National Survey of College Marketing Decision Makers Shows Skyrocketing Pressure and Increased Difficulty in Differentiating Their Schools from Competitors

-- 71% of higher education marketers are worried that the industry doesn't look outside for "fresh ideas"

-- 60% express concern that they are not using all media, including social, effectively to grow enrollment

Nov 17, 2015, 09:21 ET from Brian Communications

CHICAGO, Nov. 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- With the American Marketing Association's (AMA) Higher Education Symposium now underway in Chicago, results of a new national survey were released, which highlight the increased pressures and real challenges facing marketing decision-makers at public and private colleges nationwide. Respondents from both four-year and two-year colleges and universities consistently pointed to the tremendous competition in higher education recruitment and subsequent professional uncertainty as a constant in their daily work.     

With more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, a tightening applicant pool, ever-increasing costs and fewer resources, college marketers arrive at the AMA Higher Education Symposium facing unprecedented industry challenges. In addressing these issues, key results of the "College Marketer Study" include:

  • Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents (78%) agreed that "stress and pressure in higher education recruitment marketing had increased in the past year" and 80% reported that they were being asked to "do more with the same or fewer resources."
  • The two (2) biggest challenges facing marketing decision-makers were identified as:
    • Keeping up with changing media habits (59%)
      • Marketing decision-makers at private universities identified this point much more than those at public institutions (69%: Private v. 54%: Public)
    • Developing a brand that truly differentiates (58%)
      • 57% of all respondents noted that it was "getting harder and harder to differentiate the strengths of my school"
  • Additional challenges frequently cited included:
    • Integrating brand strategy through all tactics (42%)
    • Understanding what is most important among many data points (40%)
    • Understanding my target audience (40%)
  • Respondents also cited issues that cause them the most concern – or "worry" – as marketers in a hyper-competitive national landscape.
    • 7 out of 10 (71%) expressed concern that higher education doesn't "look outside for fresh ideas."
    • More than 60% questioned whether they were "using all media effectively to grow enrollment" and about half expressed concern over the "social media gap" and whether competitors were using "more, different or newer social media" than their own college or university.

The survey, which was commissioned by Brian Communications, sought to not only confirm the anecdotal evidence of increased pressure faced by college marketers, but also better understand the complex roots of that pressure. 

"As major consumer brands struggle to find new ways to connect with millennials and the upcoming Gen Z, it is not surprising that colleges and universities are facing that same challenge," said Brian Tierney, CEO of Brian Communications. "Some of the brightest minds in marketing are struggling to sell a pair of $200 sneakers to teenagers in an industry where you can count the major competitors on two hands. Colleges and universities are trying to sell teenagers a product in excess of $100,000 with more than 4,000 competitors. That's the landscape of higher education marketing in America today. It is this landscape, though, that creates a real opportunity for marketing and messaging innovation – for colleges and universities to 'zig' when others 'zag.'"  

Brian Communications' national survey of college marketing decision-makers was executed by Kramer Research and Online Survey Solution, a division of the M/A/R/C unit of Omnicom.

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About Brian Communications
Brian Communications, led by Brian Tierney, the former CEO and Publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and, is a strategic communications agency with expertise in public relations, advertising, content marketing and digital engagement. With a wealth of experience from a range of industries, including higher education, government relations, environmental sciences, financial services, consumer-packaged goods, non-profit, luxury and sports, our clients include some of the most respected companies and institutions in the nation such as Aramark, Independence Blue Cross, Widener University, Horatio Alger Association, Newspaper Association of America, AmeriHealth Caritas and The World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.

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