“There’s a tsunami coming.” So said John Hennessy, President of Stanford University in a now-famous interview with The New Yorker in 2012. He was referring to how technology was about to radically change higher education delivery. But he could equally have been talking about the impending shifts in higher education marketing.
What will a university’s marketing department look like in five years’ time? What about in ten? These are questions that every university marketing director or CMO should be asking, because as students dive deeper into their digital lives and ever-more-closed (ad-free?) social networks, and as the chatter about “alternatives to university” intensifies, higher education marketing departments will need to adjust their tactics.
1. Personalisation is a bar that every university must clear
That we can now send “Hi Bob” marketing communications to past, present and future students is not news to any reader of this blog. That few universities are really doing personalisation well is the problem. Nobody likes to feel that they’re just another anonymous face in the crowd.
So why don’t we use the digital tools freely available today to make the university prospectus a more tailored experience? “Turn to Page 93 and you’ll find the specifics on the Bachelor of Health Sciences you’re interested in” just doesn’t cut it any more — especially for a course which may cost $30,000 a year.
If university reps are capturing a prospective student’s details and study interests via an iPad or laptop while they are talking to them at a high school seminar, why doesn’t the student receive an 8-page prospectus — with their photo and details throughout — in their physical mailbox a few days later?
How many university marketing departments are taking personalisation to this level?
2. The promise of automation
Sending fortnightly communications to prospective students months — if not years — before they start their studies is near-impossible for most universities. So is sending a highly personalised follow-up email after a meeting at a high school seminar; or scoring every prospect’s interaction with a university’s website.
But a good marketing automation tool allows a university to do this in a flash. The same goes for correspondence with alumni.
In the next five-to-ten years, most university marketing departments will have their own teams of marketing automation and marketing technology experts. Automation will be front-and-centre of what university marketers do – in the the way they communicate with, advertise to, and message their students. ‘Geo-fences’, ‘beacons’ and ‘programmatic’ will be the vernacular of every higher education marketer.
3. ‘Startup universities’ and kanban boards
The make-up of university marketing teams is already changing, with CMOs being brought in from other industries to shake things up. Data scientists, digital media specialists and marketing automation leaders are the types of roles university marketing departments are going to be recruiting in the next five years.
More marketing teams are likely to adopt a startup-mentality in the way they self-organise, test and iterate.
Agile marketing is set to become ubiquitous, with sprints, standup meetings and kanban boards common features in marketing offices everywhere. And this more tactical approach to marketing is likely to produce a very different set of team priorities from today’s.
4. Ride the digital wave. Or get smashed by it
University marketing departments all over the world are facing a digital tsunami. A decade from now, almost every marketing touch-point — online and offline — will be measurable, from the number of campaigns the marketing operations team is working on, to the speed it takes the CMO to approve campaigns, to the number of times a prospective student has viewed their letter of offer. Even the sacred university prospectus — still delivered on slivers of dead tree — may contain its own internet-of-things computer chip. I’ll leave your creative marketing brain to imagine the tracking possibilities of that one…
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