One of the many things we enjoy about working in higher education is embracing the unique offerings of each institution. From colleges and universities to individual schools and departments, every one of our client partners has something special to offer their students. We love the opportunity to help tell the institution's story through a unified and collaborative marketing effort.

In recent years, we’ve noticed a few distinct trends in the marketing challenges that higher ed institutions of all sizes and types are facing. Below is just a sampling of the questions we hear most often.

  • How can we showcase what makes our institution different?
  • How do we differentiate ourselves amongst our many competitors?
  • How can we attract students that are the perfect fit for our school?
  • How do we raise awareness of a new program among qualified prospective students?
  • How can we drive enrollment on a limited budget?

Integrated Marketing Can Help

We believe that one way to address these challenges and create a more cohesive and streamlined effort is an integrated approach to marketing. An integrated marketing plan is a multi-pronged and goal-driven marketing approach that utilizes a variety of strategically selected channels to move target audiences through a relational engagement process (i.e. awareness through to enrollment). Integrated marketing allows an institution to observe and measure the success of each marketing channel and initiative, giving them the ability to effectively tailor strategy and future tactics to maximize their investment.

For many, it may be difficult to view an integrated marketing plan as an attainable solution for an institution that’s divided between colleges, departments, divisions, campuses and more. Some schools are acutely aware of the need for an integrated marketing strategy, but are so fragmented that accomplishing this goal seems nearly impossible. The challenge lies in breaking down silos across campus and building consensus around a unified set of marketing goals. Below are three outcomes of an integrated approach to marketing along with examples that prove this method is not only possible, but effective.

1. Cultural Change

One of the most challenging obstacles that we face when implementing an integrated marketing strategy and plan is the institution's organizational structure. It is imperative that all facets of the institution are in agreement on the approach and are committed to communicating a unified message. This often requires significant cultural change before embarking on any tactical marketing initiatives.

For Gardner-Webb University, the integrated marketing approach required not only full commitment to the university’s brand, it required transparent collaboration between divisions on campus. The university formed two groups on campus to move the integrated marketing approach forward, a Marketing Advisory Board and a Brand Promise Task Force.

The Marketing Advisory Board is a cross-section of internal brand advocates who serve as strategic advisors to University Marketing. Participants in this group include representatives from divisions across campus including Creative Services, Athletics, the School of Business, the School of Divinity, Degree Completion Programs and Undergraduate Admissions, just to name a few. One of the focus areas for this group was to recommend events that the university should invest in to showcase the welcoming culture at Gardner-Webb. Some event ideas included extended preview days, summer enrichment programs, targeted athletic events and more.

The Brand Promise Task Force is a smaller group of internal stakeholders who identify academic, vocational and student life initiatives that bring the brand to life (i.e. proof points of the University’s commitment to the brand promise). The results of the first year of this Task Force at Gardner-Webb are already coming to life. One example is the creation of a new institutional-wide program that will positively affect students' ability to secure jobs upon graduation. (Yet to be announced so we can't give up the secret.) Another example is a student-led initiative that will give each class long term ownership of a specific service project showcases the brand attribute of faith in action.

2. Brand and Differentiation

No matter the message or medium, a college or university should be communicating a consistent brand identity across all forms of outreach. Your institution’s brand should tell a story and deliver a clear message about what who you are and what you stand for.

The University of California at Santa Barbara needed to build brand awareness and drive qualified prospective student leads for a brand new master’s program designed for early-career engineers and scientists. The Master of Technology Management is a 9-month on campus program designed to teach engineers the soft skills needed to become effective managers and leaders within companies.

Through research, stakeholder interviews and several revisions among the marketing team, this new and emerging program was able to distill its brand identity into the brand pillars, attributes and a positioning statement to not only differentiate it from its competitors, but to send a powerful message about the inherent need for the program in the technology landscape. This brand messaging is used to dictate all aspects of their integrated marketing strategy.

3. Enrollment

Every institution has its own specific goals. At least one of those goals will very likely be centered around enrollment. Whether it’s getting more applications, attracting more qualified students or simply increasing enrollment overall, every institution needs to consider their bottom line. 

When we first met Gardner-Webb University, they were grappling with a three-year enrollment decline. For various reasons, the University was struggling to convince its most qualified applicants to enroll, with a low conversion rate of admitted to enrolled relative to peer institutions. Clearly it was time to try something new. The new integrated marketing strategy took an approach that most tuition-driven institutions consider too risky to try: that targeting fewer students could actually lead to higher enrollment. The key would be to distill the essence of what sets Gardner-Webb apart into a clear brand identity, and then communicate that brand promise in compelling ways to those students who are the best fit. The investment into a narrowly targeted, brand-driven enrollment marketing strategy brought a huge and immediate return. The University enrolled 10.3 percent more students on 11 percent fewer applications and ten percent fewer visits.

Getting Started

The first step in moving towards and integrated marketing approach is to define your needs and challenges. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or would like more information. We're happy to share our experiences and discuss the strategy and planning process in more detail.