“Check the box allowing colleges to contact you,” I told my daughter as she went off to take the PSAT. “Really?” she asked incredulously. “Yes, really,” I answered. “It will be fun.”
It has been fun – fun for her to see the breadth of available opportunities, and fun for me as a marketer to observe a marketing journey from its inception and its impact on my teenager: specifically, what resonates, and what gets tossed aside.
Six months ago I had never heard of the college currently at the top of my daughter Alex’s list. It has the top spot because it’s an excellent fit. Of course, as a parent, it’s the fit that makes me like the school. But as a marketing professional, I appreciate that the college also got its marketing right every step of the way. It modeled what Lyris recommends in our strategic consulting business: give proper attention to timing, contact strategy, and most of all, listening.
Like many relationships, the beginning of the college-student relationship is full of exciting possibilities. Alex looked at every piece of mail and email that arrived in the first two months. Now they go straight to the recycle bin; her list is set. Timing isn’t everything, but it counts enough to do it right.
It’s the same with having a well-thought-out contact strategy. The college selection process lasts a bit over a year. As juniors, students take standardized tests, look at schools, and are courted by them. As seniors, they try to prove themselves worthy through essays, applications, interviews, auditions, and more tests. The schools need to keep the students interested throughout this cycle, and the marketing outreach must keep pace with the student’s stage in the process. While not simple, a great contact strategy helps keep the messages relevant.
Listening is at the heart of great relationship marketing. When you ask your customer a question, you have an obligation to listen to the answer. Interestingly, Alex takes the communications from colleges quite personally and assigns intent to their marketing efforts:
“They just want me because I’m a girl who does science” – off the list.
“They know I like theatre” – on the list.
Through these communications, I see organizations that excel at personalization and segmentation based on information they’ve obtained by “listening” to their applicants. Alex sees who is paying attention to her and who has no idea who she is.
Timing, a meaningful contact strategy, and listening that supports truly personalized communications are best practices for any type of relationship marketing. The college application process is an intensified example with a dramatic conclusion culminating in a single choice. Of course college selection requires deep research and a complex two-way decision process. Even within this complexity it shares the core best practices marketers should be using day-in and day-out in consumer and B-to-B marketing.
Implement best practices to achieve your goals, a.k.a. – on the list!