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Planning for Changes in the Market

April 13, 2009

Old and New

The marketing world is abuzz about new media and how the marketing rules are changing. Did you anticipate these changes? Are you on the leading edge of adapting to these changes?

Are your enrollment management, marketing, public relations and university advancement organizations fluid enough to make changes to your strategies? Do you have the right people in the right seats on the bus for this new marketing world? How are you going to shift?

Do you have a plan–a marketing plan–that addresses these market shifts? Do you have multiple plans, i.e., plans for your programs?

Building marketing strategies for higher education is really the process of building marketing plans for a college or university and its academic programs. A marketing plan is a distinct planning document from the institution’s strategic plan. It flows from it. As chief marketing/enrollment officer, your stamp of approval should be on the marketing plan, because it will set the course for the coming year (and beyond), and will largely determine whether or not you will be successful.

Constructing the plan is an illuminating, step by step collaborative process. A marketing plan should not be written by one person at their computer. If we’re talking about an academic program’s marketing plan, academic leadership must weigh in and own the plan as well. If we indeed define marketing as being about both product and promotion, there’s just no way around it.

Informing the entire process is research–a lot of it about market forces, competition, and your customers, be they students, prospective students, alumni, donors, community leaders, etc. This research, if done thoroughly, will suggest many of the decisions you make in the plan.

The basic components:

  • Mission Statements–keep marketing tethered to them
  • Situation Analysis
    • Background–what’s been going on with the program and the marketing of it?
    • Normal Forecast–All things being equal, what may we expect to happen?
    • Market Opportunities–anticipate current and future opportunities
    • Market Threats–what threatens the program’s well-being?
    • Institutional/Program Strengths–list them all
    • Institutional/Program Weaknesses–be honest, but not politically naive
  • Goals and Objectives
    • Marketing Assumptions–e.g., tuition will increase by no more than 3%; predictive model will be tweaked
    • Objectives–e.g., enrollment will increase by 2%
  • Marketing Strategy
    • Target Markets–primary, secondary, tertiary
    • Marketing Mix
      • Product–what are you going to do to create a better product for your students?
      • Place–delivery systems: status quo or are changes being explored?
      • Promotion–develop your strategies, list new ones, e.g., social media campaign?
      • Price–tuition and financial aid: how much and how communicated?
  • Action Plans
    • Implementation–when, by whom, how much?
    • Assessment–how and when will we know that the strategies were successful?

thinking-outside-the-boxAs you can tell, the traditional SWOT analysis has been turned upside down, per the recommendation from Robert A. Sevier in his 2001 book, Thinking Outside the Box: Think Strategically, Act Audaciously, Communicate aggressively. (What a great title!) Its principles and consideration of some of the systematic and organizational issues that affect higher education marketing set this book apart from others. Sevier’s belief that a SWOT analysis ought to begin with market opportunities and threats and then proceed to university or program strengths and weaknesses is a practical recommendation to keep us focused on shaping our institutions and programs to meet the needs and wants of the market. I think this reversal is helpful in marketing higher education.

By the time you are finished with this research and planning process, you’ll have your marketing strategies for the coming year. The game will now shift to the important phase of executing your plans and managing them–a phase in which your interpersonal and political skills will be required for your plans to be successful.

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