Three Lessons from the 2017 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education

It’s been a little more than two weeks since we packed our bags and left the AMA Higher Education Symposium in Atlanta, but the lessons learned from the conference are still fresh in our minds.

AMA Higher Ed is one of the largest higher education conferences of the year, with over 1,200 administrators in attendance. With so many talented higher education marketers under one roof, it’s hard not to leave feeling inspired. And while there are several topics that have dominated our conversations since AMA, we’d like to share three of them here.

Lesson #1: There is a Thirst for Inbound and Content Marketing

As higher education becomes a more competitive field, and as traditional marketing tactics become less effective, marketing teams from institutions of varying sizes are looking for new and cost-effective ways to differentiate themselves from their competition and attract and engage prospective students.

And if attendance is any indication, many of these schools and colleges are considering inbound and content marketing as one way of doing so. In particular, we noticed that sessions by Siena College and The University of Wyoming were near or at capacity, as marketing and admissions administrators from these institutions shared the way they’ve used content to organically attract prospective students to their websites and convert them into identified leads.

While there were similarities between the two presentations — both schools were using HubSpot as a marketing automation platform and feeding information into existing CRMs, we also noticed differences in their approaches. While the University of Wyoming relied on in-house resources to produce blog and premium content, including administrators and current students, Siena College outsourced much of their content creation efforts.

Related Content: What does an Inbound Marketing strategy actually look like for Higher Education? Get the answers in our White Paper: Inbound Marketing for Higher Education

Despite their differences, however, both institutions reported high levels of satisfaction with their investment, proving there’s no one way to structure a marketing strategy centered around content. Siena College reported a record number of inquiries in 2016-2017, while The University of Wyoming found that 20% of incoming freshman or transfer students originated from a HubSpot landing page and planned to roll out HubSpot to more schools and colleges moving forward in 2018.

Lesson #2: Marketing is a Process, Not an Event

Throughout this conference, we were encouraged to see that while breakout session presentations often focused on successful marketing campaigns and tactics, nearly every presentation concluded with the assertion that administrators were still measuring and iterating on their marketing efforts.

That’s an important concept to understand when it comes to marketing. Marketing isn’t a project with a finite end date. It’s a never-ending process that needs constant nurturing, measurement, and adjusting.

“Those of us in higher education are lucky to work in environments that provide life-changing opportunities to talented students who will change the world for the better.”

What worked this year will not automatically work the following year, and while a specific marketing tactic may have underwhelmed in the short-term, it may just need more time to catch on. Students’ online preferences, browsing patterns, and shopping behaviors change at breakneck speed, and it’s important that we understand that our marketing strategies and tactics need to be adjusted accordingly, though these shifts must be grounded in user research and data.

Lesson #3: This Community Rocks

While conferences are an excellent opportunity to expand your skillset and knowledge base, they also provide an environment that allows individuals to meet and network with one another. For us, AMA Higher Education reinforced how lucky we are to be a part of the higher education community. For more than two days, we met and conversed with friendly marketing professionals from schools near and far, with existing friends at Villanova University and Temple University and new friends at the University of Georgia, University of Florida, and the University of Wyoming, among others.

That feel-good community extends beyond the institutions, however, to our fellow agencies and vendors in the higher education space. Almost universally, the professionals at these organizations are warm and welcoming, willing to share insights and engaging conversation over coffee or a beer.

Those of us in higher education are lucky to work in environments that provide life-changing opportunities to talented students who will change the world for the better. We’re also lucky to have partners in the space, like Up&Up, Campus Sonar, Carnegie Communications, and Encoura to help us along the way. We only hope our colleagues left Atlanta feeling the same about us.

2017 was our first time attending the AMA Higher Ed Symposium. It certainly won’t be the last. We’ve returned from Atlanta feeling grateful and inspired, and we can’t wait to build on the lessons learned from keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and each and every conversation that happened in between. See you in 2018, Orlando.

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