffic to your site, did registrations grow for open house, was the accepted student yield event successful, were deposits collected, and ultimately did students enroll?

And finally, Monmouth College’s Trent Gilbert reminded us how important the user experience is. Know your audience, whether they’re non-traditional students or the classic “homeland” generation; understand what makes them tick; and make their experience (online, in print, in person) authentic.

The experience of the Carnegie Conference included big laughs, powerful a-ha moments, and thought-provoking people and concepts. As Joe, our Chairman and CEO, kicked off the conference talking about the speakers and their personalities, it set the stage for the experience that ensued. He also embarrassed me appropriately (vengeance will be mine), but I still proudly take on the position of President of Carnegie and will strive to continue our commitment to authenticity and provide an experience—both at the annual Carnegie Conference and throughout our engagement in higher education marketing—that is nothing short of magical.

Follow me on Twitter and give me a shout. I really would love to continue the conversation with you.

*NSAMCWADLP = Never start a marketing campaign without a dedicated landing page. 

P.S. My very favorite tweet on the #CarnegieConf feed:

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