by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
During a recent layover at O’Hare airport in Chicago while on my way to lead one of our staff training workshops, I did what I usually do between flights – pay a visit to Starbucks. While waiting to pick up my order I heard the barista say “Germany.” Obviously that’s a country and not my name, but I headed to the counter nonetheless to see if that was my latte. Sure enough, Jeremy had somehow become Germany. It was an honest mistake and one that caused me to chuckle.
Starbucks doesn’t have to hand write names on their customers’ orders, but they do. Ever wonder why? It’s the same reason that Coca-Cola launched the “Share a Coke” campaign and Bud Light is rolling out NFL team-themed cans: Taking a more personalized approach creates a stronger connection with consumers.
College admissions recruiting is no different. Today’s prospective student is busier than ever. If they’re going to spend the next four years on your campus, and in most cases make a significant financial investment to do so, they want the recruitment process to be personalized. For them to seriously consider your school, your admissions team needs to understand, and then deliver on, their wants and their needs. According to Brian Rafferty, Global Director of Research Insights for branding firm Siegel+Gale, the younger generations embrace individuality. “It makes people feel like the brand is more about them than about the brand,” he noted.
So, what’s the first step? As I just said, it starts by understanding your audience: what makes them tick, what motivates them, and what content about your institution they will find most helpful. As you ask questions, it’s important to know the right amount of information to ask for. Doing so will allow you to create personalized content. For example, you may discover that a higher income student cares more about lifestyle and the academic reputation of your school. Conversely, a lower income recruit might be more concerned about the surroundings, friendliness and what your school will do to make it affordable for them. You can then take that information and create a more personalized experience.
Here are a few additional ways that you can effectively use personalization during the recruitment process:
- Your letters and emails. When students narrow down their list of potential schools they’ve told us that personalized letters and emails play a big part. Let me ask you then, how often do you include a hand-written note or comment in your letters? It could just be one sentence related to the message in that specific mailer. What about hand writing the mailing address? Again, a simple yet effective technique in the minds of your recruits, who are constantly looking for something that sets your school apart. Here’s one more – How often do you repeat the prospect’s name in your messaging? If you’re a client of ours you see this all the time in the recruiting communications we craft. It’s like Dale Carnegie’s sixth principle says: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Creative and relevant content. Taking the first bullet point one step further, if you’ve started to build a relationship with your prospects, you’ll have discovered things they like and things they don’t. Use this to your advantage in your recruiting communications. It’s much more successful than the patch and blast approach. If you have a student who wants to major in Music, figure out who some of their favorite artists are. Then create a unique mailer that incorporates something about that artist, the prospective student, and your school. Make sure the message is clear, concise and not too drawn out. This will grab their attention, especially if it’s tailored to their interests.
- The campus tour. It starts as soon as your prospect checks in at the admissions office. If the first person to greet them isn’t their counselor, that person should know the prospect’s name along with anyone else who might be accompanying him or her. If you have student led tours, that individual, in addition to being friendly and knowledgeable about your school, should be given some basic information about the prospect. At the very least, this includes where they’re from and what the prospect’s interests are. Like it or not, students and parents often make the mistake of discounting a great school because the person or people involved in the campus tour turned them off. If your visits are already getting high marks, then I encourage you to raise the bar. For example, if the student is a big volleyball fan, why not take them on a personal tour of the team’s locker room. This is an easy way to create a lasting memory.
- For parents. You know they’re your prospect’s biggest “influencer,” so what can you do to personalize the process for them? What about a quick video in collaboration with your school’s financial aid office that breaks down the financial aid process and all the jargon associated with it. Add the video to your school’s website or social media platform.
- Social Media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook remain popular with teenagers. We’ve seen a number of colleges create a private Facebook group for prospective students to interact with current students and professors. Another popular strategy is using Twitter to create virtual information sessions on a particular topic assigned with a hashtag. Both are great ideas, but I want you think bigger! Let me touch on two up and coming SM platforms – Snapchat and Vine. Snapchat can be used to provide prospects with a behind-the-scenes look at various aspects of life on your campus. For example, you could have a series of snaps that chronicles the dorm life experience. We’ve also encouraged our clients to get lots of video at places both on and off campus that they see as being big pluses for their students and posting it on Vine. You could also create Vines that congratulate individual prospects on being admitted to your school.
Throughout every recruiting cycle there are numerous opportunities to personalize the prospect experience. By personalizing you will stand out among the crowd, not to mention the fact that you will create deeper relationships, trust, and a comfort level where your prospects feel at home. In turn, that will entice more recruits to choose your institution.
Is your recruiting communication flow not producing the application numbers you had hoped for? Campus visit numbers a little lower than expected? We can help you change both of those right now. It’s not too late. Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a phone call and discuss how it’s done.