As auxiliary services professionals, we know how important marketing is to the success of our services and to our students. It’s important to remember that there are a number of ways—or mediums—to communicate our messages to target audiences.
In order to make the greatest impact, the messages should communicate a consistent message and utilize a consistent design across all mediums. In other words, integrated marketing communications (IMC) should be implemented in order to properly brand the services being marketed. IMC is the process of promoting your service in a unified manner across mediums that reach your target market.
Utilizing a mix of intentional mediums will help reinforce your message by exposing your target market to your message multiple times and in many different ways. People are more likely to remember a message after seeing it more than once. This is not surprising when you think about how many marketing messages you are exposed to daily. That reinforcement is necessary to cut through the clutter of advertising and communications messages.
When considering which mediums to utilize, there are key concepts we need to understand, which are reach and frequency. Reach is how many people will be exposed to your message. Frequency is the number of times they will be exposed to your message. First, determine the mediums that will best reach your target audiences in order to both build awareness and encourage engagement. Exposure without engagement will not connect you with your audience; engagement without exposure will lead to a less-informed consumer.
Reaching target audiences for auxiliary services can be challenging. However knowing that many of your target markets are physically on campus—as they are consistently going to class, work, and meetings—is helpful for you and makes your auxiliary services more marketable.
When considering the different mediums, take into account the culture of your institution. Each campus is unique in terms of marketing capabilities, and you may have different rules associated with different mediums. However, here is a list of general categories for you to consider as you determine how best to plan your promotion(s).
Pop-ups encompass the concept of getting face-to-face time with your target audience with a table or booth at a high-traffic location. Think about spaces where you could send staff at the university center, library, residence hall, or other location to give away free items to promote a service or event. Whether it’s free food or a promotional item, students act when they see “free.” Giving out free items at fairs at the beginning of the year or having pop-ups with something students can take away can be effective. To increase the likelihood of engagement, make sure the item given away has utility and connects to the promotion.
When thinking about engagement on campus, social media certainly belongs towards the top of any marketing and communications checklist. The demographic of college-aged students continues to utilize social media a very high rate. Social media remains a significant component of the marketing mix on college campuses, however, it is important to remember that social media is not the be-all end-all solution.
Since Facebook significantly changed its algorithm last year, it’s much more challenging to have your posts viewed organically. Not surprisingly, Facebook has moved this direction in order to encourage advertisers to pay for posts so more users see these updates. Sometimes it may be worth paying a small amount of money to boost your posts because you are able to target based on a number of key demographics and interests of those on your campus.
When it comes to social media, you must continuously ask yourself what’s popular among your students. Over the last year, the Norris University Center at Northwestern University saw engagement go up on Instagram but down on Facebook and Twitter. It’s still important for the Norris Center to reinforce messages across multiple social media mediums, however it’s vital to know what’s being used to maximize engagement.
Are you asking for followers’ opinions? Are you having a conversation? It’s about engagement, not only pushing messages.
We may live in a mobile, digital age, but do not omit print. There are still enough touch points on most campuses where print is still a factor. Again, the point is to obtain reach and frequency with your communications.
Think about where posters are hung on campus. Can you work with residential services to have resident assistants (RAs) hang up your posters on their floor’s bulletin boards? Are there locations in academic buildings that can be utilized?
Email is a medium that is innately used by students. Despite some articles that say students don’t check email, email can be a viable promotional tool as part of the mix. There are certainly steps to keep in mind that include using a brief, descriptive subject line, make sure blurbs are written actively and briefly within the body of the email, and making sure the design of any graphics and photographs match the other elements of your integrated marketing communications.
If you don’t have your own regularly scheduled email that goes out, is there one from a campus partner or the university that you could submit information to on a regular basis? For instance: the student union, the graduate school, or the university’s marketing department? Think about which campus partner is reaching parents, grad students, staff, faculty, or particular segments of students who you want to reach.
Outside of the campus setting, this category commonly includes mediums such as billboards and bus stops. On campus, there are a number of out-of-home advertising opportunities—both digital and print worlds: TV screens displaying maps, event schedules, and advertisements dominate campus buildings on most campuses these days.
The unions at the University of Vermont, University of Maryland, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee all rely on large-format banners inside or outside of their buildings to promote their programs and services. Other out-of-home possibilities include table tents, shuttle ads, and ads in theatres before movie screenings. If you look around at potential campus partners, there are number of ways to reach your target audiences through this category of mediums.
Don’t forget to inform full-time and student colleagues through emails, newsletters, meetings, trainings, and posters in commons spaces and offices. Colleagues will interact with members of your target audiences, so it’s critical that you inform them what’s going on for those experiential touch points with these audiences.
Although previously mentioned, successful campus marketing is possible through quality partnerships. Creating and sustaining these relationships with campus partners save you money, save you time, and utilize the expertise and knowledge necessary to reach the audiences you want to reach. Potential partners include academic departments, athletics, performance spaces, museums, alumni relations, and university-wide marketing departments.
Here are three examples that demonstrate how the marketing mix can vary when promoting services on-campus.
1. Reasonable investment, big increase in flu shots
When Northwestern University Health Service (NUHS) requested Student Affairs Marketing’s services to promote influenza shots during fall quarter, a “Beat the Flu” campaign was created and promoted using $200 of paid advertising and other means in order to reach the student population. The goals included awareness that students could get a flu show on campus and that the cost was covered by most insurance plans.
The marketing mix included two weeks of online ads with one of the school’s online publications, Facebook posts (including some boosted posts), posters around campus buildings, emails to all students through a student affairs email, and digital ads on TV screens in the University Center and residence halls. Through established partnerships, other than the online publication, boosted Facebook ads, and printing of posters, there were no additional costs to NUHS. By December, we saw a 31 percent increase of students who received their flu shot when compared to the previous year.
2. Ice to see you again
When the Norris University Center Ice Rink was scheduled to return, student affairs marketing created a “coming this winter” teaser campaign using various ice puns, which were posted a number of different places: digital screen in the University Center and residence halls, pictures on email listservs and websites, signs inside the University Center, and posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to show the progress of the rink construction. Social media engagement for both the pictures of the rink being constructed and being used created high levels of engagement.
Additionally, pop-ups during the first two weeks of winter quarter were used to give away free hats and ear warmers to students along with information about ice skate rental. Partnerships with Northwestern Dining and Coca-Cola made these a reality. Northwestern Dining also tied in a promotion with $1 off a large hot chocolate at Dunkin’ Donuts for those students who stopped by a promotional table or rented ice skates.
3. Selling Apple
The Norris Tech Center is the Apple Authorized Campus Store at Northwestern University. Located in the campus bookstore, the Norris Tech Center has exposure to students, parents, and prospective families through visits to the store. This past year, the tech center has focused on audiences who are most likely to make a Mac purchase: parents, new students, and staff. The tech center worked with New Student and Family Programs to advertise in their communications, and also ran a half page advertisement in the orientation issue of the student newspaper that was mailed to all new students before their freshmen year began.
Another audience that the tech center reached was staff through the creation and distribution of postcards through campus mail. This direct mailing was created to focus both on personal purchases by staff and purchases for university departments. Since awareness of the tech center is not as high for staff who do not frequent the Norris Bookstore, it was important to make this investment to build greater awareness.
These examples demonstrate the use of integrated marketing communications because each promotional element was connected to one another through the use of consistent copy and design, no matter the medium utilized.
Of course, it is critical that the experience a student has based on what is communicated via these mediums meets or exceeds expectations. Word of mouth is as powerful as any medium, but how the student is initially informed is affected by the mediums you choose to utilize. Depending on the experience, your audience will share information about your service or program with their peers through face-to-face interactions or through social media.
Don’t feel that you must use every available medium when it comes to communicating your marketing message. Determine what partnerships can be created, work collaboratively to build an integrated campaign, and decide which mix of mediums best complement your marketing messages to inform and persuade your target audiences.