Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

August 2012 Archives

Email recruitment messages.... 6 new responses from 4 schools in the competition

If you've been following this series, you know that I made online inquiries in late June at six colleges and universities in New York and New England and have been reporting on the responses received. Since my last report on July 24 our now senior level student has received six new emails from four of the schools first contacted in June. Here's what's come along in the past month.

  • July 25: The fourth email from my "upstate private college" in New York arrived, with the name of the school right in the subject line. The message again is to visit campus. A nice touch: the email uses the student's name at the start and the name of a real person in the admissions office at the end. If I can't make it to one of the scheduled dates, there's another click point to "plan your own visit on a day that's convenient for you." I'm starting to think these folk really want me to visit.
  • August 8: A second email from the "private college in Massachusetts" is here. This one includes the name of the student in the subject line and continues with the goal of getting me to visit this summer. A point of note: the same video used in the July 16 email is used again. The 3:19 length is a bit longer than needed, but the individual student and faculty bits are well done.
  • August 10: Finally! The first email from my "private college in Rhode Island" has arrived, over a month since the inquiry date. Yes, the goal is to get me to visit starting with a subject line that says "There's still time to visit... this summer." Maybe so, but elapsed time since June has eroded the possibilities. Note this: neither the student's name at the start nor a person's name at the end is used. And I can't schedule a visit online. A phone call is required. The phone option is good, lack of an online choice is not.
  • August 15: My "most selective in the group" private university is back with a second invitation to join a chat room discussion. This one is slightly better than the first as it arrived the day before the chat rather than the same afternoon. That still seems just a bit late. How about 3 to 5 days in advance, then a same day reminder? No use of my name here and it was sent from "The Admissions Staff."
  • August 21: A fifth email from the "upstate private college" in New York. The goal now is to get me to create a personal portal page. My name is in both the subject line and the salutation and the director of admission's name closes it. A logistical challenge: the email includes a temporary user name and password. I can't copy and paste both on the website. And they are a bit complicated to remember. Guess I'll write one on paper and copy and paste the other.
  • August 22: A second email from the "private college in Rhode Island," again with no personal names used at start or finish. Visiting campus remains the goal but from the effort put into the email I'm not getting the impression they really want me there.
To round things out, nothing has come since July 24 from either my private university in Connecticut or the public honors college in New York.

An Invitation from Emily at Simpson Scarborough

  • August 23: An invite arrived to participate in "a one-hour online discussion about your thoughts and opinions of colleges and universities, including some that you may be considering for your undergraduate education." If I participate in one of two September sessions I'll get a $40 Amazon gift card.
  • And yes, one of my schools is listed on the Simpson Scarborough client list.
What about print publications as an inquiry response?

Last month I promised a report on the print material received. That's still forthcoming. Look for it sometime in September. The collection grows.

That's all for now.

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

Writing Right for the Web: Register for my next two-part webinar with Academic Impressions on October 30 and November 1.

Measuring Brand Strength of 7 For-Profit Universities

Here's a confession that will not surprise most of my friends... I'm a survey junkie. 

Call me on the phone, send me something by regular mail or email and I'll complete your survey. And so I subscribe to a frequent series of email surveys from YouGov. The surveys I get always include two pages asking "Of which of the following brands would you say you are a 'Satisfied Customer'?" and another that puts the same string of words in front of "Dissatisfied Customer."

"Satisfied" or "Dissatisfied" Customers: Tell Us Here

Each page includes icons for with 25 company names. I've been completing these surveys for about three years now and have never yet seen one that included the names of colleges or universities. Until this week. 

Mixed among the 25 brands included were 7 for-profit schools:
Idle speculation says these schools (1) just want to know what people who have enrolled in them think about the experience, (2) want to see how they compare with the other schools listed, and/or (3) are hoping for a good rating they can use in marketing campaigns.

If you're interested in the for-profit sector of higher education, keep an eye open for news in the next few weeks that might come from this survey.

That's all for now.

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

Writing Right for the Web: Register for my next two-part webinar with Academic Impressions on October 30 and November 1.

Net Price Calculator at Boston University... not visible from the Admissions website

The 2012 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations Survey is always popular... witness the packed room for presentation and commentary on the results at the eduWeb2012 conference in Boston last week. If you don't already have a copy, follow that last link and download one today.

Most high school students can't find net price calculators: 74 percent

This year I was especially interested in whether or not more students were using net price calculators at college and university websites. The answer: usage from 2011 fell from 36 percent to 23 percent of these college-bound high school juniors and seniors. What might account for that significant drop? Consider this: 74 percent said they had not used one because they could not find it on the website, up from 50 percent in the 2011 survey.

I decided to visit the Boston University website, one of my favorite higher education sites. I've used Link of the Week selections from BU as well as screen shots from the website in my conference presentations. How easy would it be to get an estimate of net price at BU?

Boston University: A Meandering Net Price Calculator Search 

Consider the plight of a person trying to find the net price calculator at Boston University to get an estimate of the cost to attend, including possible merit scholarships.

  • If you start at the admissions entry page, you won't find a link to a "net price calculator."
  • If you follow the link to "financial aid forms" on the admissions entry page, you'll be at a page for "Costs, Aid & Scholarships. The primary feature on that page is a 2:38 length video featuring happy BU students extolling the various ways they have combined scholarships, grants, campus work and external financial aid sites to help them meet the "daunting" cost. Quite well done. But don't expect them to say anything specific about their personal cost. After all, everybody is different so what help would that be?
  • Inspired by the video to find an estimate of your own costs at BU? Scanning the page won't help. No words resembling "net price calculator" are here. From the main text, you might follow a link to a page for Scholarships and Merit Awards or Financial Aid but you won't find anything about a net price calculator there either.
  • Frustrated but interested enough in BU to continue your quest? You might try using the very visible search box to "Search this site" but this is the answer you'd get: "No web results were found for net price calculator"
  • Still frustrated but just maybe persistent enough to wonder if the net price calculator might be elsewhere than on the admissions site and the search function isn't intelligent enough to know that? OK, let's try the same thing from the home page. Bingo! A search for "net price calculator" takes me right to a page called The Net Price Calculator. Right before my eyes is a link to "Visit the Net Price Calculator" that leads me off the BU website to a College Board site customized for BU. Happy times? Not quite. A few lines after the opening you'll find that this is for need- based aid only: "Please keep in mind that this calculator only includes need-based financial assistance. It does not include all of they many generous merit-based scholarship opportunities Boston University has to offer." Another link is provided to take me back to the Scholarships and Merit Awards page.
  • And so we learn that after our diligent efforts, we will not get a complete net price estimate here if we are interested in what our academic achievement might bring us from the "generous" money available.
A Simple Alternative: The admissions entry page at Augustana College

Visit the Augustana College main admissions page. You'll quickly see a prominent listing for "Costs" and right under that a link to "Net Price Calculator and Scholarship Estimator."

Quick, simple, visitor friendly. Not to mention smart online marketing navigation that lets college-bound high school students (and parents) quickly complete a top task. 

Boston University, on the other hand, gives the impression that if you are too interested in cost details too early in the recruitment process, it just might be better to look elsewhere. If the marketing goal here is to discourage applications from people who care too much about cost, then the BU approach is also smart marketing. 

That's all for now.

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

A special welcome to our new subscribers from the eduWeb2012 conference last week in Boston. Presentations and discussion this year were great. For 2013, the conference returns to Boston.

If you have friends who might like a newsletter subscription, it only takes 30 seconds at

What is the state of admissions marketing today?

That question has been bouncing around in my head since I heard a talk by Steve Kappler at another fine event in July, the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference. Read a new blog post on how far we have yet to go to reach the Promised Land and link to a new ACT Enrollment Management Trends Report at

My Writing Right for the Web webinar returns October 31 and November 1. Review the program and bring people together on your campus. Read and register at

Mark your calendar for the 2012 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November. Visit the conference website at and attend my digital marketing strategy tutorial.

And now here are your marketing news and notes for August.
Forbes Magazine on Top 100 Colleges, Universities

Forbes is back this month with the 2012 edition of "America's Top Colleges."

Forbes claims the methodology eliminates reputation as a major factor, focusing instead on "results." Ivy League schools dominate the list, but neither Harvard nor Yale rank among the top four schools: Princeton, Williams, Stanford and Chicago. Yale and Harvard follow along after that. The top 10 closes with Swarthmore.

Military academies dominate a list of 20 best value colleges, but in between is an interesting mix of small private colleges and public universities, including some flagship institutions.

See how you and your competitors rank at
E-Expectations 2012 Survey: Marketers Must Read

You do not want to miss the latest results from this long-running Noel-Levitz and friends survey of college-bound high school students.

Two things stand out to me, among this treasure trove. First: 60 percent of high school students are open to receiving text messages from colleges that interest them. If you are not yet using text messaging in your recruitment communications mix, you had best plan to start soon.

Second: only 23 percent have used a net cost calculator. And 74 percent could not find one to use. Which reinforces my belief that secret committees exist on many campuses to design a way to hide net cost calculators on higher education websites. This must be true: every time I mention this in a conference presentation, half the audience will look at one another and laugh.

Learning the real cost of attending an institution is now a top task of both high school students and adult students. Ignore that reality at your peril.

For the latest E-Expectations survey report, start at
Mobile Marketing: 10 Top Campaigns

Mobile marketing is still tricky, no doubt about it. Review the 10 examples that Mobile Marketer has put together from the 2nd quarter of this year to find new ideas and mistakes to avoid.

The most important mistake to avoid appears in the first description, a successful campaign from Boar's Head. An early Boar's Head campaign failed for a simple reason: mobile advertising took people to a regular website page rather than to a mobile-friendly page. Changing to a page optimized for mobile viewing transformed results.

What ideas might you copy and steal? Review the campaigns at
Twitter Use in 2012

The Pew Internet and American Life folk are back with another survey telling us that while Twitter use has increased significantly in the last year, it still is far from universal. In the highest user group (young adults, 18 to 24) the use rate is 31 percent.

To help play your marketing communications, see survey results by age, ethnicity, location, education and income at
9 Tips to Build a Strong Email Database

Email marketing is alive and well. And marketing success starts with a strong internal email database. Tal Nathan gives 9 tips to consider, starting with the inquiry form at your website and including advice on how to best use your Facebook page, your call center and a referral system.

Review those steps and more in the ClickZ article at
Top Task Website Design: 9 Higher Education Examples

What's the most important step you can take to improve the marketing impact of your website? Identify the top tasks that potential students visit your site to complete and build your page design and navigation to make them as easy to do as possible

My presentation from eduWeb last week includes screen shots from 9 universities in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. that use top task web design. One example: an easy-to-find link to a net cost calculator right from the Admissions entry page. See that one and 8 others at
Facebook Marketing: 3 Recommendations for Advertising Success

One thing about Facebook is clear: just building a page and hoping for results is likely to disappoint.

In the second of a series of articles for Marketing Land, Emily Wilson outlines three different approaches to effective advertising on Facebook depending on one of three possible goals: increasing your fans or getting visitors to go elsewhere and complete a specific action or increasing engagement activity on your Facebook page.

Emily's wise words and simple graphics are here
Financial Aid: The 10 Year Future

A panel at the annual meeting of financial aid professionals last month in Chicago was asked to speculate on the future of financial aid in U.S. higher education 10 years from now.

The predictions were bleak, from an end to long-standing SEOG grants and Perkins loan programs and other changes that would effectively end the present system.

An emerging challenge: a growing number of students who will assemble online courses from various universities and look for a single degree-granting institution without ever enrolling full-time at one school.

Another challenge: an increasing emphasis on quality of education to maintain eligibility to award financial aid to students.

See if you agree with the panel after you read the report at
Search Optimization: Link Strategy in 2012

How important is it to create inbound links to your website to increase your visibility to people searching for your academic programs online?

As it always has, it depends on the type of links. For an up-to-date review of what is likely to work and what it likely to hurt you, read Tom Schmitz on "What Everyone Needs to Know About Good, Bland, and Bad Links" at

The bottom line: link quantity is not nearly as important as link quality. The puzzle remains: how do Google, Bing and others distinguish between the two?
Most Popular Topic in the July Newsletter: Is Branding Only for Cattle?

Most popular July topic was the AdAge article urging people to "Drop the Word Branding from Your Vocabulary" and pay more attention to positioning. Read it at
My Conferences and Webinars in 2012

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

October 30, November 1: "Writing Right for the Web" webinar with Academic Impressions. Review the program outline and register at

November 11-14, New Orleans: AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. The Symposium website is at Register for my "Digital Marketing Strategy" tutorial on Sunday.

Expand the marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on any of my presentation topics or "Writing Right for The Web." Scan the presentation topics at

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

Increase your online marketing success with these 5 services.
• Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, Campus Workshops
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How marketing oriented are higher education admission offices?

Something unexpected happened while I was at the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference in Chicago in July. 

Steve Kappler, assistant vice president for market strategy and services at ACT, did a presentation over lunch one day urging colleges and universities to buy fewer names of college bound students from ACT. 

Ignoring valuable and free market research data

If Steve didn't use those exact words, that was the impact of what he said. Far too many admissions and enrollment people who buy ACT names (and one suspects PSAT/SAT names as well) don't pay attention to the free marketing data available to create a profile of the people most likely to attend an institution. The first result: too much money spent buying names and sending initial contact pieces in the mail. The second result: low conversion rates that lead people to decide that "search" isn't an effective recruitment tool.

I've known Steve for years. And years. He's a smart person who can't quite believe that the research data provided by people taking the ACT test isn't being better used by those who recruit new students. 

ACT data reinforces one point that too many people ignore: most high school students end up doing just what they say they will do when registering for the ACT. This includes:
  • Staying close to home (very few, mostly those at the top of the ACT test level, will go far away).
  • Enrolling at a private or public institution (difficult to get people to switch from their first choice).
  • Enrolling in the academic major they selected. (Forget whether or not they will change after enrolling, that hasn't happened yet.)
Download a copy of the excellent 24-page ACT "Enrollment Management Trends" report for more insight into crafting an effective prospect profile.

Direct marketing success: start with the quality of the list contacted

What's often missing in the list buying process is attention to the most important point in direct marketing: success depends most of all on the quality of the list you are contacting. The more a marketing effort deviates from that rule, the lower the results achieved.

For many schools, times are desperate. And so there continue to be many whose recruitment plan starts with adding as many people as possible to the top of an outdated "funnel" system of recruitment. Better instead to build a smaller inquiry pool based on people with a higher (but never guaranteed) probability of enrolling. From that point, seek the highest possible conversion.

Self-reported ACT takers: many ignore their most valuable inquiries

One more point stood out in Steve's talk: when admissions offices receive self-reported ACT scores (the most valuable inquiry you can get), far too many just toss them into the general inquiry pool and pay no special attention to them from that point forward. And that, simply put, is insane. 

Students who self-report test scores should convert to applications at a higher rate than any other inquiries. But if you treat them like everyone else (and especially if your competitors do not) you run a high risk of offending those most interested in your school. 

Winnow out people with test score and GPA profiles lower than you know you will admit. And then pay very close attention to everyone left. Start with a phone call the day after you receive the profile information from ACT. These people are worth the effort. 
Admission marketing in 2012

Many years ago I read results of a NACAC survey where nearly half of higher education admissions directors reported that their "market" was every high school student planning to attend college. That made me cringe.

Steve's comments on list buying practices and treatment of self-reported test takers told me that at far too many schools, marketing isn't nearly as strong in 2012 as it should be. I'm still cringing. 

Too much attention to "brand" and not enough to recruitment cultivation and conversion? Maybe so. 

That's all for now.

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

Bob Johnson
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