“Universities do marketing?!” It’s a common response when I tell people what I do at Fresno Pacific University.
For many, marketing is practically a four-letter word. There is something incongruent about marketing and education. It feels a little too sales-y for something as pure as the pursuit of knowledge, right?
I’d say that depends on how you look at it. Spoken like a marketer, I know. But hear me out.
Strategic marketing, especially nonprofit marketing, asks that you consider the desires of your constituents as well as your own. In every effort, we seek to match our constituents to relevant solutions.
A shift in marketing is underway. The traditional 4 P’s have given way to SAVE. For higher education that means first P, “Product,” shifts to “Solutions”; “Place” becomes about “Access”; “Price” (though still very relevant) can’t be understood separate from “Value”; and “Promotion” is now about “Educating” prospective students with relevant content.
I’ve got to admit, I like the idea of SAVE-ing students more that P-lying goods.
At FPU, we can’t forget we exist in a place that needs what we have to offer. We have a calling, right here. Bachelor’s-degree attainment rates in the Central Valley are among the lowest in the nation at 13-20 percent (depending on the county) for adults 25 and older. That’s more than 10 percentage points below California as a whole. To compound that inequity, we know from a 2013 Georgetown University study that a bachelor’s degree equates, on average, to 84 percent more income over a lifetime. That means a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million.*
Increasing incomes for graduates and their families is certainly meaningful in a region with the nation’s second-highest rate of concentrated poverty, but FPU offers more: we help our students develop personally and spiritually, as well as academically and financially. We encourage a sense of service and caring that tells students they are part of something larger. Research also shows that people with at least a bachelor’s degree are more fulfilled in their own lives and more likely to contribute to their professions and their communities.
So there’s tremendous human and financial value in a degree for our prospective students. Yet the decision to attend or return to college is complex due to factors like cost, career outcomes, curriculum, campus and community (we can thank our branding firm, Ologie, for that handy alliteration).
Potential students, traditional undergraduates and working adults alike, ask: Am I smart enough? What will I learn and from whom? What kind of job or promotion will this prepare me for? Can I afford it, and will I get a return on my investment?
Marketing for FPU is about answering these questions in such a way as to offer hope. It is about educating our constituents about their options and even pushing them a little bit to do more, become more. It is also about allaying their fears about college (at any age).
This is work that requires the entire FPU community. And this is the strategic marketing sweet spot.
As we FPU marketers (and I’m talking to all of us, now) expand our notion of what marketing means for our mission, we expand our ideas about how to communicate solutions to an audience in need of what we have to offer. We invite you to join in.
Strategic communication: This year, that has meant implementing a new email marketing system, new SMS (text) capability, new social media strategy and increased digital advertising.
Full implementation of our brand: Bringing everything we produce and promote into a cohesive identity creates synergy in the market place. Need an example? Swing by our office and get a viewbook (but only if you promise to pass it along to a prospective student). You’ll also notice this in our language. Our future-tense, active-voice writing style tells students that it’s possible to achieve their goals.
Data analysis: Using data to drive every decision means we place a heavy emphasis on process; analyzing each stage of the enrollment funnel to optimize student experience.
Focus on service: Our role as marketers is to make more marketers. We aim to equip and educate the whole community to tell the FPU story.
And the really good news? It’s working:
- 20 percent increase in leads year to year
- 23 percent growth in graduate and degree completion enrollment
- 4,000+, the largest student headcount in the university’s history
- $2.5 million in increased enrollment revenue above budgeted goal
How can you get involved? Tell us your story. Stories make the theoretical tangible. Stories are the difference between simply saying “interdisciplinary” (generic) and “one week you’ll be studying crab habitats at the Central Coast and the following week you’ll be considering environmental pollution from a sociological perspective” (sign me up!). Stories prove that if you could do it, so could they. Stories get us excited for the work ahead. So, what innovative and exciting things are you involved in at FPU? What impact has FPU made in your life? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send photos too!
Oh, by the way, those 2,631 undergraduate students we all helped to enroll last fall? That equates to more than $7 billion in collective lifetime wealth for those students. And 49 percent of those graduates will be the first in their families to complete a bachelor’s degree. That is strategic investment. That is carrying out our mission. That is serving our cities. That is engaging our culture.