A marketing plan provides a company with a guideline on how to go about business successfully. This often means making the right decisions, implementing them and monitoring their outcomes and effects on the business. In the marketing of services like higher education, a marketing plan requires deciding, first of all, what image the institution would like to portray. Other vital constituents assume understanding the competition and channels of communicating with the prospective clients, as well as evaluating the communication tools and strategies employed, in order to ascertain that the most effective ones are favored over the ineffective ones.
Marketing Plans That Colleges/Universities In The United States Employ
Colleges and Universities in the United States are currently aware of the stiff competition that they face, and thus they are more sensitive to the market needs. In order to attract students and their families and raise interest in their programs, institutions, colleges, and universities are formulating integrated marketing plans that incorporate both traditional and social media-based marketing tools. This ensures that they reach both the students as the tech-savvy Generation Y and their parents who may hold traditional views in terms of marketing effects.
With regards to the integrated marketing plan, colleges and universities across the United States are increasing their presence on the internet and especially, in the popular social networking sites that include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Skype and LinkedIn among others. These social networking sites provide the institutions with a platform on which to attract and engage the prospective students and collect their feedback in applicable cases.
The traditional marketing is then used in emphasizing on the brand by using the different types of conventional media including print and broadcast media, branding materials like T-shirts, mugs, wristbands, and caps among others. Furthermore, media involves participating in marketing events, such as social activities like environmental conservation campaigns, social marketing initiatives within the various local communities, and even following up on alumni and capitalizing on graduate turnouts. In this regard, it is important for these colleges and universities to bring out their goals and objectives and show, how good they are at hitting their set academic targets. Students go to college to get a good education and it would be baseless for the institutions to boast of great learning environments, extracurricular activities, and good facilities without showing what these have done for the preceding students in terms of their grades and prospects in the job market.
A good marketing plan as applied by colleges and universities in the United States can be explained in detail using the three phases of planning, implementation, and control.
The Planning Phase
This is where the institutions decide on what they want to do, and how they would like their potential customers to perceive them. This stage also involves understanding the market dynamics and establishing the strengths and weaknesses of the competition so as to develop a strategic plan for competitive advantage. The first step involves coming up with business goals and objectives. In an integrated marketing plan, these goals and objectives must be relevant to the prospective customers. While academic institutions are also businesses, their main goal should be to provide the right education to their customers as the quality of their graduates affects their brand image in the long term. An institution is also rated by its ability or orientation towards achieving its own set goals and objectives. This makes the first step a very crucial one. In most cases, these goals and objectives are revised annually to cater to the dynamic nature of the market and industry. They create the brand identity of the institution by determining what the school does and how it does it.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both the industry as a whole and the available competition enables the institution to formulate a strategy for building a competitive advantage. With a market as saturated as the higher education market is, competitors are a serious threat, and each business needs a strategy for survival. This stage enables the college to understand what the competition is not doing right and use it as an advantage in positioning themselves in front of the potential students. In most cases, these universities and colleges decide to offer the students’ programs and activities that are unavailable in other institutions such as free Wi-Fi connections, transportation services for those who need it, well-stocked libraries or museums depending on the courses offered, flexible learning options and schedules, among other things. Thus, a SWOT analysis helps the institution to decide on the position they would like to take in the market.
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In the implementation phase, colleges and universities in the United States are increasingly combining technology-based marketing with the traditional direct mail and billboard advertisements. A number of researches conducted among students stated that they were more likely to expect a direct mail or email informing them about school and its programs and they would take it more seriously than if they found the information anywhere else.
After deciding on the image that the institution would like to promote, they use both the social media networks and the traditional methods to get the message to the consumers. Direct mails and emails are often sent to the prospective students and their families so as to gain their attention and interest in the institution. This information is often provided along with the school’s contacts to enable communication in case the family is interested. Once the prospective consumer is contacted, the communication is kept open for a while until the enrolment is finalized. These institutions do not assume a victory until the student is enrolled and ready to start classes. This is mainly done because with the current levels of competition in the education industry, students can be easily swayed at the last minute, which explains the need to keep them interested at all times until they get enrolled.
The control phase then involves evaluating the applied marketing strategies to establish their effectiveness. Considering that the colleges apply an integrated marketing plan, the feedback is easily obtained from social networking sites and emails. The students may also be asked to state where they got the information about the school from so as to determine which tools have worked (Kotler & Fox, 1995). This information is later used in the formulation of a new marketing strategy for the next enrolment. Being in a service industry, schools often spend a lot of their resources in marketing to ensure that prospective consumers are aware of their existence. This is the only way they can remain relevant in the business world. As a result, the control phase of a marketing plan is used to measure the efficiency of the implemented campaign so as to ensure that all the applied activities yield significant results in terms of enrolment numbers.
Comparison of Marketing Plans of a Successful College/University and for one that is Losing Enrolment
The two colleges being compared herein are Spring Hill College and Foothill College. Spring Hill College has been experiencing a consistent drop in enrolment while Foothill’s numbers in terms of freshmen keep going up. Both colleges use an integrated marketing plan that incorporates both technology-based and traditional communication tools. Other than just targeting the prospective students, both colleges send direct mails and emails to the parents and families of the prospective students to ensure that the message gets to them.
In Foothill’s marketing plan, increasing enrolment and access through targeted marketing is stated as a marketing objective that is driving the marketing plan. This implies that the marketing campaigns are focused on increasing the numbers of enrolment. The Spring Hill marketing plan is also focused on the same thing as the school has even increased the number of names it uses to conduct direct marketing in terms of direct mails and emails. In both cases, the focus is on the increase of enrolment numbers in the forthcoming intakes.
Also, the schools are both driven to monitor the effects of their marketing strategies by collecting feedback on the amount of traffic on their online sites, the amount of response they get from the direct sales and the number of students who actually enroll based on where they get the information on the school first. Generally, it can be said that these two schools are largely the same in their approach for enrolling students.
The major difference that is causing the Spring Hill College to fail is that it offers $1000 scholarships for students who take a campus tour. This strategy may have worked in a different dispensation, but with the current economic situation, students are more conscious of the cost of education. This college charges over $150,000, with the only opportunity for reducing these fees coming in the form of a $1000 scholarship for taking the campus tour. While a college education is relatively expensive in all colleges across the country, using this approach to attract prospective customers is a wrong move as customers tend to dwell on the fact that the fees are high in the first place.
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Foothill College, on the other hand, does not dwell on any sponsorship offers in their marketing plan. The school simply focuses on getting the attention of the prospective students by showing them the academic successes they might achieve if they enroll. This school focuses on bringing out the strengths that they have in terms of academic performance, and the importance of a college career for the prospective student. In the end, the students are encouraged to join the college for a better future with a great career.
While pricing concepts may be useful for college or university in terms of competitive advantage, the prices have to be reasonable and not marginal. A college education is expensive, and if a school would like to position itself as a cheaper alternative then establishment should be ready to make significant price reductions and not a $1000 sponsorship offer like that of the Spring Hill College.
Foothill College also succeeds in attracting potential students based on the fact that they endeavor to follow up on their graduates and use them in the adverts. By documenting the successes of their alumni, the college positions itself as a results-oriented veteran with expertise in the training of successful career prospects. This encourages the potential students to enroll based on the showcase that someone else passed through the system and became successful in their respective field. This college thus capitalizes on its academic muscle and not financial or social capabilities.
5-Step Marketing Plan and Source of Payment for a Degree at B**** College
The following marketing plan is for an accounting degree in a public college. The first step involves establishing the mission and objectives of the school. As an accounting major, a school that offers career training with an emphasis on ethics and professionalism is a great advantage. This means that the business goals and mission must be academic and professionalism oriented as opposed to cost efficiency and environmental advantages (like serenity among others). These missions have to be aligned to my missions as the prospective student. The similarity will help in consolidating focus on the right track.
In the second step, the SWOT analysis will include a comparison of other public colleges within the vicinity and offer similar programs. This may be very extensive given the number of colleges offering accounting programs. However, public colleges tend to be very limited and thus the analysis may be a narrow one centered only on the qualities of the accounting programs.
The opportunities for the third step include enrolment limits, average annual applications, and qualifications. These will enable me to ascertain my chances so that I can plan for the right school and do accurate positioning and targeting. As a prospective student seeking an opportunity to study in a public college, there are requirements that I must be able to meet including the cost and entry grades.
The implementation of the marketing mix will be in terms of qualifying for the enrolment. Here, the entry grades and the required fees must be available for the application to be accepted. In this case, applying for a degree program will be the implementation of my plan and the results can be considered a response to my application. Considering that the payments will be made in cash, I must also be able to raise the fees on a consistent basis to allow for completion of the degree program.
The evaluation will be based on the response of the college to my application, where they will have evaluated my performance, objectives, and ability to finance my education. These will be the performance metrics relevant to the marketing plan applied above.