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How to Develop a Strong Sales Culture within your Higher Ed Recruitment Team

A typical higher ed recruitment sales team

To be successful in today’s competitive marketplace, you need to develop a strong sales culture within your higher ed recruitment team. If you are marketing undergrad programs at a top-tier school with an acceptance rate of less than 10%, you might argue that you do not need to sell. But, even at your school, if you go check with an executive MBA, continuing ed and or microcredential program manager, I bet they’d agree with me.

People used to feel similarly that marketing was beneath them but the increasing number of VP, Marketing roles on senior management teams across higher ed has pretty much put that argument to bed. “Sales” not so much, but the practical reality is that sales, in one form or another, has been practiced in higher ed recruitment for a very long time.  We “recruit”, we “advise”, and we “soft sell”; we call it many different names, but it really boils down to the same thing.

Yes, there have been many bad actors with respect to the practice of sales in higher ed, and there are still a few out there, but ethical sales practices are mostly the norm. Responsible schools today generally use some variation of a customer-centric, solutions-based sales approach to recruitment.  

The fact that we don’t like to call it “sales” may explain why many schools are still quite bad at it. Some institutions/departments are better than others. Particularly skilled are those involved in “last mile training”, for professional, continuing, and online learning programs, that have had to compete aggressively with other schools for students. Many short-term certificates and other online training products are other good examples of this. Some schools, on highly coordinated growth trajectories, like SNHU for example, have also proven to be better at it than others. Given the ongoing challenges postsecondary institutions face with respect to recruitment, revenues, and financial stability, I think it is inevitable that best practices in sales, will be more commonly adopted and normalized in higher ed in the future.

This post lays out why I think you can benefit from the development of a strong sales culture for your higher ed recruitment team and provides some practical suggestions on how to accomplish this goal.

What is Sales Culture?

So what exactly is “sales culture”? Sales culture encompasses the attitudes, behaviors, and habits your recruitment management and team exemplify at any time or place with respect to sales. It is that unique combination of values, beliefs, language, and norms that shape your recruitment environment and make it work. Its core elements look something like this:

The Building Blocks of Sales Culture

Graphic Details describing Sales Culture

Why Develop a Sales Culture within Your Higher Ed Recruitment Team?

A strong sales culture supports the approach and operations of your recruitment functions. Developing a strong sales culture within your recruitment team can provide numerous benefits, including:

  1. Competitive Advantage
    A sales culture equips your recruitment team with the knowledge, skills, and mindset that they need to compete with and outperform other schools that don’t have one. By adopting a sales-driven approach, you will differentiate your institution from most other’s approaches and if implemented effectively, attract a larger pool of high-quality candidates and students.

  2. Create a Stronger Sales Team
    A strong positive sales culture creates a healthy, sales-focused business environment in which your staff can thrive. They learn, develop and practice their skills, gain confidence in their role, and make significant positive contributions to both the institution they work for and the students they serve.

  3. Revenue Generation
    A sales culture focuses on maximizing conversion rates and increasing enrollments, resulting in higher revenue for your institution. This additional revenue can be reinvested to improve academic programs, facilities, and student services.

  4. Relationship Building
    The sales process emphasizes building positive relationships with prospective students and their families. This cultivates trust and loyalty, leading to long-term engagement, enrolment, and potential referrals in the future.

How to Develop a Strong Sales Culture in Your Higher Ed Recruitment Team

Here are ten tips to help you develop a stronger sales culture within your recruitment team:

  1. Hire Strong Sales Oriented Staff
    Start with being sure you hire sales-oriented recruitment representatives and staff. Develop a well-structured sales-oriented job description. Get help from people experienced in sales and sales management to assist in your hiring process, and hire for sales experience or at the very least, demonstrated sales aptitude. Use a probation period to ensure they demonstrate the sales skills they will need to be effectiven and, if necessary, remove the ones that don’t work out. In the long run, those less-sales suited recruits will be much happier doing something other than sales and your program will be more successful.

  2. Invest in Sales Training and Skills Development for Your Team
    Provide comprehensive sales training to develop and enhance the sales skills of your recruitment team. Bring in outside trainers if you do not have the expertise internally. Train staff on effective communication, active listening, negotiation, selling, and relationship building. There are some naturally born communicators out there who seem to be able to sell anything. They can be a great hire, if you can find them, but they too need sales training to learn what it is they are actually doing and to continue to improve their skills. These natural born salespeople can also become important trainers/mentors within your team, helping to develop less experienced, or skilled staff. Provide and encourage continuous learning through sales workshops, webinars, and industry conferences.

    sales training graphic

  3. Develop Team Level Sales Objectives
    Sales in higher ed is different than in most environments and uniquely flavoured. Prospective students work through multiple touch points, communication flows, outbound campaigns, and inbound contact over quite long periods of time. Set your team sales objective as an aggregate number, with each of your reps’ performance contributing to a monthly, quarterly, or annual objective.  Set individual rep goals, based on time experience, and opportunity, measure it, and review it individually with them on a regular basis.  But your team’s public numbers should be a team-based goal, that everyone contributes to, that everyone succeeds or fails on.  Encourage individual sales performance but make reaching the team goals even more important, encouraging a collaborative and supportive team selling environment where multiple reps can engage with any given prospective students, over a long sales cycle, providing the student with the best recruitment experience possible.

  4. Reinforce Your Commitment to, and Practice of, Ethical Sales
    Higher ed is not just in the business of just selling products and revenue generation. Most schools follow an ethical approach to student recruitment where we seek to find the right program for the right student. To help reps learn this approach and behaviors, codify your approach in a code of conduct and ethics that your team operates by, have them sign a copy on their day one, and revisit it regularly with them.

  5. Develop Sales Management Skills
    A manager in your organization has to OWN the sales management mandate, 100%. If no one does, your sales team will struggle. They need active leadership, structure, training and supervision. Your recruitment team, (or pretty much any sales team) is like a herd of cats. They will sometimes sit pretty, and purr nicely, and then all of a sudden, wander off in completely different directions. It’s the nature of the people who are good at this kind of work. To master this challenge you or some manager must develop equally good sales management skills, systems, and procedures.  Train and manage your reps in the moment, as learning opportunities arise, and meet with them regularly one on one and as a group to give them positive, (and negative), feedback on their sales performance.

  6. Have Regular Sales Meetings
    Have a sales meeting, at the same time every week/month, by Teams, Zoom, or even better in person, and be sure to call it a Sales Meeting. Train your reps a little, (have a VIP guest speaker), give them program, and practice updates, celebrate success (talk about that sale that went perfectly) or dissect the failures (talk about the big fish that got away), and reinforce your personal bonds with the Team and keep them focused on your group objectives.

  7. Track Your Sales Progress and Report your Performance, Up and Down the Ladder
    Develop a good tracking system for your sales and marketing objectives. Develop your reporting so you understand individual rep performance, group performance, and overall channel marketing performance. Look at inbound and outbound call activity, average $ per student, time to first call on student, lead aging to sales, etc. Then share your KPIs with your reps and your boss so everyone knows how hard you are working and how much sales success you are having. It is the only way to be agile and responsive to changing circumstances in the marketplace. Overcommunicate your results, communicate the next steps with the team and your sales performance will improve. (Pro Tip – Get good at using Data Studio, (aka Google Looker Studio), for this and it all gets much easier, not to mention impressive to the boss.)

  8. Build In-House Lead Generation Capacity and Lead Management Systems
    Implement your own organic lead generation strategies, leveraging a marketing mix of digital marketing, social media, email, events, and partnerships. If you want your reps to get really good at selling you need to provide them with a wealth of low-cost prospects on which to apply and practice their developing sales skills and get really good at it. Establish efficient lead management systems to ensure prompt follow-ups and personalized interactions with prospective students.

  9. Emphasize Collaboration and Provide Support
    Foster a collaborative environment within your recruitment team, encouraging knowledge sharing, brainstorming sessions, and team-selling activities. Provide them with the necessary resources and support, including CRM systems and marketing automation, if possible, to make them successful.

  10. Provide Incentives and Recognition
    Providing incentives in higher ed recruitment is a hard topic. Institutions can’t pay dollar bonuses on recruitment performance, like sales people in other industries. So, get over that, and focus your efforts on recognizing the sales successes of individuals in front of the team in other ways, and to the benefits of the whole group meeting its objectives. And don’t forget to celebrate successes to motivate and inspire your recruitment team when and how you can. Free pizza and beer or maybe a Friday afternoon off, can go a long way.

If your recruitment and support staff are union based. some of the above gets more challenging but it does not mean you can’t implement a lot of it. It is amazing what a well-run, well-motivated sales team, pursuing common team-based goals can accomplish, regardless of larger union-management relations or collective agreement constraints.

Developing a strong sales culture within your higher education recruitment team can significantly improve your prospective student experience, and your enrollment results, driving revenue and foster more meaningful relationships with prospective students. Embracing a sales culture not only enables your team to attract a larger pool of high-quality candidates but also establishes a foundation for long-term engagement, future enrolment, and new referrals.

Good luck as you define, develop and refine your recruitment team sales culture. Let me know if I can help.


Scott Duncan

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5 Ways to Position Your Online Programs for Success in Challenging Times

5 Ways to Position Your Online Programs for Success in Challenging Times

In a recent advisory call with a senior college manager who was working to further develop their online programs and support infrastructure to meet an expanded mandate of more programs, registrations, and revenue, he posed a question that went something like this. “Given all the challenges we have in the (higher education online) market, what are the most important things you should do to position your online programs for success”?

It’s a common challenge, buttressed by a well-known gauntlet of higher ed market forces and economic factors, including increasing costs, demographics-driven declining enrollments, low unemployment, hyper-competition, the rapid evolution of ed tech, and post-covid instability, to mention a few. In the moment, my response covered some of what’s below, but it also launched me down the rabbit hole of the “what are the most important things” question.

My more organized response to the question is:

1) Tune Up your Operational Efficiency

Even if things are going well there is always an opportunity to tune up your operational efficiency. Look at your registration revenues, your recruitment infrastructure and systems, marketing costs, ROAS, social media advocacy stats, and KPIs and adjust your investments accordingly. Do what you do well, even better, but also choose to trim back on the things that are not delivering. Be cautious here because overzealous operational efficiency can be the enemy of innovation, so make sure you keep investing in new programs, partners, and marketing and sales to drive your online business forward.

2) Benchmark your Programs and their Performance

Benchmark against your primary competition, and identify where you are underperforming and where there might be “low-hanging” opportunities. Then act on it. This review might reveal that your local/regional competitors already all have a trendy new program and that it’s probably too late to get into it (i.e. data sciences). On the surface, and without looking externally, it may seem appealing but being 3rd or 4th or 5th into a market is usually unsustainable. Or at best, a breakeven proposition. You need to carefully select and prioritize where you will invest, given limited time and resources. Pick the programs that best align with your academic strengths and have the greatest upside.

3) Get Really Strategic

Make it your practice to seek and develop opportunities and activities that differentiate your programs from your competitors while at the same time giving you a sustainable competitive advantage. To meet the definition of good strategy you must accomplish both. Make the hard choices of what you will do and what you will not do, based on how much value your programs will create for students. Then challenge yourself to really push your boundaries to innovate and create new market spaces, restructure market boundaries, and eliminate the competition and position for success. (Try your hand at Blue Ocean Strategy for this).

4) Reduce your Time Horizons on Strategic Planning 

Strategic Planning has an unfortunate but often deserved reputation of only being useful for long-term planning (the average strat plan in higher ed is currently around 5 years) and that it generally sits in a binder on a shelf until being revised again some time far in the future. That interpretation, (or reality), is simply not acceptable because your strategic planning is critically important. The institutional strategy should lean longer term but not to the extent that it is ignored or not highly relevant to the short-term planning. Strat planning should also be all about making the choices that drive your business every year not just longer business planning or budgeting. I think a simpler, more agile, short-cycle strategy approach is the way to go, particularly in these challenging times. To accomplish this, you may need to create an independent departmental level strat plan, but regardless, change your personal and departmental, (if not institutional), mindset to actively embrace agile Strategic thinking, all the time.

5) Focus on Execution 

Strat plans, in particular, often fail to deliver on their objectives. Recent research indicates that 48% of all execs fail to reach half of their strategic targets. Business plans and marketing plans are often a close second, as they often don’t have real teeth to them or are not effectively implemented. Assuming you have gone to the effort to create a good solid plan, don’t then let it fail due to poor execution. One effective way to tackle execution is to get specific on setting and managing objectives and expected outcomes. (I personally like to use OKRs to manage this). To ensure effective execution, you need senior management to champion your plans, you need to overcommunicate them, align staff to them, train for them, measure progress, and follow up on them. If you do all of the above, diligently, you might just get yourself over the hump and into the half of execs who do succeed with their plans and meet most of their strategic objectives.

Collectively, I think the challenges and opportunities faced by higher ed managers and marketers today are more formidable than we’ve faced before, at least over my 35 years in the business. But they are not insurmountable, they never are. So, roll up your sleeves, dive in, and get to work on one or all of these five areas to position your online programs for success.



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Marketing Principles Behind the Higher Ed Marketing Periodic Table and Marketing Mix Maps

The Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table is based on a wide range of marketing principles, theory and models. It incorporates these elements into its approach, structure, and marketing mix map applications.

Here is a summary of each of these elements and a short description of how each contributes to the Periodic Table:

1. The 7Ps of the Marketing Mix

The 4Ps model of the Marketing Mix, (Product, Promotion, Price, Packaging) was first developed by Professor Jerome McCarthy in 1960, as a tool to organize and plan marketing activities. It was then expanded upon by Coombs & Smith in 1981, to the seven Ps, (adding Process, People, Physical Evidence), to better incorporate the realities of services marketing. Many more recent authors have argued that the 7Ps is no longer a relevant model in the new world of digital marketing. I don’t agree and would argue it is a particularly effective model with which to examine higher education marketing. The 7Ps form the most important organizing principle of the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table.

There’s a lot of great reference material out there that describes the workings of the 7 Ps so I won’t go into them in detail here.  I will say that I generally follow the model and have worked back into it some elements of the 4 C’s models to modernize their scope a bit. A notable change is “Physical Evidence” which I have loosely redefined as simply “Evidence”, in recognition of the importance of digital or virtual evidence.

2. The Whole Product Concept

Levitt and then Mckenna’s work on the Whole Product Concept provides a really useful way to look at higher education “product”. First, let’s dispense with the “product “vs “service” argument. “Traditional” higher ed offerings are best described as a service, rather than a product. More recently though, higher ed has been on a mission to break its offerings down into smaller and smaller units, like learning modules and micro-credentials. As new, tech-based market entrants and business models disrupt the traditional higher ed market, learning products have become quite common rather than services. The whole product concept breaks down “product” into three dimensions including core product, actual product, and augmented product. Here is an example, applied to higher ed.

Most importantly as a marketer, you must understand your own product’s/service’s main value propositions and the dimension of the model into which they best fit. For example, a short technical training certificate can be described as having predominantly “actual” product characteristics.  Contrast that with the importance of augmented product characteristics of “the student experience” of an Ivy League university degree. This approach helps to identify a broad range of often, very different dimensions of your value proposition and to then prioritize and emphasize them across your marketing mix. Understanding these dimensions will help you discern and focus your value propositions and o better communicate them to your target audience.

3. The PESO Model

The PESO Model, of promotional mix elements, (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned), organizes the Promotion section of the Periodic Table quite nicely. I’ve also rounded out this section with a “Traditional” mix section and included “Event” marketing. Social media is organized a bit differently in the periodic table from what you will normally see elsewhere. I have used this approach to prioritize social channels that are most common and relevant in higher ed marketing. This approach may be contentious but is useful when setting mix priorities.

Source: SpinSucks

4. Kotler’s Marketing 4.0 model.

So now we are starting to get into the “influenced by” section, rather than “based on”. Kotler’s Marketing 4.0 Model really does capture the challenge we face in higher ed, navigating the marketing landscape from traditional-oriented strategy and tactics to more digitally, connected, social marketing. I think this is highly relevant because of the complex and expansive nature of the higher ed landscape, in which we are often caught between the traditional and the digital worlds.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of hardcore digital marketing going on out there. Much “traditional” marketing, (and rightly so, as it still works well), is firmly entrenched in the strategy and tactics of colleges and universities. I feel the “connected “marketing mix approach he offers describes many of the newer, more “disruptive” oriented institution’s approaches. Engagement and advocacy are well-recognized metrics of success in today’s competitive digital marketplace, regardless of where your institution fits on this spectrum.

Source: The Marketing Journal

5. Positioning Framework

Although more of a framework than a model,  I would also add April Dunford’s approach to positioning as a strong influence on how I have imagined the Positioning section in Promotion (# 77-82 in the Periodic Table). In her recent book on positioning, “Obviously Awesome”, she presents an approach to position yourself, that I really like and have used to organize this section. If you are currently working on rebranding or positioning for your college or university, it would be well worth the read to help you focus and enhance your process.

6. Marketing Mix Maps

My concept for visual mix mapping is a work in progress, but I feel it becomes clearer and more refined in each update I release. Three components, including, a) the passive mix b) the active mix, and c) strategy anchors create a mix map in the higher education marketing periodic table.

Passive and active mix are not new marketing concepts themselves, but mapping them together visually, (with a strategy anchor), is and provides a new approach to building or analyzing your own marketing mix ( or to examine a competitor’s). I added the concept of strategy anchors as an extension of the active/passive mix to help focus a mix map user’s strategy and tactics. I see strategy anchors as central cinch pins in the broader marketing strategy and highlight them as such. Go here for a fuller description of Marketing Mix Maps.

So that’s my review of the marketing principles, theory, and models behind the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table and Marketing Mix Maps. By describing these underpinning elements, I hope that the reader gains a fuller understanding of the design and approach of the periodic table model. This should also help you when constructing or analyzing your higher ed marketing mix.

Your feedback on the periodic table and mix maps is greatly appreciated. Most particularly, I would appreciate hearing your challenges and/or criticisms of these ideas to help me pressure test the approach and to further develop the model.

I look forward to hearing from you.



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How to Visualize Your Marketing Mix with “Mix Maps” on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table

So why and how would you want to visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps?

Your higher ed marketing mix is a collection of optimized decisions, tools, and tactics that you organize around a marketing strategy to effectively promote your product or service. Most people think of creating their marketing mix as something that’s pretty tactical, a step that you get to in your planning; a to-do list that you spin out of your marketing plan and strategy.

But marketing mix is more than just a bunch of tactics that you string together. It’s also a dynamic, “Complex” or maybe even “Emergent” system where the overall effect of the mix is greater than the sum of the parts. When you really get it right, it’s where the magic happens. If you’ve been a marketing practitioner for a while, and have had a major success or two, you know what I mean.

The problem is that it’s really hard to optimize your mix if you’re just thinking about it as a list of tactics. You need to be able to see your whole marketing “footprint”, visualizing the relationships between its elements. Only then can you understand its structure, its scope, its potential, and how to leverage all of its parts to maximum effect.

That’s where marketing “Mix Maps” on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table can help.

To get a fuller description of the Marketing Principles Behind the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table click this link.

Here’s how to visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps.

Example of a marketing mix map on the higher education marketing and recruitment period table

So let’s start our explanation of Mix Maps by defining its parts, building a mix map from the ground up.

At the foundation of a Mix Map is the Higher Ed Marketing Periodic Table. It provides a visualization of the general landscape of the higher ed marketing ecosystem and includes most of the different elements you might want to include in your marketing mix. Click this link for a full description of the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table and to download a pdf of it.

There are three different types of marketing mix indicators on a mix map. They are the Positioning Elements, Active Mix Elements, and Strategy Anchor Elements.

I define these elements as the following:

  • Positioning Elements are the background, foundational marketing mix elements that serve an important role but have a lower profile in the mix. They are not always clear or visible from the outside looking in.
  • Active Mix Elements are the dynamic, or activated mix elements that are clear and visible from the outside, that are driving your marketing strategy forward.
  • Strategy Anchors Elements become evident after mapping the positioning elements and the active mix elements. They are the most important of all of the mix elements. Once identified, they suggest the primary marketing strategy in play across your total mix.

Next, let’s create a mix map on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic table.

If the higher ed marketing periodic table is the landscape of higher ed marketing, the mix map plots your path on the landscape that gets you to your marketing goals.

Let’s dig into the example shown above. Note that I have built this example from recent news headlines and am identifying the mix elements while looking in from the outside. I don’t work with either EdX or SNHU. The analysis is mine, not informed by anyone from these institutions. It is an example of looking at a marketing case from the outside, as many of you regularly do, when you are examining a competitive program or an innovative offering, like this one, and considering how to compete. Here is the link to the press release that announced the launch of this program back in April.

Now, lets review the steps you go through to build a mix map.

Step 1) Gather background information and establish the main mix elements

Gather the main elements of the case into a brief profile of the example you want to map.

A quick summary of the highlights of the edX/SNHU Microbachelor program might go like this:

  • Includes 2 courses, Data Management and Business Analytics, get 6 credits,
  • Cost is $US 1250,
  • Have 8 months to complete,
  • All online
  • SNHU profs teach the courses
  • SNHU and edX cross promote
  • these edX courses articulate into SNHU associate or bachelor’s degree program

Step 2) Add the Positioning Elements to the Periodic Table

This is the part of the process that is very subjective. It is based on your experience, your knowledge of, and your perspective on the situation you’re examining.

Here’s my take on what the Foundation Elements should be :

Adding positioning elements of the marketing mix map on the HEMRPT

Step 3) Then add the Active Mix elements.

I define the active mix as those elements that are dynamic parts of the mix. Many of the active mix elements in this example are inferred from my general background knowledge and experience, but I confident they are pretty close. They are the things that are most visible, dynamic, timely, the ones that hit the gas on your campaign or plan.

Adding active elements of the marketing mix on the higher education marketing and recruitment periodic table

(PRO TIP: Have a colleague create own their version of the map for an example you are working on and compare. The differences between the two maps will prove to be very interesting, revealing a wealth of information, and reveal clues about your different experiences and perspective.)

Step 4) Add the Strategy Anchor Elements

Based on your positioning and active mix elements, now work out the strategy anchors. These are those critical pieces of the mix that reveal the real foundation of your marketing strategy, the main elements that are shaped by “the how” of your marketing mix.

Strategy anchors on the HEMRPT

Step 5) Add your Strategy Anchor Titles to the Periodic Table

Once you determine what you believe to be the strategy anchors, drop them onto the mix and summarize what you discern to be the strategy of the mix you are studying. If I am going to be presenting a mix map to others, to help them understand my analysis, I will usually add these keywords to the mix map to help reveal the insights that I have concluded.

Strategy anchor titles

So there you go. That’s the quick intro into how you develop a Mix Map on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table.

(PRO TIP: To capture these elements in a simple way I use PowerPoint. Basically, I drop the PT into PowerPoint slide and then draw the mix elements on to the map. Usually, I’ll do that one layer at a time, adding a new slide for each to keep them separate. When you are finished with a layer hit escape and ppt will ask if you want to save your drawing. Say yes, and it adds your elements to the slide as a layer that you can move around, copy or simply save. )

I will review these steps of how to use Powerpoint to do this in more detail in an upcoming blog and provide an example of it there.

So that’s how you can visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps. I hope you find it useful.

Assuming they’re not proprietary or top secret, feel free to send along examples of your mix map examples to me to comment on. I’d really love to see how you choose to apply this tech, to learn from you and continue to improve the Periodic Table and this Mix Map approach in the future.


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The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table, Explained

The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table emerged from my personal efforts to stay abreast of the changing higher ed marketing landscape and to put it into some kind of order that would help me be a better marketer. Digital marketing for higher ed is a complex and rapidly changing landscape to work in and stay on top of these days. The rules of the game are constantly changing with updates to your go-to tools and ever-changing channels while you try to keep up with the latest and greatest marketing strategy and tactics. Factoring in “for higher education marketing and recruitment”, with the covid-driven business reality, the explosion of remote learning, and the impending enrolment cliff, and it is doubly challenging.

My work on the “Table” began, some time ago, quite simply by keeping what I then called my “Know About List”: an inventory of SEMM and digital marketing topics that I felt any respectable higher ed marketer should have mastery over. Over time, by sorting with McCarthy’s 7 Ps, and layering in more marketing theory, (i.e., the Three Product Levels Model, the PESO Media Model, etc.), more structure evolved. Many marketing academics today argue that the 4Ps and the 7Ps models are too dated to apply to today’s digital marketing environment but I believe they still work well enough to be helpful and I choose to apply them in this model. Then, after reading a Seth Godin blog about how innovative Mendeleev’s 1869 invention of the periodic table of elements truly was, another penny dropped and its current structure was developed.

Most importantly, it has matured to a point where I feel it really does put higher ed marketing and recruitment into a well-organized and useful landscape. Assuming I’m correct, it also makes it time to share it with others, who might benefit from it. I am quite sure it is by no means perfect, or for that matter complete. I humbly propose this version of the Periodic Table, knowing it still has gaps, and is at least incomplete on a few elements. But that too was the real beauty of Mendeleev’s invention of the periodic table; he left empty spaces for things he knew were yet to come. Let’s all just agree, it is a work in progress that will continue to improve. I look forward to getting alot of your feedback to help me accomplish that.

But enough of the backstory, let’s look at the Table.

The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic TableThe Higher Education Marketig and Recruitment Periodic Table is a tool for marketing planning and analysis

(Click to download a pdf of the Periodic Table.)

So, let’s start with the table’s main organizing principle, the 7 Ps of Marketing. So why are we talking the 7 Ps and not just the original 4 Ps ? When first developed in 1981 by McCarthy, the original 4 Ps, Product, Promotion, Price, and Place, were proposed to explain the four main elements of the marketing mix for what was then the priority, product marketing. Shortly thereafter, Bose and Bitner extended the 4 Ps model into 7ps, adding People, Processes, and Physical evidence, making it more relevant and applicable to the expanding world of services marketing.

The 7 Ps of Marketing

This discussion may lead you to ask, which category does the business of higher education fall into, product or service? We’ll leave the serious debating about this to the academics and settle, for the purposes of this Periodic Table, that in its present form, it is a bit of both. I’d argue that as higher ed’s newer offerings become more and more niche, compartmentalized and self-contained, (i.e. computer-based, self-paced, micro-credentials), that they look much more like products than ever. But let’s leave that subject and debate for another day.

The 7 Ps is a model used for marketing decision-making. Each of the 7 P categories includes various marketing elements, that you may, or may not incorporate into your marketing mix for whatever you are marketing, be it a new community initiative, a new cybersecurity program, or rebranding your school  You determine which elements you will use in your mix, based on your marketing objectives, marketing strategy, your strengths and weaknesses, your competition, your budget, and timeline, etc.

A school’s high-level marketing objectives are typically derived from your academic plan, or your SEMM plan, or your divisional/departmental marketing plan. Depending on your level in your school’s management structure, you may or may not have input into these plans. As a VP, Marketing, you likely work with your school’s president to create your academic or SEMM plan. As say, a social media community manager, you are more likely involved at a lower, more hands-on level in the overall marketing planning effort. The good news is that the Periodic Table works quite well at all levels of your higher ed organizations. We will look at specific examples of both, in a soon to be published blog.

A Quick Comment on the Place of Strategy

The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table presents the main elements of the higher ed marketing mix. It captures the broad landscape of marketing-related activities but it does not tell you directly what to “build” on the landscape. Your academic plan, SEMM plan, or departmental marketing objectives and marketing strategy ultimately determine how you shape your marketing mix.

Good marketing strategy includes:

    1. A clear diagnosis or definition of the challenge you are facing.
    2. A description of how you will solve the problem, based on leveraging your strengths, your competition, your budget, and your schedule.
    3. The key steps and resources needed to implement the approach

The Periodic Table can help you complete each of these steps by:

    1. Generating a clearer diagnosis of the challenge, opportunity, or threat
    2. Designing an effective marketing strategy to tackle the challenge or problem
    3. Build an optimal marketing mix, (steps, tools, and tactics), with which to implement your strategy.

Let’s move on from the marketing strategy side and look at each of the 7 Ps and the elements within each.

1. Products/Services

As mentioned earlier we will regard this category as including both Products and Services. In the Periodic Table, I have broken out Product/Service into three categories which are described in more detail with Kotler’s Three Product Levels Model.

Kotler’s Three Product Levels Model is the foundation of the Product category in the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table

This model includes,

1. Core Product/Service – (What’s at the very core of what higher ed offers?) – At its core, higher education offers three things including, learning experience (learn how to learn, personal development), academics, (specific knowledge), and vocational relevance (getting a job). For example, you might enroll in a training program to get a related, specific job within 6 months.

2. Actual Product/Service –(What are the actual product/services that higher ed offers?) – the actual product/service in higher ed includes courses, programs, diplomas, degrees, and credentials, teaching, academic quality, brand. For example, You might study accounting, graduate, and fast track to getting a CA designation.

3. Augmented Product/Service  (What are the important things beyond the actual product/service itself that higher ed offers?) – the extended campus environment, student services, the student experience, the reputation, brand extensions. For example, you might study business at Harvard, graduate, and get an almost guaranteed job interview with a top 10 consulting firm.

Different institutions deliberately offer products/services with very different value propositions, for different target audiences. Understanding the nature of your product/service’s positioning on the Three Product Levels spectrum is important to enabling their marketers to develop the appropriate and optimal value propositions and marketing mix for their target audience.

2. Price

Pricing elements of the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic TablePrice is a critically important element of your marketing mix. At its heart, is the complicated element of your institution’s pricing models and strategies. Pricing does not usually get too much discussion in the marketing department because institutional pricing/policy often gets handed down from a higher authority. That’s changing in today’s competitive marketplace, (i.e. Covid-driven changes to value proposition), and is very much coming into the purview of the marketing department. Innovative pricing strategy has become a required element to compete in today’s fast-changing higher ed marketplace. Even if you don’t ultimately control the element of pricing at your institution, you need to understand its complexities, so you can recommend/apply new pricing levers for your school’s best advantage. For example,

  • increases of tuition to cover online learning costs
  • decreases of tuition due to a less robust student experience
  • canceling of ancillary costs not incurred because of remote learning
  • expanded categories of financial aid, (lowering student net costs)
  • temporarily dropped “margins” intended to bridge tough economic times
  • dropped net tuition by institution due to the adoption of open-source textbooks
  • programs with free tuition leveraged by government or community-based funding

3. Place

Place is defined as “where your products and services are seen and where you engage with your audience”. The dimension of Place in the higher ed marketing mix has been dramatically impacted in the last year due to Covid-19, with shuttered campuses and the mass migration of higher ed to online delivery. It looks like campus life should return to some semblance of “normal” by 2022, but Place in higher ed marketing has been forever changed. Also recognize, that to be complete, you must generalize your thinking about Place beyond the three dominant elements of online, campus, and high schools, to also include locations where your product/services are active across your larger community, including alumni, business partners, government and with international agents in other countries.

4. People

The People category of the 7Ps is defined as that group of people who engage with your audience on your behalf. Similar to the Place category this dimension seems on the surface, rather straightforward but don’t fall into lazy thinking about this. Particularly important in the context of a service-based industry, your people do not only participate in the delivery of the service of higher education, they actually are the service, creating its culture, shaping your brand in the marketplace, and acting as its voice. Students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and employers all become significant inside players in the delivery of the higher ed marketing mix. Outside of the inner circle, business partners, suppliers, agents, consultants, and governments operate on many levels, in many complex ways, to assist the higher ed institution pursues its objectives through engagement with its many constituencies. Your larger community, partners, services providers, and agencies of government all play a critical role in solving your marketing challenges and should be seen as a potential marketing mix resource to do so.

5. Processes

Processes are defined as series of actions or steps that an institution takes to deliver its products/services to its audiences. Looking at the customer journey is a helpful way to imagine and capture these processes from recruitment to student services to alumni fundraising. “Customer or audience” should be defined in its’ broadest terms to capture all of your higher ed constituencies. The quality and convenience of your processes and related supporting systems are key drivers of your relationships with your audience, their resulting perceptions of you, and ultimately the shaping and reinforcement of your brand. In higher education, your People managing your Process ultimately defines your Product/Service.

6. Physical Evidence

Tangible evidence, like your campus facilities, printed branded marketing collateral, or a big blue bus driving cross-country delivering diplomas, all fit the traditional definition of physical evidence within the marketing mix. To maintain relevancy in today’s evolving online world, I would argue we need to bend the definition of “physical evidence of brand and mix” to also include some non-tangible elements. Some examples I’d add would include things like online blockchain credentials, accreditation statements, and trust icons, as well documented testimonials and reviews.

Given its importance in the customer journey, I also include websites as physical evidence. The irony of both on- and off-line consumer behaviour today is that generally, consumers don’t trust most of the evidence that brands provide of their quality. What they generally do trust is the advice of family, trusted friends, and online reviews. With this in mind, I have added testimonials and reviews to the physical evidence section of the table. Third-party advocacy for your brand, and evidence of it on your site and social channels is critical today. And given the high level of interaction, I have included user experience as the ultimate evidence of brand and culture in the marketing mix. You will also see it as an element in Promotion, as an important means of delivering a message and strategy.

7. Promotion

The Promotions section of the Table captures the main tools and tactics that you employ every day in your marketing department through traditional offline and digitally online. The top half of the Promotion section is all about the tactics and the bottom half collects a mix of marketing management, strategy, and specializations. The top row (3, 13-20) includes traditional offline marketing activities. 21 PR (Earned Media) is included there as well, not because it is traditional in its practices, but because there was an available spot for it.

The PESO Model - paid, earned, shared and owned media, is the organizing principle of the Promotion category of the HEMRPT

The three rows of media below Traditional are organized by the PESO ( Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) media model. Content and Events topics are listed within Owned media. Although not a perfect fit, these categories work reasonably well. Shared incorporates the organic aspect of social channels, and Paid includes all online advertising activities. Any Paid social advertising elements fall under 66 Pay-per-Click.

The bottom half of the Promotions sections (76 -101) is a summary of Strategy, Planning, and Management topics. Note that my number system goes vertical at this point, with each of its elements being included under a main Strategy, Planning, and Management topic. These elements form the main foundation of a strong digital marketing program. It’s also in this section where rapid change is most dramatically altering the strategy and execution of higher ed marketing and recruitment today.

You may have noticed that the Periodic Table is also loosely organized on a vertical scale of complexity, with top-of-the-table elements being more basic and as you drop deeper into the table the elements generally become more complex. This is certainly the case in the bottom half of the Promotions section which contains the Strategy Planning and Management topics that are broken down in more detail on the vertical groupings.

You won’t see a cell for every strategy, tactic, or channel that you believe should appear in the The other social category on the table collect other social media channels in the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic TablePeriodic Table. I clearly had to prioritize and place many items under other elements, that do appear. For example 50 Other Social incorporates many less prominent channels and platforms. These details are currently unavailable and not seen in the PDF, but they will be made available in the Table in a future version, where the cells will be interactive. I am still working on the technical details of the best way to do that.

So that is my overview of the rationale and structure of the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table. It provides a canvas upon which you can audit, analyze, document, and plan the marketing mix for your higher ed marketing plans, campaigns, or promotions. Having said all that, I think statistician George Box was on to something when he said “ All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

My hope is that this model falls into the “useful” subset

.George E. P. Box quote - "All models are wrong, but some are useful"

In the end, the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table provides a one-page summary of the important elements of the higher education marketing mix, roughly organized by category of elements and levels of complexity. It is very subjective and definitely a work in progress. Every time I sit down and work on it, I am inspired by something new and the Table changes a bit. I’m sure that receiving your feedback will cause the same result. I can guarantee that I will continue to add to, subtract from, and reorganize its content, as we learn more together about how it can be applied and as the dynamic business of higher ed marketing, recruitment, and digital marketing evolves.

Stay tuned!

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In an upcoming blog here, I’ll discuss more specific examples of how I apply the Table.