In its 29th year, the AMA ConnectEd conference is a go-to learning experience for marketers and communications officers in higher ed institutions of all kinds. Touting itself as “higher ed marketing’s premier event,” the conference promises to “make [marketing in higher ed] easier by connecting you with 1200+ peers who are working through the same challenges” – it did not disappoint.
Over 3 days, we got to network with fellow higher education marketers and agencies, and learn about the latest and greatest in strategies, techniques and case studies covering everything from boosting enrollment, student engagement, increasing alumni giving and much more. So, what are the top 5 things we learned from AMA ConnectEd?
1. It is time to stop talking about Millennials.
In the opening keynote, Wayne Connell of the Washington Post stressed the need to “retool our thinking about generations.” Pew Research defines Millennials as being born prior to 1997, making the youngest millennials 21 this year. The youngest of this cohort is getting ready to graduate college, with the oldest of this generation in their late 30s. While Millennials may be a target for graduate programs, it is crucial for higher education institutions to understand Centennials, or Generation Z. The first generation of true digital natives, who do not remember a time without internet. There are a number of surprising trends arising with the coming of age of Gen Z, such as a resurgence in brick and mortal retail and a high priority placed on privacy (which is surprising for those that grew up in the age of social media).
2. Content is king, and video is its queen.
Content marketing has been a trend for some time now, and it appears to be here to stay. Former US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in his keynote address, discussed the need for honest, organic storytelling relating to the different student populations that are looking for higher education. While the creation of long form videos may be appealing, being able to convey a message in a brief video can be quite powerful, especially in reaching younger audiences.
3. There is such a thing as too much data.
Andre Moraes, Principal Analytical Lead at Google, spoke about the difference between data demonstration (“look at all this data I have”) and data visualization (“here is an interesting insight I found”). The job of a marketers is to synthesize this data and use data visualization to break it out into actionable insights that the audience can quickly understand and act upon.
4. Marketing has become a very technical profession.
Since students approaching college age are digital natives, gone are the days when the marketing department’s job largely consisted of wordsmithing and laying out mailers and viewbooks. These elements are certainly part of the marketing mix, but students are exposed to so many touchpoints and messages from so many different institutions, how can you stand out from the pack and help prospects understand what makes your institution different? This is where the technical part comes in. Institutions collect a wealth of data and using this data to understand your best candidates is the key to developing dynamic nurturing campaigns and personalized web experiences.
5. An agency should be a partner, not a vendor.
One size does not fit all, especially in higher education. While there are certainly some similarities, overlapping target markets, and shared challenges, a large state university can have upwards of 40,000 undergraduate students, while a small liberal arts college can have as few as 1,000. The marketing and recruitment strategies and tactics that work for one do not always work for another. An agency should take the time to understand your enrollment funnel, your offerings and your challenges and devise a customized solution, rather than a standard package used across various clients. It is important that the agency be agile enough and with the breadth of experience to work with your institution’s unique goals, to use the right strategy and tactics to convey your university’s unique culture to your ideal target student population(s).