Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

September 2010 Archives

Customer Carewords and Higher Education Marketing: Task Completion = Marketing Success

Just back on Wednesday from two days in Dublin with Gerry McGovern and Customer Carewords partners from Canada, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Ireland, the U.S. and the U.K.

Online communications are fine, but it is always a special pleasure to meet old and new colleagues in person, share Carewords experiences, and learn how to better serve our clients over the next 12 months.

For Bob Johnson Consulting, this was the busiest Carewords year since the partners first met in 2007, with Customer Centric Index (CCI) surveys completed for American University - Cairo, Ball State University, Bemidji State University, Champlain College, East Stroudsburg University, Rider University, and Susquehanna University.

Here are a few points about creating and managing websites with high marketing impact that we reviewed in Dublin:

  • Most important: website management is about managing tasks, not content. To do that well, managers must first be sure they know the tasks that people want to complete on their website. Helping people complete tasks should be the driving force behind initial site design and ongoing site management.
  • In Carewords surveys in any type of organization (government, private firm, higher education) it is rare for people to complain about the "visual appeal" of the website. In almost every case, the primary complaint is about "confusing menus and links" that prevent task completion.
  • It is impossible to create good navigation without knowing the tasks that bring people to the website. It is impossible to know those tasks without asking web visitors what they are. Survey first, design second.
  • A CMS is a mixed blessing as it often leads to content proliferation without regard to whether or not the content helps people complete tasks. Too much content is dangerous to effective navigation and search. Content creators should ask themselves a simple question: what task am I helping people complete by creating this content?
  • Much content is created but little content is ever reviewed and removed. To start, use Google Analytics or a similar program to identify pages on a website that are seldom if ever visted. Why are they still on the website?

Higher Education Successes

The experience of Carewords partners over the past year makes us optimistic that web management is moving in the right direction. Consider these higher education examples:

  • Gerry was "astonished" at the 90 percent positive rating future students and parents gave to the Susquehanna University website this year.
  • The University of Manitoba highlights key tasks directly under the primary audience headings on the home page. Alumni, for instance, can get to "transcripts" in one click from the home page.
  • The University of Oslo puts 3 primary student life tasks in a "can't miss" spot at the top of the first Student Life page. Everything else is on another page.

In the new year we'll focus even more on identifying priority tasks and improving task completion rates that will make websites friendlier places for the people who use them.

Brand Reputation and Website Experience

Brand reputation depends in no small part on the experience people have on an organization's website. People who can't easily complete the tasks they wish to complete on your site will not hold your brand in high esteem no matter the tagline used or the smiling students pictured or the video success stories told.

CCI Results at 10 Colleges and Universities

Overall CCI Results at 10 colleges and universities are reviewed in my presentation "Rating Higher Education Websites: The Student Experience" from  the J.Boye conference last November in Denmark that's available on SlideShare.

A CCI survey can help you fine tune your website. Results are usually available about 2 weeks after survey invitations are sent. Contact me at   

That's all for now 


Recruiting U.S. Students to a Canadian University

Queens University in Kingston, Ontario is engaged in creating an academic plan.

Several months ago a faculty team was asked by the Principal of the university to submit a comprehensive set of recommendations. The team did that on August 23 in a document titled "Imagining the Future: Toward an Academic Plan for Queen's University." The report is available as a PDF.

The entire report makes interesting reading. Since my work last year with Macquarie University on their website for international student recruitment, I've continued a special interest in "internationlization," or the process of building an international presence both on the home campus and in various international activities outside the home country.

According to "Imagining the Future...," Queen's University would benefit from a higher enrollment from international students. Nothing surprising in that. Indeed, many Canadian universities have been focusing more on international students. The report recommends ( see p. 29) "increased recruitment from the American market, particularly in the Northeast."

Dartmouth and Middlebury as Examples

What caught my attention here was a specific reference to two U.S. institutions as models of the type of students Queen's might seek to attract, in part because of a substantial difference in the tuition/room/board costs. The faculty authors recommended special attention to students who might attend schools like these:

  • Dartmouth College with a combined cost of USD$49,900.
  • Middlebury College with a combined cost of USD$52,120.

Queen's University, by comparison, has a combined cost of approximately CDN$27,289 this year for international students.

Will we see Queen's University advertising soon in the Boston media market and other Northeastern locations? Is the price differential indeed enough to spark interest in crossing the border?

Keep an eye open. Especially if you are a private college or university that enrolls students with academic profiles similar to those at Dartmouth and Middlebury.

International Student Recruitmet Websites

For examples of strong website features for international student recruitment, see my presentation at the 2010 ACT Enrollment Planners Conference.

That's all for now 

·  Join me on Twitter at

· Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" at 



Mobile Marketing: Your Brand Reputation Depends on Easy Task Completion

Almost ready this morning to travel down from Albany on Amtrak on what should be a fine, sunny day along the Hudson River. Beautiful two hours or so... if you get a seat on the right side of the train. Literally.

But before heading for the station. a few notes from yesterday's presentation for the American Marketing Association's Captial Region chapter. And thanks to Zone 5 here in Albany for sponsoring this special event for higher education marketers. Yesterday's presentation is online now at Slideshare.

Here are the notes, based on questions that we talked about yesterday:

  • The best way to make your website stand out from those of your competitors is to make it easier to use. Website success is all about task completion, not how pretty the site looks.
  • Your brand reputation rises or falls with the experience visitors have on your website.
  • In 18 surveys to find out what people think about college and university websites after they use them, one complaint always stand out: "confusing menus and links." Another area that is almost never a topic of high complaint: "visual appeal." The message: spend far more time on site navigation (based on top tasks people want to do on the site) than on the beauty of the site.
  • Mobile marketing really is here. If you have to make the choice, spend time and resources to develop a mobile-friendly version of your regular website rather than apps. Plan now to have a mobile-friendly site up and runnning by next summer.
  • If you want your mobile site to have strong impact on potential students, make "acaemic programs" a top link right from the mobile home page. The "top task" for potential students when they visit your site is to find out what academic programs you offer. Make it easy for them to to that.
  • Don't ignore your "regular" website. Some tasks will always be best done on a regular site rather than a mobile site. And some people will just prefer to visit your site from home or office computers. Make sure that visitors can quickly find the task most important to them.
  • A last point. Someone asked if messages from presidents and deans were important. We had a good laugh about that one. If politics allow, don't plan to include unimportant content like that on your new mobile site. Put mission statement in that "leave behind" category as well.

And now, Amtrak and the Hudson beckon.

That's all for now 

·  Join me on Twitter at

· Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" at 


Student Recruitment: how green is the grass in your yard?

Sometimes you can't escape reading higher education RFPs for marketing services. And those RFPs provide interesting insight into the marketing challenges faced in both the public and private sectors and what people would like to do to meet them.

In the last 30 days I've read RFPs from a selective (but not Ivy League) private university and a large public university that were both planning to hire a marketing firm for assistance in meeting enrollment goals for traditional, residential students. Their problem: historically strong market areas were not producing as many students now as in the past. Their quest: where is the grass greener?

The goal: new students with more money

These schools did not want just any academically qualified students. The private university emphasized students who could afford to pay all or most of the sticker price costs. The public university wanted out-of-state students who would pay higher tuition levels.

And so with their traditional cultivation areas no longer producing the required crop, each place was about to embark on a search for greener pastures. Expand brand recognition and strength. Generate new inquiries. Enroll students from far away. Make more money.

5 Serious "Greener Grass" Problems

How many problems can we list with this "greener grass" strategy? Here are five that immediately come to mind:

  • Many schools have the same idea. Will California export enough students to meet enrollment goals everywhere else, and especially in the Northeast?
  • Is the budget large enough to support the imaginations at work here? More than one masterfully crafted brand campaign has floundered because the budget would not sustain the long-term effort needed to successfully cultivate brand strength in new markets.
  • Is a focus on "full pay" students realistic? Whatever the proverbial "ability to pay," fewer families are willing to spend on high tuition for anything less than schools with top-tier reputations.
  • Most students go less than 100 miles from home for higher education.
  • Searching for greener grass might mean neglecting the home territory and leaving that open to traditional, near-by competitors.

5 steps for a "greener grass" student recruitment strategy

What elments of a "new" student recruitment enrollment strategy might work? Consider these:

  • First, make sure that the yield from your primary enrollment territory is as high as possible. Strengthen what you can to increase yield without additional tuition discounting.
  • Do a "pull power" analysis for your current academic majors. Calculate the percent of inquiries that apply and enroll for each major. With some exceptions (some majors are less likely to draw students from far away), programs with the highest "pull power" percents are the best bets for enrollment from new market areas.
  • Make sure the high "pull power" programs have really strong website information easily available for students who visit to learn more about them.
  • Starting in the high school sophomore year, conduct very focused searches for "greener grass" students around these strong majors, assuming that these are indeed the ones with open space for new students. The purpose of the search? Get students to visit the website pages for these programs. Make it easy to inquire from the academic pages. You're more likely to get students to visit your website than to become an inquiry directly from your search contact. (Keep the inquiry form simple like this one at Creighton.)
  • Forget "full pay" and go for "lower than our usual tuition discount" scholarship students. Aim to improve the bottom line without creating an unrealistic financial barrier.

One absolutely essential point

Get those academic website pages in top-order for future students before you do anything else. That's likely to help right in your own backyard before you even start on your Lewis and Clark expedition for new territories.

That's all for now 

·  Join me on Twitter at

· Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" at 


A September greeting to old and new subscribers as the new academic year begins. Many of you have already welcomed your new residential students. Best wishes for a final relaxing Labor Day weekend before the trek to Thanksgiving.

I am looking forward to visiting Dublin soon for our annual Customer Carewords partners meeting. We have a special focus on website task management this year. Already recorded is a webinar on mobile marketing strategy in higher education that will broadcast on September 22 as I fly back. Register (and send questions for response after I land) at

The fall conference season begins right after Dublin with a visit to St. Louis for the TargetX iThink panel on September 30, as the NACAC conference gets underway.

After iThink comes the Carol Aslanian conference on marketing online program, a mobile marketing workshop at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education and new Writing Right for the Web webinars with Academic Impressions. Dates and details are at the end of this newsletter.

Special for people in the Albany, N.Y. area: join me September 9 for the AMA Capital Region chapter lunch. Advance registration at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for September.
Explore the Megalog: Viewbooks in the Electronic World

What will happen to the viewbook in student recruitment? The old viewbook designed for a first-time introduction to a college or university is dead. Your website is doing that for you now. But that does not mean that print has no place in a student recruitment communication plan.

What is a megalog? That is marketing-speak for an adaptation of the product catalog long mailed to home addresses, but no longer relevant in the same format in the online era. Today, the megalog includes basic product information but adds a heavy-dose of magazine-format story telling and aims for an emotional connection with the reader.

Create an updated plan for print after you read "Six Reasons Print Belongs in Your Media Mix" at

The "new" viewbook: photo album plus personal stories and minimal "product" content.
Great Infographic: College in America

If you love important stats in an easy-to-read format, get right along to

The infographic includes data on retention rates by selectivity categories, most popular bachelor's and doctor's degrees, loan default rates, top universities in the world, and more.
Boston Globe: Higher Ed Tuition Increase Rates are Not Patriotic

The Globe continues long-standing media attacks against tuition increases that far outstrip the inflation rate by "unpatriotic" schools that have "no conscience."

The paper has no sympathy for either private or public sector institutions.

Read another negative influence on the public standing of higher education at
New "College Only" Social Media Site Debuts

Remember the ancient days when Facebook was only for college students?

"College Only" founders hope to recreate that magic with a new site dedicated to "Connecting Student Bodies." Visit the home page from a link in the Mashable report at
Oxford English Dictionary: No Longer in Print?

The folks who publish this venerable pillar of civilization are preparing us now: after comparing online visits to the dictionary website with sales of the current print edition, it is unlikely that there will be a print version of the next edition.

Details are at
College 2.0 in Asia

Plan now to follow a series of ongoing Chronicle reports on the state of high tech higher education in selected Asian countries, starting in Singapore and including India, China, and South Korea.

Start following increased global competition in the higher education marketplace when you read the introductory article at
Best Practices in Mobile Website Design

Whether you build mobile websites or just need to understand the challenges of those who do, be sure to read about 6 "notable differences" between mobile design and design for traditional websites.

My favorite: the emphasis on simplicity, or single-column design so that you do not force people into the ugly situation of having to scroll sideways to read your content.

To better communicate with web developers in the mobile world, visit
Writing Right for the Web: The Perils of Dense Copy and Small Fonts

Web visitors who complete our higher education CCI surveys are eager to answer this question: "If you could change one thing about our website, what would you change and why?"

Do you let people on your website change the font size on your pages?

Read quotes from survey takers about dense text and tiny font sizes when you visit
Quiz to Create Stronger Landing Pages

If you do not yet subscribe to "Which Page Won" do that soon and start creating landing pages with stronger conversion strength.

You get to vote on which of two landing pages had the highest conversion rates, followed by comments from marketers about why they cast the vote they did. And, of course, the results from real tests are provided after you vote.

A recent result: do not worry about scrolling below the fold or putting the call to action low on the page. The more important point is initial engagement. Sign up at
Change in the For-Profit Sector?

For-profit sector schools have been under intense scrutiny in Congress, fueled by concerns about the debt load of graduates. Recent "secret shopping" by the Department of Education also found recruitment practices that were not as truthful as expected.

One response from the University of Phoenix: people who were once called "recruiters" are now "admissions counselors" and their evaluation for compensation increases will change as well.

The Inside Higher Ed report details changes at other for-profit schools, including in some cases ending "ability to benefit" as a criterion for admission without a GED or high school diploma. The details are at
Jakob Nielsen on Mobile Marketing

What web content is best suited for mobile and what is best left for regular websites?

That key question is answered by usability expert Jakob Nielsen in a video interview at

A major point here is that mobile sites are not good environments for in-depth web work. You really do need to keep "mobile" as simple as possible and assume that over the course of a recruitment cycle people will move back and forth between mobile and regular access, depending on the task at hand.
Web Strategy Manager Position in Denver

My friends at Academic Impressions who bring us on-site and on-line conferences and webinars for higher education have an opening now for a Web Strategy Manager.

Check the details when you visit
My Upcoming Conferences and Webinars in 2010

Attend an upcoming conference to share questions and answers with people like you who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me at these events.

September 22, webinar: American Marketing Association: "Mobile Marketing: Strategy Challenges for Advancement and Enrollment." Register for this no-cost event at

September 30, TargetX: iThink student recruitment panel discussion. More info at

October 28-29, Education Dynamics - Carol Aslanian Marketing Online Programs Conference: "Integrating Social Media and Online Marketing" and "Best Practice Websites for Online Programs." Conference program and registration at

November 7-10, American Marketing Association, Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education: Pre-conference tutorial, "Mobile in the Marketing Mix: Crafting a New Recruitment Communication Strategy." Follow the program at

November 18, webinar: Academic Impressions, "Writing Right for the Web." Details are coming soon.

December 9, webinar: Academic Impressions, Advanced "Writing Right for the Web" with special focus on creating and editing content for social media and mobile sites.

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services.
• Customer Carewords Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web On-Campus Workshops
• Marketing Communications Website Review
• Competitive Website Reviews
• Content Copywriting Services
• Usability Analysis

Start now at

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