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7 Things Higher Ed Marketers Want to See (or Eliminate) in 2018

What marketing trends should you pay attention to in 2018? Seven higher ed marketers share their higher education marketing wish list.

2018 Higher Education Marketing Trends
2018 Higher Education Marketing Trends

Welp, we’re a few weeks into 2018, which means headlines and social status updates abound about new year’s resolutions, Oprah for president, new marketing trends, and already-broken new year’s resolutions.

In some ways, January always feels like an oddly specific time to write about marketing trends. I wrote about this last year when I documented five 2017 marketing trends, and what they mean for higher education (which, oddly enough, was posted one year ago today), but it still bothers me now.

Marketing trends, or trends of any kind for that matter, don’t pay attention to the calendar year. It’s not as if the ball drops in Times Square and new technologies, strategies, and tactics suddenly burst onto the scene like a :30-second commercial for Bowflex or Nutrisystem.

With that in mind, I decided to put a new spin on the traditional marketing trends article this year. I asked seven senior marketing professionals what they wanted to see in higher education marketing in 2018. Additionally, I offered each individual the opportunity to identify something they hoped would finally fade away in the new year.

The result is a diverse wish list of new marketing strategies, mindsets, and tactics, spoken by those who know the space best. Do you have something to add to the conversation? Shoot me a note on Twitter, find me on LinkedIn, or heck, send me a postcard. I hear direct mail is a hot new marketing trend to watch in 2018.


De’Awn Bunch, Executive Director of Enrollment Services Communication and Marketing, University of Houston

Higher ed tends to move slower than other industries, but does it have to?  In 2018, I’m hoping to see more business marketing practices used in higher education. You have to build and nurture the funnel and pipeline to impact the bottom line. Ultimately, student recruitment and retention parallels customer acquisition and retention. I would like to see education pushed as a tangible product and service that has its pros/cons just like any other consumer product good or service. Regardless of the technology or media used, authenticity always wins.

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Michelle Bartonico, Director for Strategic Communications and Marketing, Trinity University

Broadly speaking, I would like to see higher education learn from the private sector. There is a lot we can learn and apply to higher education especially when it comes to user-experience and the idea of listening to the voice of the customer – whether these are students, family, faculty, or alumni. Marketing in higher education needs to evolve to encompass all aspects of marketing – from product to price – flexing its muscles to offer strategy to advance the institution. This is a culture shift and marketing folks should work collaboratively as partners helping to break silos. In 2018, finding ways to collapse silos in colleges and universities will help us all provide the right solutions and experiences at the right time to the right people.

Trends occur when institutions evaluate new ways to reach stakeholders, primarily prospective students and families, in clever ways that “meet them where they are.” I think we need to be careful as marketers to assess the difference between trends and trendy (insert fidget spinners). The trends I see include allocations of resources toward virtual reality, Facebook Live, native advertising, and user experience (including ADA compliance standards).

The use of and integration of enterprise CRM solutions in higher education is also what I hope for in 2018 – it is the backbone for decision making and overcoming silos to deliver the best experience for stakeholders. I see the data centralization and management as both the greatest opportunity and challenge for higher education marketers in 2018.

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Jenny Petty, Content Strategist, University of Wyoming

For over a decade we’ve heard content is king, but more and more we need to focus on creating content that meets two criteria first: quality and authenticity before quantity. Building trust with students and parents through content marketing in 2018 will look like the creation of content that elicits an emotional reaction while solving a problem or helping a consumer make a decision.

Connect with Jenny on LinkedIn

JP Rains, MBA, Director of Digital Strategy, Laurentian University

I’d like to see higher education take the next step in scalable personalization in our communication with students. We’ve come a long way in the last few years with customer relationship management, but we can improve how we access and leverage our vast amounts of data.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’d like to see us abandon the idea of doing “more with less” and shift to deciding to do less. What I mean by this is enhanced prioritization and focus on what is most important. These necessary choices are difficult, and often unpopular, but I think the value of the outcomes require it.

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Gene Begin, Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Wheaton College

I’d like to see all of us in higher education – not just marketers – be more considerate of our mobile users. We don’t have to exactly be mobile-first, but let’s at least be “mobile-equal”. As marketers and communicators, no matter the specific role, let’s all pledge to focus less on how digital strategies, tactics and designs “look” on desktop, and let’s focus more on if and how they perform on mobile.

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Dr. Liz Gross, Founding Director, Campus Sonar

I’d like to see more strategic alignment between all areas of campus, with a focus on measurable outcomes and ROI analysis. Yes, this is hard! But it is what will set successful marketing leaders apart from everyone else. The need for strategic alignment applies to all channels, all tactics, and all audiences.

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Adam Castro, VP of Enrollment Management, Bloomfield College

What I hope to see in 2018 is a calming of the merger waters in edtech and higher education marketing. The past two years have been filled with big announcements, reorganizations, and changes in service and partnership standards. While this may be good for business, it definitely hurts those “on the ground” at institutions, where short-term, mid-cycle headaches often outweigh long-term benefits. These professionals are already short-handed trying to keep CRMs, advertising campaigns, and communication plans running successfully. So, may 2018 be the year where we build those partnerships back up so both sides of the higher ed desk can benefit.

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