We like to think of colleges and universities as places where learning trumps all else, but the truth of the matter is that institutions like these are still businesses, which means they need to make money. Says Rob Moore of Lipman Hearne, a marketing company specializing in non-profits:
“Higher ed institutions today are facing a conflation of challenges that can best be met through more effective marketing. Increased competition for students, deep tuition discounting, demographic pressures that put many traditional markets at risk—all have a huge impact on the institution’s bottom line.”
In response to this, colleges and universities are actively adding new marketing tactics to the mix including social media and interactive marketing. Lipman Hearne recently published the results of a study called “Marketing Spending at Colleges and Universities” and here’s what they found:
- Interactive and social media budgets are growing. Between FY2008 and FY2009, 55 percent of institutions surveyed allocated more to interactive; and 52 percent allocated more to social media.
- Institutions that invested more in social media were more likely to report positive outcomes in three important areas: website hits, positioning, and rates of alumni giving.
- Moderate-to-heavy users of social media were actually spending less per student overall on marketing activities. The moderate-to-heavy investors spent $83 per student, and the light-to-non-investors spent $121 per student.
- While interactive and social media budgets were on the rise, traditional advertising budgets were on the wane. The study found that more than one-third of the institutions allocated less to traditional advertising in FY2009 than they did in FY2008 (35 percent). And 42 percent of moderate-to-heavy social media users spent less on traditional advertising compared to the prior year.
- Institutions continue to rely on print publications. Of those surveyed, 55 percent spent the same portion of their budget on print publications in FY2009 as they did in FY2008. In fact, more than one-quarter of marketing budgets went toward print publications, more than any other category.
- Though marketing spending has decreased at some institutions in the short term, marketing spending has increased substantially over the last decade. According to an earlier study, in FY2001, the median marketing spending for a midsized college or university (2,000-5,999 students) was $259,400 (or $321,900, adjusted for inflation). Not even a decade later, that figure rises to $800,000—an increase of more than 100 percent.
One of the most telling points here is the marketing dollar to student ratio. This number indicates that social media marketing is cheaper but just as effective as traditional marketing. Or so it would seem. The trouble with marketing and education is how you define the results. Unlike a retail business where you can see the effect in dollars earned, colleges have to look at a variety of results from number of students enrolling to donations, even the popularity of a faculty member could be seen as an uptick. Donna Van De Water, director of research at Lipman Hearne, and one of the study’s authors says:
“In the last five years there’s been a much greater interest in proof, in validation, and in testing. Marketers need to be able to show that their investments are going to have a payoff, whether it’s in increasing enrollments or generating a higher profile. Having the metrics helps an institution understand where it sits relative to competitors, how to better manage reputation, how to shape messages, and how to maximize resources.”
For more information about the report’s findings, please visit www.lipmanhearne.com.