Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

From Sochi with Love: How Business Schools Can Engage MBA prospects

Posted on Feb 18, 2014 9:55:00 AM

sochi olympics-2014-262145_1280Let the games begin.

Instead I’m referring to the college search process. Having said that, I’m sure parents who have already been through this daunting experience might say that there are some similarities to an Olympic sport.

Ever since my sophomore son took the PSAT, our mailbox has steadily increased its fiber diet with countless flyers and letters from colleges and universities – all explaining why he is the “right fit” for their institution.

While it’s hard to get my son off his flight simulator when he’s not doing homework, I’ve taken a keen interest in reading all the undergraduate marketing materials. True, I have more than a parental interest given my work in business school marketing. Most of all, I was eager to see if there are lessons for marketing MBA programs. Here are three ideas to make your MBA program stand out like the Olympic flame:

1)      Messaging with a personal URL

       higher ed marketing

One of the big trends in higher education marketing is personalization, and this postcard from Randolph-Macon hits the mark. Through a personal URL (PURL), Randolph-Macon was able to send information tailored to my son’s interests – and capture his attention from the get go. Consider using a PURL in communications to prospective MBA students. Research indicates that recipients are nearly twice as likely to visit a PURL site that contains the recipient name than a generic web address.

2)      Messaging with a tracking URL

Many letters from undergraduate admissions offices offered my son a free guide to help him navigate the college search process as long as he clicked on a tracking URL with the provided user name and password. Topics of the free guides include:

What to Look For: 10 Traits of Your Ideal College

The Easy Way to Choose the Right Major

The Seven Most Important Things to Consider When Choosing a College

“Role” Call: How to Find the College that Helps You Fulfill Your Calling

Find the Right Fit: College Search Tips for You and Your Family

And my personal favorite:

How to Have a Life in High School (and Still Get Into College)

It was great to see these institutions embracing inbound marketing principles with helpful content that informs rather than sells. (Seth Godin would be proud.)

Yet, I wondered why didn’t the universities send the guide with the initial letters?

My question was quickly answered as soon as I logged on pretending to be my son (who I really hope he doesn’t read this – although I’m sure this transgression won’t nearly be as mortifying for him as my posting a comment on a classmate’s Facebook page).

The reason?  Ta dah……

 higher ed marketing

Each of these universities wanted the parent’s email address. That way they could be in contact with the influencers as well as the prospective student.

Pretty clever, huh?

Having interviewed many executive MBA candidates, I know that that the decision-making process is seldom unilateral. In most cases, prospects consult colleagues, spouses/partners, and managers. So, why not make it easier for them – and accelerate the lengthy application process?

What are the ways your business school messaging can reach influencers as well as prospects? Here’s one idea. Include optional fields on your landing pages for prospects to fill out the email addresses of their managers so your business school can send tailored content regarding ROI to the employer. Full-time MBA programs could do the same with respect to partners and spouses to address concerns and show what’s in it for them.

3)      Focus on them instead of you!

My small but important focus group of one absolutely loved the tri-fold from the University of Rochester.  Here’s the cover:

higher education marketing, Rochester, University

And he was especially enamored of this inside page:

higher education marketing, Rochester, University

His reaction?

“It gets me on a personal level”

“I like it because they are asking me what I like to do”  

“It’s easy to read”

Note how Rochester extends this idea of personal engagement one step further to the social media universe. A click of the tracking URL  came to this page. I love how Rochester encourages prospects to post photos on social media using the hashtag #URStory. It’s that marketing truism that social media works best when it’s creating conversations rather than broadcasting.

higher education marketing, Rochester, University

As your business school shares its story with prospects, think of ways to get prospects to share their story with you. Show genuine interest. Show you care. Talk “P2P” (person to person) rather than “S2S” (school to student). As competition intensifies with the explosion of online programs, business schools that create a connection and establish engagement on a deeper and more personal level earlier in the process will be the ones who will be one step ahead of the competition.

Moreover, MBA programs  that show they truly understand what makes each prospect tick will make a memorable impression that will inspire a self-motivated call-to-action. Think back to those Spice Girls lyrics:

…tell you what I want, what I really, really want 

Case in point. For as insightful as these marketing materials were, I’m still waiting for one that captures my son’s career dream of becoming an airline pilot. Imagine a postcard from a university with a photo of him in the cockpit like the one below at Compton Abbas in England. The college that does will have his application in supersonic time. And, of course, win the gold.  (Hey, would you expect a mother to say anything less?)

higher ed marketing

What other business school marketing ideas do you have to add? Please send us your comments and ideas. Ideas for undergraduate aerospace programs welcome, too!


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Barbara Coward, author of this article, is a marketing communications consultant at Percept Research. Barbara welcomes your questions and comments.

Well, I’m not entirely talking about the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – although I have enjoyed watching the winter sports, especially the ice dancers who transform themselves into spinning tops on skates.  (How does Russia’s 15-year old Yulia Lipnitskaia perform those amazing twizzles?!?)

Topics: Barbara Coward, Admissions, Marketing Strategy, Marketing Communications