It’s one of those terms that fills most of us with dread. ROI. Return on investment. Justify your existence.
The pressure on higher education seems to be coming from all directions these days, including internal. And one of those internal pressure points is a growing emphasis on showing where, how and how effectively you’re spending marketing dollars and resources on student recruiting.
The American Association of Community Colleges has recognized this, and is devoting much of its professional development this year on helping members measure return on investment.
Kathy Corbalis, who serves as executive director of college relations at Atlantic Cape Community College, notes that higher-ed marketers “are being asked to demonstrate the value of their work,” and she offers some suggestions for doing that successfully:
Begin with a plan. This is no earth shaking recommendation, but it is astonishing how many colleges continue to operate without a written marketing communications plan, or are content with just tweaking last year’s. Your plan should link to the school’s strategic plan, says Corbalis, and must evaluate marketing outcomes based on measurable objectives.
Employ web analytics. Measuring ROI can be easier than ever thanks to web analytic tools. For example, Bucks County Community College ran a marketing campaign for a specific program, drove prospects to special landing pages, carefully tracked their progress, and demonstrated that actual income generated by the effort was nearly triple the campaign’s cost.
Centralize marketing budgets. Institutions can’t measure marketing ROI if they don’t know the total being spent college-wide, says Corbalis. So she recommends centralizing marketing funds under one department or, at the very least, giving the chief marketing officer the authority to coordinate college-wide marketing expenses.
Break down silos. When departments responsible for recruiting and retaining students work in silos and fail to share data, you have problems — including the inability to effectively measure ROI. While many schools still struggle with territorial battles, they can at least establish cross-functional enrollment management teams that facilitate information sharing.
Invest in research. The best way to gauge how well things are working is to devote 10 percent of your marketing budget to research. If that’s not feasible, then consider adding questions to your applications, college surveys and web forms, conducting focus groups and running social media polls.
Measuring ROI can be daunting, so begin small and build on your success, says Corbalis. Attach measures to things and begin measuring.
Read more about our authors. Ray Ulmer, public relations director at TargetX, has been involved in higher education marketing for more than 25 years, including serving as executive director of communications at La Salle University and director of public relations at Drexel University. He has also worked in corporate marketing and advertising.