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Is Your CRM on Brand?

Ineke Caycedo
VP, Brand Development

In higher ed, unlike in most other industries, marketing and sales don’t often go hand in hand. In fact, we see many examples where marketing doesn’t know what admissions (sales) is up to…and vice versa  As a result, marketing, and admissions efforts at many colleges are typically uncoordinated, have little overlap, or tread on each other’s toes and, can even be antithetical to each other. The historic lack of communication and, let’s acknowledge it, cooperation, between these critical components of the college brand amounts to a huge lost opportunity and one that is growing larger as new customer communication technologies that integrate sales and marketing functions, like customer relations management and social engagement applications become prevalent. Unfortunately, in higher ed, these sales and marketing tools often see one-sided, sales-based, implementations that leave them far short of their potential. Take for example the CRM or customer relations management application. As a college marketer, are you even aware whether your college admissions unit is using one? Chances are good that they are. CRM’s are one of the fastest growing applications on the admissions front, and for good reason.

The Advantages of the CRM

The advantages are compelling:

  1. CRM tools allow users to streamline the admission process by providing a contact management system that tracks each touch with a prospective student from inquiry to admission to deposit and beyond.
  2. Communications can be targeted to the specific preferences of the contact, his or her geographic location, and to his or her stage in the admissions process, among others.
  3. The tools allow admissions shops to pre-define and pre-schedule targeted communications so that an action by the prospect triggers the communication automatically.

These powerful tools present an opportunity for the college (the brand) to build a more intimate relationship with the prospect.

You’re likely to experience a CRM in action in your own consumer environment – at the grocery story by receiving coupons for products you buy or similar to those you buy, and on online shopping networks where you have established a login. is one of the best examples of the power of CRM to boost sales. Once you provide Amazon with a login and password, the retailer creates a page that suggests items that might be of interest based on items you’ve searched or purchased. In addition, emails sent to you by Amazon often contain deals/sales/availability for products in which you have expressed interest.

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s has recently begun a big ad campaign around it’s enhanced CRM “myLowe’s.” The CRM allows customers to track purchases, set reminders for items you purchase regularly, see weekly ads at my local store, get a customized buying guide from the local store, etc. The CRM is closely aligned with Lowe’s current brand approach embodied by the tagline “Never Stop Improving.”

In this screen shot of the welcome email you can see that language, message, the entire concept behind what the CRM offers builds off of the idea that Lowe’s is a place that wants to help me make my home the best it can be.

This article in Forbes provides an overview of Lowe’s brand strategy. Note the role marketing played in its formation.

As myLowe’s and Amazon demonstrate, used as a personal communication tool that:

  • understands the customer’s mindset and shows how the brand can help,
  • that offers the customer easier ways to manage their own needs,
  • and that incentivizes the customer to continue to engage with the brand through the CRM,

CRMs can be potent vehicles for engaging customers, building brand loyalty, and increasing sales.

Maximizing the CRM’s Potential

The key to using a CRM to its fullest is in understanding it both as a prospect-management tool and as a prospect-engagement tool. Many higher ed CRMs we see are not much more than databases that automate business-oriented communications to uninterested, unengaged customers. That’s not to say that the simple act of instituting a CRM doesn’t immediately demonstrate an increase in the number prospect inquiries and even applications. The act of mechanizing the process and adding the ability to reach many more prospects through purchased email lists increases the likelihood of more applications. Over time, maybe within a year or two, however, this increase in inquiries and applications is likely to flatten, unless the real strength of the CRM, the engagement potential, is employed.

This is where the one-sided implementation of the CRM starts to show its shortcomings. Admissions teams are great at closing the deal, at taking prospects who know the school, have visited the school, and getting them to the application and deposit phase. This is a more business oriented communication flow that steps the prospect through the admissions funnel.

Admissions units, however, are not usually as equipped to deal with the front end of the customer-engagement spectrum – the awareness and interest phase. That strength lies with marketing. It is, nevertheless a key function of the CRM, to engage prospects who are just getting to know the college and to package information in such a way that the prospect is intrigued and inspired to delve deeper and, more importantly, to take that step further into the admissions funnel. Therefore, higher ed CRMs don’t often present the college brand or the college experience well. By brand, I don’t mean the look and feel of your college website for example. In fact a lot of CRMs we have researched, do a great job of incorporating the header of the college website into their look and feel. But they offer little deeper insight into the college than the institution’s website . In fact often, the custom landing page that is personalized for each user in a CRM, is little more that a series of links back to the college website giving the prospect little reason to return to the customized environment.

Incorporating Brand Marketing into a Higher Ed CRM (a case study)

So how can marketing help admissions up their recruitment potential through the CRM? By helping with content shaping, messaging, design, and user experience. Here are some ideas for enhancing the CRM custom landing page from a project EMG recently did with Old Dominion University on its Hobson’s CRM.

  1. Use the header to make a brand statement not just to mimic your website

    Rotating header with ODU brand points. CRM’s are usually customizable. The Hobson’s CRM, in particular, allows for quite a bit of customization both in the header components of the page as well as in the body. The companion email templates reflect a similar brand attitude.

  2. Insert content that is consistently refreshed and is engaging like Facebook feeds and YouTube videos

    Both Facebook content and applicable YouTube content is used on the site

  3. Use the brand voice and personality as well as your audience mindset to talk to the page owner

    ODU’s curious, effervescent, and approachable persona as well as the undergraduate’s desire to know what life is like at ODU are expressed in this counselor description. ODU will be adding individual counselor descriptions with the same “get to know me and what I love about ODU” type of description.

  4. Video is a great engagement tool and can be filtered to appear based on interests indicated by the student prospect

    Video is used throughout the site to present insights into life and learning at ODU

  5. Mine your website and other sites to uncover content of interest that might otherwise be overlooked

    Blogs, photo libraries, and videos from YouTube have been categorized and tagged by prospect interest. We call this “hidden gem” content. It’s often buried under several layers of dry content on the University’s sub sites and could easily be missed by attention-light teen prospects who are surfing the ODU site. Similarly, video content is scattered across YouTube on a number of ODU departmental sites as well as on the ODU main YouTube page. It’s a lot to expect users to sort through. By highlighting this experiential content on the myDominion page we point prospects to content of interest to them.

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