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From GPS to University Marketing: Using Innovation in student and enrollment marketing

In 2001, our team was given a challenge. Our manager wanted us to find a way to utilize Global Positioning System (GPS) to survey near shore topography. Since the GPS system was not waterproof, our team had to continue to rely on traditional methods and equipment. We were given a few hundred dollars and told to work as a team and figure out a way to utilize the GPS equipment to take survey measurements in the water.


This was such a broad experience early in my career. I am grateful to our manager for empowering us with a culture of innovation.

An innovative GPS solution
The IMAPP system in use

After a bit of research and multiple prototypes we finally produced a waterproof handheld contraption that got the job done. It wasn’t the fanciest system, but it worked. We were able to take the system in the water up to waist deep. This was a huge win for us. It allowed us to improve our data collection time, improve accuracy and create significant efficiencies. We even named the system — IMAPP (Intertidal Mapping Apparatus for Precise Positioning, pictured right).


That experience continues to drive me and our teams when looking for ways to become smarter, agile and more effective marketers. Using Innovation in student and enrollment marketing is always on my mind. Over the years, I have learned the importance of empowering teams to innovate and find better ways to do things. Below are a few ways to continue to develop a marketing team culture of innovation.


Be a First Mover

One of the main reasons I shifted from engineering to marketing is the constant change in marketing technologies and platforms. It’s exciting to continue to learn and adapt to consumer behaviors and develop and test fresh marketing campaigns.


In the early years of Facebook advertising— long before lead ads — most of the Facebook advertising was based on engagement and little on performance marketing and lead generation. When I attended one of Facebook’s product launch webinars, I learned about Facebook lead ads. This was 2015 and I remember meeting with my university marketing team afterwards and mentioning we had to try it. We had everything in place to launch the lead ads product the day it was released. Many internal team members were skeptical of the product working for our schools marketing efforts. They didn't believe students would engage with a marketing campaign on Facebook and enter lead information. It took some time for us to learn how to use the tool effectively, but soon it become a very effective channel for our student recruitment efforts. Being an early adopter, we were able to take advantage of lower cost per student acquisition and stay ahead of the competition.


Challenge the Winners


Just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. One of the most incredible aspects of marketing is that you can measure anything. Whether it’s landing pages or your ad copy, it’s important to always be testing ways to engage more effectively with relevance. What might be working well, could be improved.

While I was at an agency, a client came to us and wanted to sell foldable flip flops online. She had tens of thousands of pairs that were not selling, and she wanted us to help her sell them online.


This was back in 2008, and video was becoming a terrific way to showcase products. We decided to use a video on the landing page to explain how the flip flops worked and the benefits. The client convinced us that the video was necessary to see the benefits of the product. So, we launched the landing page, and we did well. Although we noticed several people visiting the site and not converting or even viewing the video. We convinced the client to let us try images instead of the video and ran a test. To our surprise the conversion rates increased significantly and so did sales. We were not expecting the static images to outperform a professional video, but we were wrong. We improved the overall campaign by testing and challenging our notion of what would be successful.



Seek out Betas

Beta testing is a fantastic way to get involved with a new feature or product. Many companies like Google, Bing and Facebook are testing new features and products and look to companies they work with to test out the performance of these products.


One of my favorite campaigns when I was running digital marketing for an allied healthcare school was with Google Ads text extensions. Google released a great feature to allow for potential students to text our school directly from an ad. Our marketing team worked directly with Google on developing out campaigns and being a first mover of this product. The campaign was a success, and our team was even highlighted in a Google case study under the education marketing category.


I am grateful to my manager early in my career for teaching me the importance of finding new ways to do things and the importance of continual innovation. As an education marketer, I am fortunate to be in a rapidly changing industry with so much opportunity for testing and innovation. Find ways to encourage your teams to adapt innovative approaches and you may be surprised by the results.

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