Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

November 2014 Archives

Marketing in Higher Education... A Symposium to Celebrate Success

The 2014 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education last week in Austin was the 25th anniversary edition. Really... 25 years since Tom Hayes started the event at Xavier University. Tom is still at Xavier, now professor of marketing and chair of that department, and has never missed a symposium.

I had the pleasure of chairing the symposium for 9 years, starting in the early 1990s in New Orleans and continuing until the 2003 Miami event. At the start most people attending were from regional public universities and less selective private sector colleges. For many the symposium in early years was a refuge where people could openly use the "M" word. Once upon a time, only the symposium dared to put "marketing" in a higher education conference title.

Things have changed today. "Marketing" is now an imperative at colleges and universities of almost every type. The symposium is a celebration of success. This year's event drew more than 1,100 people, including many sponsors and exhibitors. I was especially happy to find more than 50 people at my "Digital Marketing Strategy" tutorial.

Congrats to co-chairs Deb Maue and Jason Simon and the planning team for a fine program.

6 Lessons from Symposium Sessions

Adding to my highlights from the 2013 Symposium, here are a few personal points from sessions and keynote talks, in no special order:

  • University magazine content: DJ Stout in the opening keynote noted the need for university magazines to not only celebrate what truly is "special" about each school but to also include the bad as well as the good in content selection. To be part of an effective content marketing strategy, magazines have to move past the traditional PR "all is always happy and well" approach and include the realities that every school faces today. That's starting to happen. 
    • Important lesson: reality marketing is alive and well.
  • Direct marketing principles work on social media: Jon Hinderliter at University of Missouri - St. Louis gave an excellent example of a targeted use of online advertising. After uploading a profile of 300 students in the primary recruitment area around St. Louis who had attended on-campus recruitment events, Facebook found about 400,000 people who matched that profile. Result after initial ads and retargeting: a 37 percent visit increase that surpassed the capacity of the existing program and "forced" the addition of new visit events. 
    • Important lesson: Do more in your core marketing before venturing too far afield.
  • Short forms really do work better: Jon also showed the original and lengthy registration form used for the visit events that had an 80 percent abandonment rate. A new and much shorter form dramatically increased completion. 
    • Important lesson: The longer the form, the fewer people will complete it.
  • Calls to action, everywhere on the website: It is often a challenge to find an inquiry or application call to action on a higher ed website without revisiting the admission page. The website for Notre Dame de Namur University solves that problem with calls to action prominently displayed on not only the home page but just about everywhere else a potential student might be visiting. 
    • Important lesson: The easier you make it for people to take an action, the more will take it.
  • Higher education as a buyers market: Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, walks with those favoring the disruption of the traditional higher education delivery model. For marketing, Jamie predicts schools will have to focus in the future on a new flexibility that allows people to create educational plans from a variety of sources and methods. Read everything he had to say on the Lumina website. If he's right, only a handful of prestigious schools will have the ability to demand adherence to their education style. 
    • Important lesson: Fear the future and you will lose.
  • Content reduction really is possible: Columbia College Chicago, as part of a major website redesign, eliminated 97 percent of the content on the previous website, from 36,000 pages in 2013 to 944 in 2014. In this mobile era when less is better, major content reduction is critical to marketing success. Kudos to Will Vautrain, Columbia's director of digital and marketing strategy. 
    • Important lesson: If you are redoing your site, start with content reduction, not design glamour. 
That's all for now.

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2015 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education
  • Plan now to attend the 26th symposium in Chicago in November.

A November hello to everyone. We are near the end of 2014 and as you will see below it is already time for people to start making predictions for 2015. We join the bandwagon with Items below on 50 failed content marketing predictions in 2014 and 5 social marketing possibilities for 2015.

Seldom do I mention Link of the Week selections in the monthly newsletter but the October 17 site was so unusual that it deserves special notice. Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has a format for academic programs that is remarkably fast, downloading to an iPhone in less than 3 seconds. Speed counts. Speed is possible. Every extra second increases your bounce rate. If you missed the NAIT Link of the Week visit the selected site at 

I will be doing some extra reading this week before my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education next Monday. So far 46 people have registered, including folk from Canada, Egypt, Italy, Mexico and New Zealand. Get a sneak preview of content new for this year at "Surviving and Thriving in Digital Marketing, 7 Tips to Start" at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for November.
Start November with a Great Cartoon: 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media Marketing

If you wonder sometimes about taking things in the marketing world a bit too seriously start following marketing cartoonist Tom Fishburne as he gleefully pokes fun at many of the pretensions circulating around the marketing world.

Start you experience when you laugh and maybe cry over the deadly sins of social media marketing. Start with lust and end with wrath at 
Social Media Marketing: 5 Trends to Watch in 2015

November is upon us and so also are the early predictions for what to expect in 2015. And thus we have "Top 5 Social Marketing Trends for Brands to Watch in 2015" from our friends at ClickZ.

Two that I think are especially important to note. First, you will indeed have to pay to play for marketing impact on social media as Facebook and others change to force that. Second, despite the ongoing dominance of Facebook, social media will continue to splinter and smaller sites will increase in importance. 

For more on those two and the other three visit the article by Roger Katz at 
New Gainful Employment Rules: 900 Pages to Review

Opinions on the new gainful employment rules from the Department of Education that will determine a school's eligibility to participate in financial aid programs vary from still too harsh and restrictive to excessive concern over the possibilities of more legal challenges from the for-profit sector. 

To decide for yourself, use the full 900+ page report available from the Federal Register 
Online Advertising: The Native Advertising Playbook

How well can you integrate advertising into search results and news feeds so that more people will not treat your ad as an unwelcome "interruption" in a web visit? In effect, how well can you make your ads seem more valuable and increase click rates?

That is the challenge reviewed by the Internet Advertising Bureau in The Native Advertising Playbook at 

Pay special attention to the 6 examples of native advertising types in Section 3 of the report and 6 questions to ask to see if your campaign qualifies as native advertising, with special attention to where you place your ads and how well you target them.
Teens and Social Media: How Popular is iFunny?

Have you been to iFunny yet? I had not until reviewing again the E-Expectations survey results from Noel-Levitz last week. iFunny was the 8th most popular social media site for college-bound teens answering the 2014 survey.

Retargeting ads were following me when I visited iFunny at 
Content Marketing: 50 Prediction Failures for 2014

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, has been assembling annual content marketing predictions since 2009. A genuine evangelist for the subject, one of his strong points is a willingness to admit how difficult it is to make accurate predictions.

Some of the predictions might, of course, still happen. And there are some places where Joe claims partial credit. Predictions are assembled from experienced content marketing specialists. You can send your predictions to Joe for 2015 for possible adoption.

If content marketing is important to you, be sure to visit "How I Missed on Every 2014 Content Prediction" (all 50 of them) at 
Report Affirms Suspicions: College Attendance Correlates with High School Financial Level

The National Student Clearing House Research Center is out with a new study on three high school factors that influence eventual college enrollment: percent of minority enrollment, location, and income level.

Not surprisingly, most predictive is the income level of the students, measured by the percent eligible for free or lower priced lunches. Read a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education and link to the full report at 
Is Your Website a Rice Cooker or Tea Pot?

Websites can be as intuitive to use as a teapot. Or they can be as complicated as a rice cooker. James Monsees makes a compelling case for "Putting 'Intuitive' Back into Website Design" in a UX Magazine article at 

For greater marketing success, make this article required reading before you start to revise your website. The more time people have to take to figure out how your website works the more visitors you will lose, guaranteed. Be sure your website has the simplicity of a tea pot. 
Wake Forest MBA Program: No Longer for Full-Time Students

Wake Forest University has an MBA program ranked 58th by US News that no longer will accept full-time students, after five years of falling enrollment from 123 to 98 students.

Over the same time span, enrollment of working professionals in programs designed especially for them has increased from 242 to 304 students. The change is not to an online format. Part-time students will still sit in campus classrooms. More details in the Inside Higher Ed story 
Most Popular Topic in October Newsletter: Protest Against Creighton University Ad Campaign

A new advertising campaign at Creighton University was withdrawn after attacks by students and others that the campaign failed to respect the values of the Jesuit sponsors. Just before the end of the campaign detailed arguments against it were presented in the student newspaper at 
Conference Presentation in November

November 10-13, Austin, TX: AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, Monday workshop on "Digital Marketing Strategy." See the program at 

Plan a custom presentation on your campus. Host a workshop on any of my conference topics. Review the 2013 and 2014 choices at and contact me at or 248.766.6425.

Bob Johnson
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