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Higher Education Marketing Industry Evolves

In case you missed the recent American Marketing Association’s Annual Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Austin, here’s what you need to know:

1. You must get digital tactics right – Whether it was discussing the best marketing plans, website layouts, or lead capture forms, digital tactics were a central theme among the more than a thousand higher education marketers who attended.  “Digital” is synonymous with current and long-term institutional success.

2. Enrollment declines – There is pressure nearly everywhere.  While there is important movement towards elevating marketing’s role in institutional decision-making (more on this below), there is still a sense the job of marketing is tethered to the increasingly difficult job of “putting butts in seats,” often sought from target populations too small to fill classrooms.

3. Collaborating across campus is hard, but essential – Whether at an institution that is large or small, public or private, centralized or de-centralized, the subject of building collaborative relationships across campus was hot. [And rightly so].

4. So, you have data – Most schools have finally realized they need CRMs, now most appear to mostly struggle with what to do with it.


1. There just aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions to many of the issues facing marketing professionals within higher education.  And we should stop looking for them.  Every market is increasingly different, for every institution.  We are in the age of segmentation and personalized selling – made possible through the wonderful world of technology.  Throughout the sessions, it was clear that the audience was looking for panaceas – “please tell me what is working at your institution so I can bring it home and implement it at mine.”  Unfortunately, these mass presentations aren’t the best places to get custom advice.

2. There is momentum around changing the perception of marketers at higher education institutions – and utilization of market intelligence and data will drive that shift.  This may be a perennial theme (or, perhaps, wishful thinking), but it felt like the idea is gaining real steam.  An increasing number of higher education marketers are growing more sophisticated and have unique vantage points and data sources that can be very beneficial at the strategy table – before decisions that require marketing are made.  Many seem to be earning their way to the strategy table, mostly due to a new generation of academic leadership (deans and associate deans) who are themselves “digital natives,” who get the complexity and importance of sophisticated, data-driven marketing [and not so much the expensive, speciously-measured “big branding” campaigns of the past] in the long-term success of their institution.