Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

September 2012 Archives

Email Marketing: A Note on Academic Major for Competitive Advantage

Before reviewing what's arrived in our secret shopper's mailbox since August 24, let's highlight an unfortunate omission from each of the 6 colleges and universities in our group: not a single mention since June of the preferred academic major asked for and received when the inquiry forms were completed. What's with that? 

Academic area of interest is a key factor in why many high school students select a college. Why not make an extra effort to take advantage of this key point and gain an immediate competitive advantage? Instead, we've had a series of emails to get our shopper to visit campus. That's important. Even better is a first response email with links to faculty, course descriptions, and outcomes related to the major of choice.

Since July 24: 17 Emails from 4 of our 6 Schools

Since my last report, the email pace has quickened from some schools... and disappeared from others. Has our shopper been "burned" from some inquiry lists for lack of response? If so, that's a valid reason to stop the contacts. If not, the next response is going to arrive after an overly long hiatus. Our "public honors college in New York," has been absent since July 13. So too has our "private university in Connecticut."

Here's what's been sent to our bright young student, including 8 of the 19 from a single school.

  • August 31: The "private college in upstate NY" asks in the subject line "What do you want to be when you grow up"? That's an intro to telling me the school has 1,200 academic program options. But you already know what I want to study. Worse yet, there's no link to what the 1,200 options are. Just another campus visit link.
  • September 1: My late-starting "private university in Rhode Island" returns with "Tips on the College Essay" and 6 short tips on how to write one and a link to a blog written by an admissions counselor. Still no personal intro or closing.
  • September 4: From the "private college in upstate NY" comes a reminder of the Open House planned for September 23 with a link and phone number to register.
  • September 11: the "private college in upstate NY" returns with a special offer: complete a "Fast-Forward" application and I'll find out if I'm eligible for a $9,000 per year scholarship. An admissions decision is promised in "just one week."
  • September 11: Our "private college in upstate NY" is back again a bit later in the day with a personal invite from the director of admissions to visit on September 23. A flaw... it is "from" the director of admissions. I don't know the school until I open the email.
  • September 11: Oops! The "private college in upstate NY" is back for the third time today with a duplicate of the June 28 "Thank you for your interest" email. An error?
  • September 13: The "private university in Rhode Island" returns with an invite to visit campus, once again not using the name of our student or anyone at the university.
  • September 13: The "private college in Massachusetts" sends an email (with my name in the subject line) to "study what you love" but no mention of my favorite academic program. A link leads to a video from an engineering student... miles away from my major.
  • September 16: The "private college in upstate NY" repeats in the subject line the offer of a "Fast-Forward" admissions decisions in just 7 days.
  • September 18: A reminder to apply before the January 15 deadline arrives from the "most selective university" in our group, with a link to a flattering description of the students who enroll here.
  • September 18: A reminder that I have not yet registered for the September 23 open house is here from the "private college in upstate NY." This time here is a note that I'll get to "meet professors in my field of interest," a first tentative use of that criterion.
  • September 19: A third invite to a chat session from our "most selective university," again just a day before the event. Do they know that late notice like this works best?
  • September 19: The "private university in Rhode Island" is back to announce adoption of Early Decision and a link to a page explaining what that's all about.
  • September 21: Announcement of a late October campus visit day from our "private university in Massachusetts" with a reminder I can visit on another day if that fits better.
  • September 23: The third reminder from the "private college in upstate NY" that I have not yet completed the "Fast-Forward" admissions app (no fee, no essay" introduced by a subject line that this school wants a "clever student" like myself.
  • September 26: A second reminder to apply to join the "talented students" enrolled at our "most selective university."
  • September 26: This email from our "private university in Massachusetts" introduced a new subject: study abroad programs. Featured is a video from a student who studied in Ireland. Missing: a link to other opportunities in other countries.
That's all for now.

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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.

Digital Marketing Strategy Workshop: Join me Sunday afternoon at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, November 11-14.

Responsive Design and Web Content: Top Tasks are a Critical Element

It is just a week since I'm back from our sixth annual Customer Carewords partners meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Each year proves to me that while you can do much online, there indeed is no substitute for in-person meetings with new and old colleagues.

This year I especially enjoyed a presentation by Christiaan Lustig, senior consultant at Sabel Online in the Netherlands. Christiaan's July article "The case for responsive web content: it's all about the users" helped me with a nagging concern about the rush to responsive web design that's been bothering me for a year or so now. 

The Holy Grail: Create Content Once, Publish it Everywhere

I'm always a bit suspect when the entire world moves suddenly in a single direction. 

Responsive web design has many strong points and Christiaan reviews them well in his article. But I suspected that a major reason for the attractiveness of responsive design was an understandable one: the lure of eliminating the cost in time and money of creating mobile web environments distinct from traditional websites. The new Holy Grail is a world where web folk can create content once and publish it everywhere... desktops, smart phones, tablets, refrigerators, TVs and who knows where else.

And I was startled by the vitriolic response on Twitter to a Jakob Nielsen Alertbox article in May. It was as if everyone waiting for years to draw and quarter the man had finally found a reason to pounce. What did Nielsen say? Responsive design might be OK for some websites but likely not for all websites. And most of the examples he's seen to date were "primitive" with respect to their user interface.

Before Responsive Design: Eliminate the Garbage Content

Most websites today (higher education included) contain a huge amount of garbage content that is seldom if ever used by anyone. Politics or simple neglect keeps us from any serious attempt to eliminate that content. We'll know things have changed when "content elimination" becomes a standard part of people's job descriptions and we no longer keep everything online because someone, sometime might want to see it.

Excessive content makes it nearly impossible to fix the problem that Carewords partners so often encounter: visitors can't quickly do the task(s) they came to the website to do. Transform a poorly performing traditional website to fit mobile devices and you still have a poorly performing website.

Before Responsive Design: Top Task Identification

Christiaan is quite supportive of responsive design while stressing a key point: top tasks will differ based on where a person is, what they are doing at the time, and what device they are using to do it. If that's the case, then content must differ as well.

  • The first step to get a handle on this is to do top task identification research. If Christiaan is right, and I believe he is, top tasks on a page visited at home or in an office on a desktop may not be the same as top tasks that should appear on a smart phone  when someone is out and about and truly mobile.
  • People expect to do different things on different devices. And so a single home page is an unlikely solution if we focus on making things easy for web visitors. 
The Holy Grail is "create once, publish everywhere." Alas, creating and maintaining an effective website in our complicated world might not be that simple.

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.

Digital Marketing Strategy Workshop: Join me Sunday afternoon at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, November 11-14.

September greetings and best wishes for a fine month to open your new semester. For everyone who is welcoming a new class of freshmen, may that marvelous spirit linger long into the fall. And may your recruitment campaigns underway for 2013 meet all your expectations.

In another week or so I'll start working on my latest Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. Join me for 3.5 hours of exploration and discussion after you visit and register at

If you have a special interest in Writing Right for the Web, from regular websites to social media, do what hundreds of institutions have done over the last 5 years: gather a group on your campus and register for my October-November webinar at

If you have a colleague who might like this newsletter, have them subscribe in a few seconds at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for September.

Emory University: Congratulations to John Latting

John Latting is the new associate vice provost for undergraduate enrollment and dean of admissions at Emory University. Late last spring he blew the whistle on his new employer by reporting to university officials that Emory had been reporting false test score data on new freshmen classes since 2000 and possibly earlier. From the story at Inside Higher Ed, the charade included not only admissions but the institutional research office as well.

If you want to know more details, the story is at

But the real story is that John decided to not just change and bury the practice under a rug, he went public at his university. And for that, he deserves the congratulations of us all.
Higher Education Costs: New Survey on How People are Paying in 2012

Sallie Mae is out with a new study on How America Pays for College in 2012 and the news is mixed. A high percent of parents and students continue to believe higher education is a worthwhile investment in future success. Demand for higher education is not expected to fall.

At the same time, a record high of 69 percent reported eliminating a school because of cost. Overall, families paid about 5 percent less for higher education than in 2011. Community colleges are benefitting from this cost concern. Their share of enrollment increased to 29 percent from 23 percent two years ago.

Private sector schools can expect continued challenges to maintain current tuition discount levels. Most cannot expect to reduce them any time soon.

Read more survey results, including a snazzy infographic, at
Mobile Marketing: a $47,000,000 Texting Mistake

We should, of course, all know this already. But if anyone is not quite sure that it is not best practice to send text messages to people without their permission, even when they are already engaged with your organization, the fine levied against Jiffy Lube for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is something to keep in mind.

The people who brought the suit were the equivalent of not just our inquiries and applicants in the higher education recruitment process. Some were the equivalent of enrolled students. Jiffy Lube sent them a special offer without asking permission. The story is at
Student Recruitment: 6 New Email Responses from a Secret Shopper Venture

The latest report in my blog series on responses to an online inquiry made in late June reviews 6 emails received from late July through August 24 from four of the six schools in the shopping expedition. A first response received in early August from the most laggard of the schools is in this round.

The goal for most remains getting me to visit campus. But for one with a different approach, the goal is participation in a chat event.

If you have not read any of the earlier reports, work backwards from the most recent at
Social Media: 9 Reasons to Quit Now

Here is a social media blogger telling us the 9 reasons he thinks it might be time to quit. The real question, of course, is whether or not many people agree with him. Read thoughts by Erik Sass on social media fatigue and the possible limits of engagement despite where Mark Z. wants to take us at
3 Tips for Better Mobile Email Marketing

Reading email on a mobile phone is one of the things that people love to do. But only if you make it easy for them to read. Tara Horner has written a short article that reinforces obvious points that are not always followed.

Tara is especially keen on the importance of the pre-header that people will see before they open your email. Even with a trusted sender and a great subject line, if the pre-header does not move the attraction one step further, far too many people will just ignore what you are sending them.

The bottom line: email that works on a regular computer or a tablet often will not work on a phone.

For more on pre-headers and other small but critical details, read her advice at
Public Relations and Content Marketing

It is interesting to see a persuasive argument in the public relations sector about paying more attention to what a customer values and less to "marketing spin" in the brand awareness stage of the marketing cycle.

My favorite point is similar to the message in preparing web content: what potential customers want to know about you is more important than what an organization wants those same people to know about it. For more, visit the PR Newswire story at

Thanks to Kate Spencer at Fordham for sending along the link.
Digital Marketing: Continuing, Changing Role of Print

If you are trying to decide the future of your recruitment view book, print version, you will not find the definitive answer in this Direct Marketing News report on what marketers think that role will be. But your discussions will benefit from a review of the different opinions in this "Pushing the Envelope" article.

Of special interest: the continuing value of having a major printed piece sitting in a high volume area at home where different people will see it and talk about it. If, of course, people give your view book a visible position from among the many that still arrive at the address of students headed for college.

More on mastering the intricacies of print marketing in a digital world at
Social Media: 2012 Demographics for 24 Sites

If you have heard of every site included in this report, you are likely well ahead of most people. But you will also find all the most popular ones as well. Yes, definite age and gender differences exist among sites.

For more data and a snazzy infographic visit
Time for Fun: AdAge Picks the "Cutest" Social Media Campaign

Take a break today and see why AdAge picked this Facebook campaign from a U.K. agency as the cutest one of the year. Visit
Most Popular Topic in the August Newsletter: Forbes on America's Top Colleges

Most popular August topic was the Forbes magazine article naming the best colleges and universities based on outcomes rather than reputation. See the results 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

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