Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
- You put dinner in the oven, set the timer, and come back 15 minutes ready to pull it out, only to realize you never turned the oven on.
- Your team spends weeks preparing for an event and discussing everything in excruciating detail (as you realize some people have opinions about literally anything). The day comes, families start to arrive on campus, and it dawns on you that you never told families where to park. Or the welcome packets are missing a map. Or any other “I can’t believe we skipped that!” head scratcher.
- You have an elaborate email marketing plan to reach inquiries and applicants, and then halfway through the year you find out not all of the emails ever launched.
Higher education marketing is nothing if not one elaborate funnel. Unlike my favorite funnels, which are covered in sugar and quickly fried at fairs, this funnel takes an enormous amount of planning, attention to detail, and follow-through.
And that’s why it can be so easy to miss a step.
If you’re like me, you oversee multiple funnels using multiple platforms and media. I’d say it’s like someone spinning plates, but that seems easy by comparison. If one plate drops, you are out $5. If one part of your funnel drops, you’re out 50 deposits.
To do our jobs, we’re producing a constant barrage of emails, texts, social media posts, postcards, skywriting, carrier pigeon deliveries, and whatever else will keep your college front and center.
So what are you doing, then, to make sure all of those steps are working as promised?
Just like a cold lasagna waiting for someone to turn the oven on, best intentions don’t matter if you’re missing one crucial step along the way while trying to do a million things.
The best emails you have ever written that will make deposits fall from the sky and VP’s hold a parade in your honor still have to, you know, actually get delivered. It only takes one missed click of the mouse.
I know, that sounds elementary. “Of course, Andy! Why would I ever just leave part of my precious funnel unattended? I sleep with the funnel at night and water it three times a day. It’s my baby.”
Sure. It’s easy to randomly say you have double-checked everything and you planned. It’s harder to take the time to look at every email, every automatically-generated reply, or every landing page throughout the year, well past when it was set up, and see if it is:
B) Still relevant
I’m going through an exercise at my private college that I hope you take some time this summer to complete as well:
Go through every single email in your CMS (OK, I didn’t say it was a fun exercise). Make a spreadsheet with column headings such as “Unique Opens,” “Unique Clicks”, “Unsubscribes” and so forth. Take the time to document what worked and what didn’t.
Time consuming? Yep. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
You’ll find is not only the data that helps you easily compare apples to apples in future years. But just as important, you may discover an email that never sent because a button wasn’t clicked. Or you had a dead link for months. Or that you’ve been reminding people to sign up for an Accepted Student Day that’s already passed (Guilty!). The simple act of re-opening the emails can do wonders.
Part of this can be delegated with a good project management system. You can break up parts of the funnel and periodically have team members do a quick audit:
- Is the content still accurate? Does it reference an administrator or professor who has since left? Does it ask students to do something that no longer makes sense?
- Do all the links lead to the right pages? It’s easy for a website administrator to change content or move pages and not know you’ve been relying on that page!
- Are all the triggers working? We discovered last year that a financial aid award letter sometimes got home before the acceptance packet did, so we delayed the letter by a few days. Timing is so important. Make yourself a test student so you can see what arrives at your home and when.
- Talk with your processing or enrollment operations team. What calls are they getting all the time because something you have sent out is confusing? Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it’ll make sense to a first-generation student.
- Get something on your calendar that forces you to take an afternoon and review what you are sending.
Your boss will feel comforted knowing you are being extra cautious, and it only takes catching one mistake to make the whole process worth it!