Look Back in Order to Think Outside the Box

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From time to time you need to look back inside the box in order to come up with outside the box thinking. As competition gets stronger for a shrinking pool of students, every institutional leader is being tasked with “thinking outside the box” for solutions. While we can certainly keep looking at other industries and building new models based upon what has worked there, we can also revisit what worked in our past and update it. What good ideas/methods/features went away because everyone was doing them rather than not actually being a good idea? Take a look back at what’s been done and repurpose it or build off of it. 

We always want to find the new ideas, chase the latest trends, and think outside the box. In reality, it sends everyone chasing the same few strategies and “best practices” with very few institutions actually making themselves stand out. I’m always asked what features a school should have on their social media accounts, what inquiry flows should look like, and which of the hot yield strategies they should use. Everyone wants to see how someone else is “thinking outside the box” and imitate them.

Another analogy is that of a large pasture. One school leaves the pack for a greener part of the pasture, but then others follow them for the same space and it’s no longer a hidden gem in the pasture. So another innovative school heads off to another portion and does well there, but shortly thereafter their success is noted and more schools head over to them. The leaders and innovators will always be looking for new bits of pasture, but my point is this: Occasionally you should be looking over your shoulder to see if where you have been is fertile.

A pasture with cows moving about to graze.

Some examples of things you hear and how we’re taking a new look at where we have been:

  • “Print is dead!” – Change how print pieces are targeted and make them something students want to read rather than more clutter for their mailboxes. Send fewer, but more targeted pieces that can be repurposed into posters, seed cards, folded into origami, or something else entirely that fits your brand.
  • “Facebook is dead!” – Nope, still alive but being used differently. Parents and older alumni are still using Facebook, so target content to things they can engage with and become promoters when talking to your target market. Find new, or forgotten, styles of content and engage the audience you have rather than trying to attract new. If you do it right your engagement will also attract new followers. Try hosting a parent info session on Facebook Live, or a session to update alumni about how the application process or majors have changed.
  • “Phone calls don’t work!” – This one is true – if you are only cold calling with no valuable content for students. How often do you get a call from a number you don’t recognize and answer? Set up a call via email or text first, but don’t cold call a prospect and expect a positive response. 

In the 1990s and prior it was common for admissions counselors to visit with families in their home while on the road. That idea of meeting 1:1 in a student’s community has morphed into the now widespread practice of coffee shop or local business meetings with students and families. Talk to longtime staff to find out what else was done to get your inspiration for adapting and updating tactics.

If you would like to connect and talk more, you can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.
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