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5 Themes From NACAC 2018

Oct. 11, 2018
6 months, 2 weeks ago

It’s always valuable and interesting to spend time reflecting after a NACAC Conference, and this year is no different coming off the conference in Salt Lake City. After a whirlwind few days, I’ve had a couple weeks of downtime and follow-up meetings to digest the hundreds of conversations I had with admission and marketing pros and to think about what it all means. Here are some prevailing themes from those conversations.

People are anxious about the future

This might seem obvious, as it’s been a theme every year at NACAC, but the level of anxiety among admission leaders is so much more pronounced than it was even four years ago when I left my position as Director of Recruitment and Communications at the University of Iowa. The challenges you are facing are real, and there is extreme pressure to reverse enrollment decline in the face of market compression not experienced in higher education since the early 1970s. People are eagerly seeking solutions and openly asking how they can educate their college and university administrations about the realities of demographic shifts and the market-share economy in which they must now compete.

What’s next?

People always want to know what’s next. Where is the industry headed? What do I need to know to stay ahead of the competition? First, the bad news. We are looking at the next 12–15 years of market compression, and the reality is all colleges and universities aren’t going to survive in their current form. The next five years will bring more school consolidations and closings.

The good news is your destiny is not pre-written. The schools that survive and thrive will be the ones with the clearest sense of purpose and self, and those who do the best job identifying right-fit students early in the process and articulating their school’s authentic and distinctive traits that align with those students’ interests and personalities. That’s a long-winded way of saying psychographics are the future of higher education marketing and admission. You’ve been using demographics to shape marketing and recruitment strategy for years. Meshing demographics with psychographics—the way people feel—is how schools will separate themselves from the competition moving forward.

Yield is the real challenge

High-volume student search strategies that have been best practice for two decades in higher education have ensured a robust top of the funnel and an ever-growing number of applications for most schools. The issue for many is yield: How do I get more admitted students to enroll? If you were at our pre-conference workshop or our NACAC session on digital insights, you know Carnegie Dartlet’s answer is precision. You have to know who your audience is and then segment in a way that will allow you to deliver highly personalized, highly emotive communication to them during yield season.

Audience precision

Continuing with precision, the natural question has been “how?” Precision needs to be both tactical and strategic and can stretch from the top of the funnel to the bottom. There are digital advertising tactics that can be integrated with your direct mail and email campaigns to take your segmentation strategy to the household level, which is really what your audiences expect. They have lived the first 17 years of their lives receiving highly customized and hyper-targeted advertising, and when they get to their first real meaningful decision in the college search process, the generic and impersonal nature of the marketing is a jarring experience. They have higher expectations.

Regardless of the tactic, though, precision should start with messaging. Your segmentation strategy must go beyond the traditional demographic data points you’ve been using so your messages speak to who the person is and elicit an emotional response.

The Science of Human Connection™

There is no more valuable asset than the way humans connect with one another, and that’s why Carnegie Dartlet is inventing and ever-evolving The Science of Human Connection™. A lot of people approached our booth at NACAC asking what that means. Through the lens of college admission, it’s simple. We hear all over the country from admission directors who say, “If we can just get students to campus, we can get them to enroll. We just have to get them here.” Of course you do. That’s because when they’re on campus, you’re connecting with them as humans, and they’re having an emotional response.

When we say psychographics are the future, that’s what we mean. You have to elevate that human connection earlier in the process by delivering messaging that is both authentic to your institution and meaningful to the audience, and you can use data and science to shape your messages and your segmentation strategy. At Carnegie Dartlet, we’re advancing The Science of Human Connection™ by blending big demographic data with psychographics to do just that.

Contact us today to learn more about The Science of Human Connection™ and how Carnegie Dartlet can help your institution prepare for the future.

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