I remember when I had to write my first financial aid brochure as a young marketer at Wilkes University, my first job in higher education. I was working from an existing resource and frustrated by the dull, dry tone of the copy and the challenging steps my readers had to take to qualify for financial aid or scholarships. The looming threats of mysterious “federally regulated text” that had to be considered were also quite stifling. Back then, I had only brochures and postal letters to convince our prospective students and their families that our school was a good value and set them on the right path. Now we have so many more digital resources to convey these themes, but somehow the task at hand is no easier.
Our latest E-expectations trend report focuses on net price calculators, one of those nifty new resources that provides specific examples of what it costs to attend a school and how students’ hard work at studies and standardized tests could be converted into scholarship dollars. The promise of this engaging new tool isn’t being fully realized, however. Links to these tools are often buried on Web sites and rarely, if ever, mentioned in e-mail communications or social media posts. Sometimes the directions are non-existent or very difficult to understand. Worse yet, some of these calculators require a CPA at your side to complete them.
More than two decades after my first financial aid communication attempts, I find myself the parent of a high school senior. I am forced to read the fine print on the Web site and in the e-mail (and yes, still brochures) that my daughter’s chosen school provides. It is tougher than ever. The data from the E-Expectations report suggest that it’s not just me. Only 39 percent of respondents said they had used a net price calculator, and of the ones who didn’t, 66 percent said it was because they couldn’t find them on college Web sites.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas for you to consider as you’re creating or updating your Web site resources, calculator tools, e-mail messages, and financial aid brochures.
When I conduct workshops with college marketing and recruiting staff on the topic of e-mail marketing in higher education, I often lead with this question: “What’s the single most important job of an e-mail message?”
Frequent responses include “to get new students,” “to inform,” or “to get someone to apply.” More often than not, folks in the room are surprised when I share my answer: The most important role of an e-mail message is to get someone to click out of it as soon as possible.
The reason is simple. Landing pages—the pages sitting behind those e-mail clicks—are where the real action takes place. Regardless of your preferred area of marketing interest, be it effective message storytelling, understanding campaign performance, or moving someone who’s clicked to take a preferred action such as inquiring or applying, landing pages are the most important part of the equation. Sadly, however, they are often the most ignored pieces of the marketing communications puzzle—especially in higher education.
Don’t strand students on your home page
Too often I see perfectly good recruitment e-mail messages sending readers who click the links straight to the institution’s home page. (Your messages do have “call-to-action” links in them, right? If not, we’ve got a lot more to talk about!) In these instances, marketers are inviting someone who had the courtesy to take them up on their call-to-action to “learn more” or “request information today” to wander around the school’s Web site—unchaperoned and unguided—to seek out the content that the e-mail persuaded them to believe was of value to them in the first place.
Are prospective students going mobile when they search for colleges online? According to the latest E-Expectations data, the answer is increasingly becoming “yes.”
Since the 2010 study, the E-Expectations project has tracked how many prospective students have viewed college Web sites on mobile devices. Those numbers have gone from 23 percent in 2010 and 14 percent in 2011 to 52 percent this year. With more and more students using smart phones and tablets, those numbers will surely increase in the coming years.
As I present the findings from the latest E-Expectations research with clients and colleagues, one of the areas that generates the most discussion is the apparent interest prospective students show in using Webcams and other tools to have live conversations with current students, faculty, and admissions representatives.
Would prospective college students participate in live chats?
People asking about these live chats typically want to know how to operationalize this opportunity. Here are some ideas for piloting your first steps in using a Webcam to facilitate conversations with prospects.
1. Start small
Some of our clients report that they’re already using Skype to facilitate one-on-one conversations between counselors and prospective students. If your team hasn’t tried any live conversations using a Web camera yet, this can be a great place to start.