Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

February 2012 Archives

Writing Right for the Web... content needs contrast for easy reading

Video content in Boston University's online Annual Report 2012 is very strong. That's why I picked it for the February 17 Link of the Week.. 25 short, engaging videos are used to illustrate the 5 main topics included in the publication.

But nothing is perfect, is it? In the Link of the Week report I noted a weak point: "low contrast between text and background in some of the primary sections makes reading a bit of a challenge."

Design for "readability, not just looking pretty"

For Ann Mary Quarandillo, marketing communications manager and editor of Evergreen Magazine at The Evergreen State College, that was an understatement. Her opinion after visiting the site is well worth repeating:

  • "These videos and the overall idea of the site are very effective. However, as you say, text IS still important. So why is the font on this website so eminently unreadable? I had to give up after a couple of pages, because it was so frustrating not being able to read the thin and faint titles and captions, or even the navigation bar at the top. Not the first time I've seen this recently, and it's very frustrating. Part of web 'design' should be readability, not just looking pretty!"
What we have here is an instance of creative design taking precedence over ease of reading. Everything else aside, there just isn't enough contrast between the color of the text and the color of the background for easy reading. 

Contrast level is critical. If people have to struggle to read your content, most people won't do it. Black on white is safest. If you vary that, aim for as similar a contrast level as possible. "Don't make them squint" is still a maxim to remember. 

Create "killer web content"... that people can read

To borrow a phrase from my partner Gerry McGovern, you can write "killer web content" for your website. But if you make it difficult to read, that content will not be king of anything.

New "Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

The second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference is happening May 24-25 in Atlanta. We'll explore in depth not only "writing right" on traditional websites, but for social media and mobile sites as well.

Check the conference details and register to join us in May.

That's all for now. 

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Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" and "Link of the Week" emails at

Digital marketing... 5 points important to higher education marketers

Digital marketing in higher education is on my mind as I start preparing for a new series of 2 and 3 hour workshops. To help kick my brain into gear, I prepared an outline of my first thoughts about what to include and sent it to 20 or so people working in a variety of marketing and enrollment management positions in higher education. About 15 sent back a great range of topics to cover. Enough to plan a book. Certainly more than will fit in a single workshop.

As always, different people have different interests and goals. Today I'm listing 5 comments that stood out to me as I read through the responses. Not, certainly, the only important ones and not presented here to suggest order of importance. 

How many of these digital marketing points are on your mind?

1. Social media vs. social media business
  • "Given the decentralized nature of higher ed, depending on who your audience is, I think it would be helpful to have a discussion of social media vs. social media business. David Armano from Edelman does a good job describing the distinction on his blog. Social media is the actual implementation of it - administering an individual Facebook page, for instance. Social media business is what I do - integrating all of the individual practitioners, developing social media guidelines, linking everyone's individual pages together, developing strategic planning templates, etc."
2. Media relations in a digital strategy
  • "Media relations is actually an important part of search strategy. These things are really connected - and because web and media relations teams are often separated in an institution - it can be hard for both to understand.
  • "I see media relations teams often concentrating on getting "the big hits" in a national publication to the expense of their local/regional efforts. But, if one newspaper (even a small or mid-size) one runs a release/story on their web site about your programs - then people searching for say "online MBA in Ohio" find mentions of your university in the news. Not to mention, this just gives your school/program that much more exposure in the "ecology" of the web as people share stories."
3. The peril of contacting people too often
  • "E-burnout via too many messages in your inbox and even on Facebook from the same person or organization (is a problem). In the three years we've been tracking our alumni email blasts and opens, we've lost about 6,000 subscribers because we could not segment the messages." 

4. Keep a personal, human to human, touch
  • "Don't hide behind computers/email/social media/video games. Stay personal. High touch still works. Watch out for high tech backlash."
5. How can we keep some control in a social media world?

  • "I've been on the lookout for tools which incorporate social media-like experiences into channels over which I have a little more control- not to the exclusion of Facebook, YouTube, etc., but in addition to. How can institutions capitalize on the familiarity and popularity of social media without forfeiting all control?"

First digital marketing tutorial: J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference

Look for more notes on digital marketing strategy in the future as the first version of the workshop takes shape. The debut is at the J.Boye Web and Intranet conference in Philadelphia, May 8-10.

New "Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

The second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference is happening May 24-25 in Atlanta. We'll explore in depth one key part of a digital marketing strategy: how to best present the content your audiences want on "traditional" websites and in the social media and mobile worlds.

Check the conference details and register to join us in May.

That's all for now. 

Join me on Twitter at

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" at

Higher education marketing questions... don't be "tone deaf" to change

Last week I started this two-part series with four marketing questions that many if not most higher education institutions are facing in 2012. If you haven't already read them, you can skip back to them now or read these first. The presentation order isn't meant to signify importance. Different people will find different questions most relevant to their marketing success in 2012.

Here are the "final four" for 2012:

Increasing pressure to change "business as usual" to reduce costs is reflected in newspaper editorials questioning the value of a college degree, especially if high debt is needed to earn one. Marketing advantage will go to the schools that respond to this. How many schools will add lower cost options to earn a bachelor's degree to their strategic planning?
More community colleges will seek to offer bachelor's degrees at their low price point as part of their community service mission. Will public universities oppose bachelor's degrees at community colleges as some have done in the past?

Higher education in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors faces new scrutiny over degree completion and employment rates for their students. How important will "outcome" criteria become in college choice decisions?

Claims of commitment to "academic excellence" and "education of the whole person" are meaningless unless supported by clear benefits for potential students. Reality marketing is more important in our social media world than ever before. Will higher education marketing drop picture perfect "We are Disney World" marketing images and stories from view books and websites?

Moving into the future...

Answers to these questions move us beyond the usual issues of brand strategy and recruitment tactics. In the next 5 to 10 years we will see major transformations in the way people are educated and the way they educate themselves. 

The expansion of online learning by MIT and Stanford University continues to challenge traditional educational delivery methods by legitimizing a more flexible, self-paced learning style delivered with lower cost for physical facilities and student service support systems. Expect this style to spread more rapidly each year, even to the most residential of campuses.

Take the marketing pledge... help the "tone deaf" on your campus in 2012

Your next step? Start discussing the higher education marketing questions that are most important to your school and what answers you'll need to survive and thrive in 2012 and beyond. No easy solutions here. But higher education marketers should do their best to see that "tone deaf" to change is not a term that anyone uses to describe high level leaders on their campus.

That's all for now. 

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Higher education marketing... key challenges for 2012

Higher education still struggles in the environment of reduced financial resources that started with the economic crash a few years ago. 

Even Yale University, with one of the most powerful brands in the world, has not finished adjusting, as reported in a recent Yale Daily News article. A Chronicle of Higher Education report asked if too many college and university presidents were still "tone deaf" to public concerns about the value of higher education when faced with continuing tuition increases.

With that situation in mind, here are the first four of eight questions that many if not most higher education marketers will have to grapple with in 2012. How many of them are challenges for your institution?

The credit crash came after several years when income growth for middle class families had fallen far behind the rate of tuition increase. With no change credit availability in sight and increased concern over loan debt, will price dominate the marketplace for all but the most affluent and those at the pinnacle of the academic talent pool?

Most colleges in the private sector were faced with the dilemma of losing enrollment market share or increasing tuition discounting. The most common reaction: try to maintain enrollment or limit decreases with higher discounts. As a result, the tuition discount rate for 2010 rose to a 42.4 percent average. Is a high tuition discount rate a viable long-term marketing strategy?

State appropriations for public sector universities have plummeted in most states and there is not yet in 2012 a visible bottom. The "privatization" of the public sector is well underway, as institutions seek to replace as much legislative money as possible with tuition dollars. How high can public tuition go without rebellion in the marketplace?

Growing interest in online programs since 2000 increased immediately as working adults sought ways to reduce commuting costs. Many institutions were left scrambling to offer online programs in the face of faculty skepticism and reluctance to change. Nearly one-third of college students in the U.S. now take at least one online course, reports The Sloan Consortium. How high will demand for online courses climb and how will faculty respond? 

That's all for now.

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Higher education marketing news and notes...

February greetings from Michigan in this most strange, warm mid-winter time.

Note a new feature this month: the most popular item from the previous newsletter is now included at the end of each new one. Scroll down for social media predictions for 2012.

This year I will be doing a new conference session on digital marketing strategy. The first rendition is set for the J.BoyePhiladelphia2012 Web and Intranet Conference in May. For details on a superb event where you will share ideas with people outside higher education, visit the website at

Next week I will start on a new 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference, also in May. The outline that includes traditional, mobile, and social media is at

Do you have a friend or colleague who might like this newsletter? To subscribe, send them to

And now, here are your marketing notes for February.
32 Words "Lazy PR Writers" Should Avoid

Whether or not you work in public relations, if you have any role in creating or reviewing marketing copy you should review this list from Tom Gable. Tom starts with "best of breed" and ends with "world class."

You will not want to miss the 30 in between these at
NAICU and Today's World

NAICU presidents are meeting in D.C. this week, just after President Obama's State of the Union and University of Michigan speeches made many of them nervous about the possibility of "price control" measures from the federal government. Some, but not everyone, gave a standing ovation to a speaker who urged them to resist the "juggernaut" of accountability headed their way.

Question for marketers: Can schools openly resist accountability today? More on the meeting at
Elite College Fakes SAT Scores to US News

Claremont McKenna College has admitted that for the past 6 years it has inflated SAT scores of new freshmen reported to U.S. News and World Report.

Higher education does not need sad and silly news like this. Sad because it just should not happen, silly because the actual score inflation was so low. The details are at
Google Gives Direct Marketing a Boost

Google plans to change existing privacy policy and consolidate information about people using Google sites in a single data base is creating controversy.

The advertising community, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity to more carefully place advertising based on known preferences of the people receiving it. If advertisers adopt the right direct marketing approach, they will stop blasting ads to everyone regardless of interest and more carefully use available data to get higher conversions from fewer people reached.

Careful targeting is what good direct marketing has always been about. Online marketing from colleges and universities can benefit from the change. Read more in an AdAge article at
Who Owns Tablets and E-Readers?

Yes, the time truly is coming when print view books for student recruitment will vanish. Not today and not next year. But somewhere between now and 2020 it will happen.

The folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project continue their fine reports with 5 demographic segments using tablets e-readers now: gender, age, race, income, and education level.

Holiday gift-giving was responsible for an ownership jump from 18 percent of the U.S. population in December 2011 to 29 percent in January 2012.

Note that e-readers are not about to disappear. Kindle Fire is selling well, no doubt in part because of the low price point compared to more fully featured tablets. Talk to agencies that do electronic view books for the iPad and be sure to ask them what they can do for a Kindle.

Check the details at
Growing Percent of Students Taking Online Courses

The Sloan Consortium reports that nearly one-third of all higher education students were taking at least one online course in fall, 2010. The 10 percent growth rate for online enrollment is much higher than the 2 percent growth rate for higher education overall. Expect demand to continue to grow and include students at traditional, residential institutions.

The free report is available as a PDF or for your iPad, Kindle or Nook. Download your preferred copy of the 2011 report at
Noel-Levitz Survey: Mobile Marketing and Social Media

Later this month Noel-Levitz will publish the results of a new survey of college-bound high school students about how they use mobile devices.

For now, you can review an early slice of the results on how these students use mobile to access Facebook and YouTube: 76 percent access Facebook from a mobile device and 63 percent do the same for YouTube.

From that point, Noel-Levitz notes the critical implication for people using these social media sites in student recruitment plans. If you link from social media to your website, you are in for a major failure if the website landing pages are not mobile friendly. You will not survive the high bounce rates that will happen when people using a smartphone attempt to visit a traditional website.

Check the early survey results and pre-order your copy of the full report at
Writing Effective Website Links

In our Carewords partners' world with Gerry McGovern, we have done nearly 20 surveys of people using higher education websites. The number one problem among every audience is now predictable: confusing menus and links.

Why is that the result? Most links are written from the organization perspective, rather than from an attempt to think like the potential students (and their parents) using the site.

Gerry has just written a great column on how to write links that work, including why the link to Frequently Asked Questions is most often "a very poor one" to use.

For tips on effective link writing that start with an admonition to write links as if they were headlines, visit
State Appropriations for Higher Ed at a Glance

OK, you know what is happening in your state. Are you doing better or worse than other states across the U.S.?

Scroll down just a bit in this Chronicle of Higher Education article on declines in state funding until you see the map that shows the two states that have increased funding for 2012, the 19 that have decreased funding by 10 percent or more and those that fall somewhere in between.

The Chronicle article is at
Yale University: Continuing Budget Gap

Why should you care about an Ivy League university with the highest paid non-profit sector president in the U.S.? Perhaps just to see how even the most affluent of universities still has major problems adjusting to post-2008 economic realities.

Do not skip the comments following the Yale Daily News article at
Deceptive Advertising, Higher Education, and the FTC

Do use lead generation agencies to identify enrollment prospects? If you do, do you know what advertising is being used? Are you in danger of violating Federal Trade Commission rules on deceptive advertising if the ads are, shall we say, just a bit shady?

If you answered "yes" to the first question, read my mid-January blog post at
Most Popular Item from the January Newsletter

"30 Social Media Predictions for 2012 from the Pros" had the most clicks in January. If you missed it, visit
Conference Presentations in 2012

Attend a conference in 2012 to share questions and answers with people who are building a competitive advantage in higher education marketing.

May 8-10, Philadelphia: J.BoyePhiladelphia12 Web and Intranet Conference. Tutorial presentation: "Digital Marketing Strategy: 2015 and Beyond." See all sessions and register at

May 24-25, Atlanta: Academic Impressions Conference: "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Content." Program details and registration at

July 11-13, Chicago: ACT Enrollment Planners Conference. Visit the conference website at

July 30-August 1, Boston: eduWeb2012. Conference website is at

Expand the marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on any of the conference topics listed here.

Contact me at or call me at 248.766.6425.
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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