Marketing and the College Tour

In March I wrote a post about the value of first impressions.  That post was inspired by the different marketing and promotional approaches of colleges and universities at a local college fair I attended with my daughter.  Fast forward four months and some of the booths that grabbed our attention that day were visited recently.

Since I tend to view many things with a marketer’s eye, the college tour experience was viewed with the same scrutiny I applied to the college fair in March.  It’s safe to say that some excelled and others failed miserably.  After visiting/looking at 7 schools in 3 states, here’s what stood out:

  1. Photo editing is a marketer’s best friend.  One school that looked great on the web and in their brochures was the exact opposite in person.  Situated in a very poor part of town, there was no dedicated campus and the buildings were quite run-down in person.  This is exactly why you must visit schools and not believe everything you see in a marketing brochure.
  2. Hospitality goes a long way.  Most schools offered visitors something to drink (bottled water, coffee, tea).  Some even offered cookies.  One offered nothing and pointed to vending machines in the lobby.  You certainly wouldn’t apply to a school based on whether or not the Admissions Department offered cookies.  But, which experience leaves a better taste in your mouth (pun intended)?
  3. Personalization makes a great impression.  Most schools followed-up on our visits with a “canned” thank you note and additional marketing materials.  Thank you notes are important, but they need to be authentic.  We received a hand-written thank you note from the student tour guide at one of the schools (in addition to one from admissions).  That simple gesture made a great and lasting impression!
  4. You need to walk the walk.  If you’re going to tout how state-of-the-art your campus is when it comes to technology, then your admissions presentation should reflect that.  A simple PowerPoint isn’t going to cut it.  The schools that invested in a higher quality multimedia presentation reinforced their claim of incorporating cutting edge technology.
  5. Finding common ground.  A few of the schools had large groups of students/parents for the campus tour.  Most simply split the groups randomly.  However, one university split the groups by the prospective students’ potential major/school.  Additionally, they matched that group with a student tour guide from that same school.  Rather than having a theater major attempting to answer questions about a business major, you had a business major answering questions from prospective business school students.
  6. Kids like swag.  Just like point #2 above, whether or not you receive a coffee mug or t-shirt from the school should have no bearing on whether or not you choose to apply to that school.  But, kids like free stuff!  The schools which made a small investment in a promotional budget sent visiting students home with a positive impression (and created a walking advertisement in the process).

The above marketing observations are certainly not limited to higher education.  These same examples and principles apply to small businesses too.  Think about the impression your action (or inaction) is leaving on customers and potential customers.  Quite often, just a simple shift can make a big difference!

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The Value Of First Impressions

I’ve written previously about the value of first impressions.  A few weeks ago I was reminded about how valuable those first impressions can be.  I had the opportunity to bring my daughter to a local college fair with over 200 schools in attendance.  She did some homework ahead of the event and we had a large list of schools we wanted to speak with.

Upon arriving at the event, what struck me first, was that there was an immediate and obvious discrepancy among the schools.  Some had great signage that was branded consistently with their school.  Other colleges simply made do with what was provided by the convention center.  When you see something like that, what’s your first impression?  Is it that one school takes pride in their brand and another doesn’t?  Or is it something more cynical, such as one school charges more in tuition to support its marketing and promotions budget?

A few of the colleges had more than one representative at the table to help reduce waiting times.  As a parent with many schools on the list and many questions to ask, I found that to be very valuable.  But that begs the same questions, doesn’t it?  Is it “smart business” on the school’s behalf or is it flaunting a larger budget that can afford to send two representatives instead of one?

Many of the colleges had large visuals of campus.  Not surprisingly, all of the students look like models and the campus apparently enjoys nothing but  sunny, blue skies and 70-degree days all year-long.  What surprised me was that some schools didn’t have visuals at all, unless you proactively flipped through their glossy brochures.  You can’t flip through a brochure if your booth doesn’t attract the visitor to begin with!  That seems like Marketing 101 to me, and that doesn’t bode well for the offending schools offering a marketing degree.  I think they need to re-take that class, or perhaps take it at a different school that understands marketing!

My final observation, however, was how few schools had promotional products with them.  I was expecting to bring home enough branded pens to supply a few classrooms with.  Instead, we found one school that had postcards of campus images printed in 3-D and another school that gave out small smartphone screen cleaning pads.

After speaking with 30+ schools, I must admit that many of them blended together at the end of the event.  The ones I remembered either had a great representative, or they had the right combination of marketing and promotional collateral to stand out from the crowd.  For the colleges, isn’t it all about making a great first impression at an event like that?  My daughter was able to eliminate many schools from consideration based on first impressions alone.  The rest will be eliminated on other, more traditional criteria.

Does your business actively plan for making the right first impression?  If you’re looking for a job, what are you doing to ensure your first impression is a good one?

Ithaca College, IC, Roy H. Park School of Communications, Cayuga Lake, South Hill

A first-impression of my alma matter, the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, overlooking Cayuga Lake (image via ithaca.edu)

R.I.P. LinkedIn Events

LinkedIn shut off their events application on November 26, 2012.  I’m sure some of you read the previous sentence and immediately thought, “what events application?!”

I’ve always felt this was a great feature of LinkedIn and one that not enough people knew about or utilized.  I guess that’s a big reason why LinkedIn has decided to discontinue it.  The application allowed you to create an event and promote it (to social media channels and within LinkedIn to your status update, a group discussion and/or private InMail to your connections).  As people registered for the event, you could see who was attending from within your network and who was attending outside of your 1st level connections who you might want to meet.

During different versions of this application (they’ve tweaked it throughout the years) you could search on events geographically, by topic/industry, by date or by connections.  The events application allowed you to recommend the event to others and to comment on the event.  All of this event-related activity would show up in your network updates feed, which further promoted the event.  Sounds great, right?

The biggest problem with the application was that you couldn’t fully manage an event with it.  While you could promote it, that was about it.  You couldn’t do payment processing if the event had paid admission, you couldn’t create tickets for the event, you couldn’t create detailed registration forms to collect additional information, you couldn’t automatically send out RSVPs, etc., etc.  While it wasn’t perfect, it really was a great application and I’m sorry to see it discontinued.  I wish LinkedIn had worked on improving the application instead.

Of course, you can continue to promote events through your own status updates and posting into relevant groups as a discussion or promotion thread.  Perhaps they’ll replace it down the road or maybe even partner with another company that specializes in event promotion.

If you manage events, what tools do you use?  I’d love to see a discussion thread for this post with recommended free sites and platforms!  What do you like about the tool you use?