Last week, after we left lovely Baltimore, Md. in a mad rush to avoid a fierce winter storm that rolled over the Mid-Atlantic and paralyzed the South, I was able to reflect on my trip to the CASE II conference.

As I re-read the tweets that Alissa Arford and I received from our session "How a Simple Website Redesign Sparked a Marketing and Cultural Shift at One of the Top Business Schools in the World" (yup, longest session title ever, but great session about our work with the great folks at The University of Maryland Smith School of Business), I was pleased to see that the session was very well received (thanks again to Alissa) and, more importantly, that it offered value to the standing-room-only crowd.

When I ask people why they attend these conferences, I inevitably hear the same two responses: to share and to learn. These are always my goals, too. At every conference I attend, I'm always most satisfied by the conversations that I get to have with people in the hallways, at our booth or over a drink after a long day of sessions.

Last week at CASE II, I heard quite a bit about the current state of higher education marketing from those of you on the front lines. I jotted down a few telling quotes and thought I'd share them here. 

"We (higher education) are now a fiercely competitive industry."

For most colleges and universities, gone are the days when applications rolled in without much effort to attract prospective students. Institutions of higher education are now battling each other for quality prospective students, and expectations are that this is not expected to change any time soon.

"So, what do we do about this?"

It has become clear to stakeholders within these colleges and universities that they need to first understand and define, then clearly communicate the value of their institution's offerings. When I speak, I sometimes tell a story about how institutions of higher education are similar to white sports cars. I won't retell the story here (you'll have to come see me speak or invite me in for a visit!) but the gist is that they all pretty much look the same, offer similar features, have similar price points, and so on. And just like competing white sports cars that are almost indistinguishable from one another, schools and programs need to identify the value they provide and communicate that value clearly to their constituents and target markets. 

"In order to remain (or become) competitive, we need to start doing things differently."

A few of those things:

  • Understand your own brand. What make you YOU? What makes you different from your competition? It may not be one thing (it rarely is in higher ed); it is most likely a combination of offerings, attributes, assets that genuinely exist at your school.
  • Clearly communicate your brand to internal audiences (current students, faculty, staff) as well as external audiences (prospective students, alumni, prospective donors, employers, etc.). I can't overstate how important it is for higher ed institutions to communicate their brand internally, thereby creating an army of brand evangelists.
  • Have a plan. Create a well-thought-out marketing plan for how to reach and attract your key targets and consistently execute on it. Establish measurable goals as well. As our beloved leader Diane Kuehn likes to say: "What gets measured, gets done." Tru dat.
  • Provide a stellar experience. Once you've got their attention, you need to make sure the experience is an extremely positive one. From the website, to a phone call, to the application, to the campus tour, to email follow-ups, and so on, you have to live your brand.

For those of you who couldn't make it to CASE II, you can see Alissa and I give this presentation again in a couple of week in lovely St. Petersburg, Fla. at the AACSB B-School Communications and Development Symposium.

We're also very excited to be speaking at a number of other upcoming conferences. Come check us out at:

CASE III, Orlando, FL, Feb. 17-19, 2014

AACSB, St. Petersburg, FL, March 3-5, 2014

OmniUpdate User Training Conference, Anaheim, CA, March 9-13, 2014

NCMPR National Conference, New Orleans, LA, March 19-21, 2014

NAGAP, San Diego, CA, April 30-May 3, 2014