Bourbon Street, Beignets, and Branding

Heidi Marcin, Director of Marketing, Finger Lakes Community College

Marketing professionals in the Higher Education sector—nearly a thousand Higher Education Marketing Word Cloudstrong—descended upon New Orleans this week for the AMA’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. Upstate NY colleges were well-represented among both attendees and presenters, with folks attending from The College at Brockport, Nazareth, RIT, (as well as myself repping Finger Lakes Community College), presenters from Ithaca College and a lunchtime keynote from Cornell.

If the conference program tracks were any indication, there are several key issues facing communicators in Higher Ed today. Two tracks were devoted to aspects of branding (Brand Strategy and Brand Alignment), as well as an Enrollment track (several presentations noted the shrinking market of prospective college students, particularly in the northeast), Digital Marketing, Marketing Intelligence, and a “catch-all track appropriately titled “All That Jazz”.

Two of the keynote addresses (“The Value Gap” and “Higher Education Under Attack: Why Doesn’t Anybody Like Us and How Should We Respond”) addressed a growing challenge that Higher Ed Marketers have not yet had to face: the questioning of the value of a college education. Until recently, we could almost always make the case that investing money in a college education was “worth it”.  Today, the staggering rise in the cost of education paired with a bleak employment picture on the other side is casting doubt upon that claim. We Marketers need to be prepared to prove the value of both our institutions and of education itself.

Some more key takeaways:

  • The role of social media continues to evolve in Higher Ed, and we heard it from the horses’ mouths during a student panel session. Don’t try to do business with prospective students via social—use email. Email is for “business”, social is for…well…social.
  • Marketing measurement has become increasingly important as we are asked to defend our use of resources. Lots of talk about CRM, dashboards and analytics of all types.
  • Marketing needs to be at the table to shape institutional strategy. The most re-tweeted post on the Symposium’s Twitter backchannel (#amahighered) was, “The Marketing and Communications office is not a Kinkos”.

Fellow Higher Ed Marketers—did the Symposium folks get it right?  Is this what’s keeping you awake at night? What’s your most pressing issue?