The Opportunity Gap in Your School's CRM Strategy

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is standard practice for most higher education institutions today. In fact, it’s by far one of the most effective practices for recruiting and marketing, according to a new report released from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Of the 89% of private four-year schools and 85% of public four-year schools that are using CRM, 97% and 100%, respectively, say the system is effective for managing and tracking recruitment communications, online applications, etc. Most of these institutions are also using CRM to send mass emails.

But if your CRM strategy stops there, you’re missing a big opportunity.

There’s a new face of CRM, but many schools are still using outdated systems or not fully utilizing the capabilities of new systems. Destination CRM says, “Once thought of as a type of software, CRM has evolved into a customer-centric philosophy that must permeate an entire organization . . . If customer relationships are the heart of business success, then CRM is the valve that pumps a company's life blood.”

So how can you pump more life into your processes?

Critical System Functions

First, it’s time to take a look at your system and your strategy. Be sure you have these foundational components in place:

  • The right administrator. Traditionally, CRM has been simply an admissions database run by a competent database manager. Taking hold of today’s more robust system capacity requires an entirely different skill set. A CRM manager needs to have a blend of technical skills (used to configure and maintain the processes within the system), a clear understanding of recruitment communications (to contribute to the communication planning process), and a talent for strategic thinking (to recognize opportunities to creatively use the system’s resources in your school’s unique context).

  • Up-to-date email capabilities. Because of system limitations, many schools are still sending plain-text or non-responsive email messages. This pretty much looks like spam to a Gen Z-er, and (if they even notice the message), it makes a very negative impression. If they view your communication as outdated, chances are they view your school this way, too. Their world is colorful, bold, and interactive—and they’re often viewing it on a screen the size of their hand.

  • Ability to publish forms. A system that creates standard forms can be pure gold for admissions. Information from RFIs and applications is automatically captured inside the CRM, reducing the need for manual data entry (and human error) and improving timeliness in generating reports. Additionally, schools that invest in this system capability reap the benefits of a host of other creative possibilities for engaging with prospective students.

Creative CRM Engagement

Once you have the fundamental structure in place, the sky’s the limit on creative use of the system. These are just a few ideas for more effectively engaging with prospective students:

  • Tier applicants based on their desirability for your school. For example, students with test scores above a certain level could get your “top tier” strategy. Some CRMs even identify the best-fit students for your institution.

  • Add layers of communication or touch points based on segmentation. You might have specific communication pieces for first-generation students or special-event invitations for legacy students. And so much more.

  • Set up logic for form respondents and pair submissions with targeted communication. You could promote special-interest organizations or programs to identified groups, for instance, like minority students or those who have indicated a particular area of interest. For students focused on a specific major or career track, you could communicate with an acknowledgement from a faculty member in that area.

  • Automatically follow up with prospects who attended an on-campus event. If they’ve visited your school, it’s likely that their interest is increasing. Seize that moment to keep the momentum going.

Is it time to reconsider your CRM strategy? We’re available to help with a comprehensive assessment and action plan.


Sources:

Destination CRM. “What Is CRM?” www.destinationcrm.com/about.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2018). 2018 marketing and student recruitment report of effective practices. Cedar Rapids, IA: Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

Managing Printing Requires Time & Experience

Whew! You’re finally done - it’s been several long months of creating and executing a concept for a new admissions campaign, but the final round of edits is done. The last missing photo has been updated. So with final copy and design files, there’s just one last task: printing.

Ok, forget what we just said, you’re not actually done.

With hundreds of enrollment marketing projects under our belts, we’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly of printing. So how does a marketing or admissions office successfully navigate this final step? Does it make sense to handle printing internally? What are the benefits of having your vendor partner also coordinate this part of the project?

Here are a few simple questions to help you assess how to handle the production side of launching a new recruitment campaign.

Do you have the right role?

Is your team lucky enough to have a print manager on staff? If so, you’re likely in good hands. Don’t forget to include your print manager in the creative process - they will likely have valuable information that could shape the size, page count or grouping of deliverables.

If you don’t have this type of role within your team, check with the vendor who helped create your campaign to determine if they can oversee the printing process. Speaking from our own experience, we’ve been on hundreds of press checks for hundreds of clients, with projects that range from 1-color business cards to 6-color printing plus spot UV with custom die-cut and perfect bindery.

Do you have the experience?

One of the most common areas where printing goes sideways is paper selection. Whether it’s your own print manager or your vendor partner, make sure you’re working with someone who is able to suggest paper options that work best for the materials and also keep your budget in mind. Paper makes a huge difference in quality and how your pieces are received. Experience in this area is key to staying on-budget and also loving the final materials.

Do you have the time?

Managing the printing process involves a significant investment of time. After all, someone has to:

  • Get initial quotes (and likely revise them) from different printers.

  • Send all print-ready files and communicate order details to the printer.

  • Understand your proofs (likely the largest investment of time).

  • Attend press checks at the printer.

  • Communicate all delivery needs (and possibly bulk mail needs, too).

  • Coordinate in-hand dates or drop dates.

These are a lot of moving pieces to manage. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed for printing, and definitely make sure that you’ve factored it into the overall timeline for your campaign.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for when it comes to selecting a printer and managing the printing process. With the right kind of planning and oversight, it is possible for print production to go smoothly, which means you’ll have those new items in hand right on time.

Have a small printing question or want to visit about what it would look like to partner with our team? Let’s talk.

The State of Texting in Higher Ed Recruiting

Should Text Messages Be Part of Your Communication with Prospective Students?

“My friends don’t text each other. They all use Snapchat.” That was my 15-year-old son’s recent attempt to convince us that he needs social media. Sure, his appeal is at least a bit exaggerated, but perhaps there is a hint of insight for us in thinking about communicating with Gen Z.

Social Media Messaging vs. Texting

The rise of social media for teens presents a valid consideration for college admissions professionals: If 67% of high school seniors are on Snapchat daily, is texting still relevant? For college recruiting, the answer is “yes.”

Recent data shows that only about one-fourth of seniors are comfortable receiving messages from a college on social media apps. The same report finds that more than three-quarters of those students were open to some form of text communication with colleges and universities and nearly half of seniors would welcome these messages.

Back to my son’s comment, notice that he said, “My friends don’t text each other.” As I scroll through the texts on his phone, it is obvious that this format is often used beyond peer communication—like messages from his youth pastor, his football coach, his grandmother, and me. Is he keeping up with these messages? Definitely yes. Could it be that texting is emerging as the channel for a student’s more “serious” communication?

Effectively Texting

Since texting is an under-utilized tool for college recruiters, it may be a way to stand out from your competitors. Here are some tips for how to make the most of this channel.

  • Keep in mind what students want to see in a text message. According to the report cited above, the top reasons they want to be texted are: acceptance notification, deadline reminders, and details about their applications. Avoid photos and videos, links to social media or websites, and webinar or live chat invitations.

  • Focus your texting efforts on students who have already expressed interest in your school. This is not your best tool for mass communication.

  • Never lose sight of the relationship you’re building. Whatever the statistics say, the personal touch still matters, and we often hear this first-hand from students on campus. Sentiments like, “I felt wanted here”—that’s what ultimately made the difference in their college decision.

Sources:

Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com/Expectations.

What's the Big Deal About Snap Ads?

In our last post, “What Good is Digital Advertising in Higher Ed?”, we encouraged you to consider online advertising as part of a multi-faceted approach to branding. Since choosing the most effective channels is critical, let’s shine some light on one of the most mysterious platforms: Snapchat. It turns out you don’t have to be under 25 to understand it.

While Google may lead the way in student popularity for ads, Snapchat offers some compelling new benefits.

Five Reasons Snap Ads Should Be Part of Your E-Recruitment Strategy

1. Snapchat ads are now more affordable than ever.

Until recently, Snapchat ads have had a large minimum buy-in. This priced most colleges and universities out of the platform. But that’s changed. Ads are now available programmatically, though auctions, allowing for a substantial price drop. New York-based Digiday describes the new rates as “super, super cheap . . . easy wins.” With options starting at $50/day per ad group, Snapchat is now much more accessible for smaller schools.

2. Engagement rates are high.

In stats reported by Snapchat, the platform now has an average of 188 million daily active users. The average user opens the app 25 times a day and spends more than 30 minutes a day Snapchatting. Snapchat claims its ads are reported to have a swipe up rate five times the average click-through rates on other social media networks.

3. It’s where prospective students are.

According to the new E-Expectations Trend Report, 67% of seniors and 69% of juniors are on Snapchat daily. (That’s 30% and 42% more than Facebook!)

4. Video ads drive engagement.

Using the Snap Ads Manager, you can create clever video ads that drive engagement. Snapchat says its ads offer “the magic of sight, sound, and motion in a format truly made for mobile.” Creative features such as call-to-action voiceovers increase swipe rates.

5. Effective targeting helps you focus your ad spend where it counts.

Customization allows specific targeting by age, location (including precise geographic targeting), device type, and advanced demographics like household income and parental status. Additionally, you can build custom audience groups by combining Snapchat’s data with your own data of prospective students in your funnel.

If you’re ready to give it a try but still feel like you need someone under 25 to help you make sense of it all, we’re here to help. At 5°, our digital marketing specialist is on top of the technology trends and understands your unique audience, too.


Sources:

Flynn, Kerry. “‘Super, super cheap’: Media buyers find easy wins on Snapchat thanks to price drop.” Digiday. www.digiday.com.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com/Expectations.

Snapchat. www.forbusiness.snapchat.com. September 14, 2018.

What Good is Digital Advertising in Higher Ed?

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There’s so much we could say, but our short answer is this: Paid digital ads may be a powerful complement to the higher-priority elements of your branding strategy. If you’re not currently using them, it’s definitely worth considering.

Increasingly, online advertising is getting students’ attention. According to recent research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 45% of juniors, and 41% of seniors have clicked on a digital ad for a college. Additionally, 30% of seniors and 44% of juniors would go to a school’s website if they saw an ad but didn’t click on it. Most higher ed institutions, though, are not using online advertising as a major part of their recruiting practices. (This means your ads will stand out even more!)

While we don’t recommend moving all your advertising money into digital marketing, we do see it as a way to strengthen your brand and to reinforce important announcements like upcoming visit opportunities and application deadlines. The more often prospective students are exposed to positive presentations of your brand, the more likely they are to engage with you.

So, if you are going to pay for digital advertising, what’s the best way to make the most of it?

+ Keep your advertising part of a coordinated, multi-faceted plan. According to the RNL report, a very low percentage (12–26%) of digital ads were clicked by students who weren’t already familiar with the school. Be sure that the messaging and style are consistent with your printed materials, email campaigns, and social media initiatives.

+ Commit to adequate frequency. An occasional ad doesn’t give you the exposure you need to accomplish the purpose of your advertising. Facebook Marketing Science has conducted experimental research to help answer questions about frequency. While there’s no “magic” number, it’s important to study all the factors and make a calculated plan.  

+ Don’t skimp on creative design or copywriting. Just as today’s teens judge your school by your website, they’re rating the quality of your ads, too. Keep the message simple and compelling with the intention of getting students to your website.

+ Carefully choose your media. Ads on Google lead in student popularity, followed by various social media. Do you know where your prospective students are spending their time online? Meet them there.

+ Keep them clicking. Once you’ve gotten their attention with your ads, draw them into greater interaction through a first-rate experience with your website and opportunities to engage through social media.

Connecting with students where they live puts you on your way to the real goal; building relationships that invite them to be part of your story.

 

Sources

Facebook IQ. “Effective Frequency: Reaching Full Campaign Potential.” www.facebook.com/iq. July 21, 2016.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com/Expectations.

Four Little Words

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Colleges and universities across the country say these four little words to thousands of students each year. And prospective students typically hear these words from multiple schools. According to Niche’s 2017 College Acceptance report, the typical incoming freshman applies to four schools and is accepted by three of them.

We know that a student’s commitment to a particular college or university is influenced by a variety of factors that seem to constantly change. How does a college or university stand out and continue to recruit students even after they’ve been accepted?

Well, as is true in so many situations, it’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it. A growing number of schools are taking a unique approach to college acceptance milestone in an effort to foster a stronger commitment to attend. Treating acceptance like a celebration (who didn’t love the videos of the remarkable Little brothers last year) presents a creative opportunity for schools to really stand out.  

Instead of a form letter sent in a regular envelope (which looks a lot like everything else already in a student’s mailbox), a growing number of schools are utilizing customize acceptance packets to celebrate this milestone and foster commitment with future students. Depending on budgets and the typical number of students your institution accepts, a custom acceptance packet can be a great way to stand out.

We’ve recently helped create a variety of customized acceptance packets focused around three common goals:  

  1. Celebrate the student

  2. Build a connection to the institution’s brand

  3. Provide clear next steps

Form
Many schools are working hard to help their acceptance communication stand out. Smart acceptance packets put their packaging to work in different ways:

  • Colorful converted envelopes and small boxes stand apart from the more standard business envelope, making it clear that acceptance is something to celebrate.

  • The use of inclusive or celebratory language on the outside of the mailer promotes the “you’re in” mentality right from the start.

Function
Building on the official acceptance letter, including a variety of branded items can be a great way to build on your school’s brand identity or introduce campus traditions. From custom items like vintage pennants or beach towels, to affordable die-cut stickers and car decals, admissions teams are shifting budgets to invest in quality branded items that an accepted student will actually use (and be excited about).

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Some of the most effective acceptance packets, though, aren’t just full of promotional items. They include helpful literature that draws potential students one step closer to enrollment. Think insider guides and helpful checklists of next steps.

College acceptance is also valuable social currency. Instructions, or a hashtag, give accepted students a way to share their excitement socially, creating a gold mine of sharable content (check out #seeyouatthepoint or #westmontsaidyes). Or, for a handful of local students, consider delivering your acceptance packets in person. Bonus points if you take your mascot like the folks at Butler - their handful of drop-in deliveries of their acceptance packet have made local and national news, along with heart-warming social content.

Are you ready to re-think your acceptance process and communication? We’d love to brainstorm along with you.

Sources:
Caffee, Alex. “2017 College Admissions Report.” June 5, 2017. https://www.niche.com/blog/the-class-of-2017-goes-to-college/



Communicating with Prospective Students via Social Media

Connecting with prospective college students today requires the strategic and successful use of social media. There are a couple of things you can’t lose sight of, though, when using these platforms to reach today’s students. To be effective, your plan has to fit the way they actually use social media. To sum it up, the experiences should be 1) interactive and 2) personalized.

Best Practices for Recruiting Gen Z Students

We know that Gen Z students are headed to college in dramatic numbers. And we know that traditional recruiting has to take on new dynamics. So what are the best ways to connect in their hyper-connected world? New in-depth reports from Ruffalo Noel Levitz offer a wealth of data. We’ve summarized some of the high points for you, along with our own insights.

Gen Z: What’s College About, Anyway?

The 70-million-and-growing Generation Z. They’ve been dubbed “world-changers,” and now they’re transforming the landscape of the college experience.

They’re tech natives. There’s no such thing as “normal.” They want to do something meaningful. And they’re mindful of the value of a dollar. So what does this mean for your university? Is your campus the kind of place they want to be?

Recruiting Parents

As parents of teenagers and college students ourselves, we’re thinking about college with fresh perspective these days. How involved are we when it’s time to start researching, visiting, and decision-making?

Will we subtly press our preferences on our children? Probably. Will we make information-gathering phone calls and website visits? Sure. Will we visit campuses? With pom-poms waving!

Fine-Tuning Your Campus Photography

Photos hold an incomparable power to tell your story. To show what your students value. To capture one-of-a-kind moments on your campus. To communicate what makes your school something special.

There’s no secret trick, no silver bullet, for a masterful photo shoot. Rather, it’s a fine art that requires careful planning and execution—along with a healthy dose of flexibility.

Winning with Print

If you work in admissions and enrollment, you’re moving quickly to connect with students wherever they are. Though a strong digital strategy is essential, print holds a critical place in reaching your audience. There’s certainly no substitute for a tangible take-away piece when meeting with students in person. And while email is the primary preferred means of initial communication for 49% of students, preference for direct mail is still strong, at over 37% (Ruffalo Noel Levitz).

No doubt, though, the Gen Z attention span for print is limited—so it’s more important than ever to make every page count

Our Top Five Web Design Trends for 2017

It’s no secret how important your website is. The 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that 71% of high school seniors rate college websites as the most important communication channel for learning about a college.

If you want Gen Z to take you seriously, your web design has to meet their heightened expectations, and your content has to be relevant and real. Let’s start with design. Are you up to speed on the latest trends? You’d better be, because they are—and prospective students equate the quality of your site to the quality of your institution. According to the 2015 Ruffalo Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report, "nearly eight out of 10 high school juniors and seniors said that a college website affects how they perceive an institution."

A recent Forbes article identified “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” But slapping on glitzy new styles may not be so simple for higher ed websites, as you’re necessarily dealing with large amounts of content.

Since applying new trends in our context requires some unique skill and creativity, the Forbes article inspired us to come up with our own “5° Top Five” for higher ed websites.

  1. Responsive Design—This fundamental is now an expectation, and it’s been the norm for the past five years. A responsive website is designed to be viewed and experienced in a similar way regardless of what device you’re using. Some sites even take a “mobile first” approach in their initial conception. With over 70% of U.S. web traffic coming from mobile devices, a site that is not responsive is inadequate, and prospective students are taking note. Pull up SEBTS and the University of Nebraska on your phone to see examples of quality responsive design.
     
  2. GO BIG and go small—The first of the four C-R-A-P design principles is Contrast, and this principle is critical for higher ed website design. Fear of scrolling and an “above the fold” mentality have given way to larger, more immersive interfaces and content organization. Big is in, but so is small. Large, full-width images, full screen video, big buttons, and sweeping headlines can merge with areas of smaller content, patterns, and micro design to create engaging contrast and visual hierarchy. Bucknell and the University of Tennessee offer good examples of sites that have embraced this principle.
     
  3. A Robust Style Toolbox—Beyond the basic H-styles and div tags, .edu sites should take a page from Kenyon College and UNR to develop a toolbox of styles and design elements for use throughout the site. The goal is to balance uniformity with unique content needs in a way users feel at home as they view your site.
     
  4. Parallax Scrolling and Interactivity Paired with Micro-Interactions—The idea of layering content to move at different speeds as you scroll (parallax scrolling) has been around for several years. Rather than a fad that will come and go, we see it as an evolving tool to engage the user and aid in storytelling. The Forbes article describes micro-interactions as “user enabled interactions that provide control, guidance or rewards, or just impart fun to the experience for the user.” Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas capital campaign site show innovative use of this idea. 
     
  5. Beyond the Home Page—Because prospective students and other site users are entering your site through a variety of channels (Google search, SEM campaigns, cross-linking, etc.), your site can’t put all its eggs in the home page basket. Gateway, landing, and program pages are just as important as home page interface design and functionality. The University of Nebraska knows this well. See the value they’ve placed on a number of pages beyond the home page—Why UNL?, visitor, about, and cost & aid.


Your prospective students are increasingly engaging websites with today’s best design features.

Are you incorporating these “Top Five” trends in your web design?


Sources:

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2016 e-recruiting practices report for four-year and two-year institutions. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from www.RuffaloNL.com/BenchmarkReports.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. 2015 e-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2015. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com.

Kloefkorn, Sheila. Forbes. Forbes Community Voice. Dec. 21,. “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” www.forbes.com

 

What's Up with College Yield Rates?

Yield rates—the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll—are important indicators to college enrollment officers as they help schools predict new student enrollment each year. After a long and steady decline in yield rates, the average seems to be stabilizing. But let’s take a look inside the numbers—and what we can do about them.

Soaring Financial Aid & Competition for Students Increasing Pressure in Higher Ed

As college recruiters scramble to keep up enrollment numbers, financial aid has become the chief competitive tool. In fact, an annual study last year by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found the average institutional discount rate for first-time, full-time freshmen in private schools reached 48.6 percent.