by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
If you read last week’s newsletter article on personalization as an enrollment tool, or you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you know I’m quite fond of Starbucks coffee.
I started drinking it in my early 20’s and haven’t looked back. One day I’ll get a latte, the next a mocha. No matter the location, it’s always made the way I want it. Over the years their stores have also become my mobile offices. Comfy couches, free Wi-Fi, and now a pay ahead option.
In other words, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising and branding that Dunkin’ Donuts, McCafe (McDonalds) and the rest have invested in hasn’t convinced me to switch allegiances. I’ve decided that Starbucks is the best, and in turn, I tune out the others’ advertising messages. I know what I want and that’s that. I have an emotional bias towards Starbucks.
We all have irrational biases. For some it’s politics. For others it might be the neighborhood that they live in. Each of us has decided that certain things are right and wrong for us.
The exact same reason I don’t seriously consider switching coffee brands may be the reason many of your prospects don’t seriously consider you and your institution. It’s a principle called confirmation bias, and it’s an important area of study for our team here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies as we map out recruitment strategies and communication plans for our clients.
Confirmation bias happens when we only pay attention to the information or data that affirms our decision or beliefs. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring or rejecting information that casts doubt on it. Even though evidence may overwhelmingly contradict our position, we hold tenaciously to our preferred belief. In my case, it may be irrational love for Starbucks coffee. For you it could be affecting your prospect’s ability to look logically at the opportunity your school offers him or her.
Our research shows more and more prospective students are coming into a recruiting conversation with an existing bias either for your school or against it…and some of it is irrational:
- They don’t want to consider you as a private college because they’ve seen the price tag, and those around them have told them that there’s just no way it can be made affordable.
- Your prospect doesn’t want to visit campus because they aren’t used to cold winters, so of course they’d be unhappy going to school in your town…and every time they see cold weather forecasted for your region of the country, it confirms that notion.
- Your prospect has grown up close to campus, so they think they know everything about your school. They want college to be an adventure for them, and they’ve decided that will not be possible if they stay close to home.
Sound familiar? Right now, confirmation bias – and the negative effects it carries – is creating more hurdles for you in the recruitment process. It’s a powerful psychological aspect of our decision making, albeit illogical.
So, what are you and your admissions colleagues doing to combat that? How are you getting your prospects and their increasingly influential parents to look at things in a different way?
For starters, I need you to understand that it’s going to take some time to successfully attack a bias. If you think it can be done in one email or one letter, you’re mistaken. It has to be an ongoing process because you’re essentially going to show and prove to your prospect and/or their parents, why their way of thinking is in fact wrong.
Understand that your prospect has probably already decided what they want and don’t want in a college. That might be a good thing for you, or it could be the reason that they haven’t replied to your initial emails. Once you agree that most of your prospects come into a conversation with preconceived biases and ideas, I believe it changes the way you construct a recruiting message. The student comes in thinking they know what they want. You then need to approach this situation patiently and also say to them, “I know you feel this way, but I think you might want to take a look at this over here and here’s why.” Again, understand you’re going to be suggesting that they’re wrong. That’s okay. You’re just going to have to tell them what they need to do differently and how they’re going to have to think differently. Some examples might include: Here’s why you should want to stay close to home for college. Here’s how a private college can be made affordable. Here’s why you shouldn’t worry so much about school rankings when you make your decision.
They aren’t looking for logic right away. They’re looking for an emotional reason to have a conversation with you. Have you ever asked yourself why a prospect doesn’t respond to you when you send out a logical, factual outline of what your school offers, the successful history of recent graduates, and the outstanding community that your students enjoy? The answer is because they’ve already decided that their original choice is the smartest one for them. I’ve decided that Starbucks is the right coffee for me based on nothing more than the fact that I’ve drunk it for years and I like the personalized service and look/feel of their stores. Similarly, your prospect is basing his or her initial decision on whether to communicate with you or not on simplistic, illogical reasons. So don’t try to sell them on the logic behind choosing you right away. Instead, work on creating an emotional connection with them…and it can’t just be a list of bullet points about your school.
Discover what makes them happy. Why have they decided that a bigger/smaller college or another location is right for them? What are they assuming that makes them feel this way? You need to ask these kinds of questions early on and then come up with a list of wants. Then you can start to make the emotional case that experiencing something different is actually a great thing. Only after those basic ideas are accepted as possibilities can you move on to the logical argument that your school is the best option for them.
Never underestimate the power of consistency. As I said earlier, this strategy doesn’t take place over one or two emails, or in one long phone conversation. It may take weeks to create that emotional connection. Consistent, long term communication with your prospect using the rule that we talk about during our on-campus workshops is key. That research-based rule says that most prospects want a message every six to nine days that tells them here’s why you should want to join our student body. Your prospects need that consistency, and they need it talked about in a personalized way. Doing so makes it easy to reply back and engage in conversation.
Many admissions professionals won’t attack biases for the simple fact that success isn’t instantaneous. Here’s the thing though: A lot of biases are based on bad information. If you prepare an effective recruiting communications plan and execute it, you can change the mindset of your prospects.
Questions about any of this? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Our team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies is here to help!