how many $150K products do you buy from 20 year olds?

I've been touring colleges over the last couple of weeks, and oh boy, there's plenty to share. This will hopefully be the first of a few posts related to higher education marketing.

Let's talk tours.

The college tour system is BROKEN. And they're all doing the exact. same. thing:
+ Meet in the visitor center (and at the better colleges) mingle with a couple students.
+ Tour a lecture hall, the athletic center, a dining hall, a sample dorm room, a classroom, the blue light security system, and the student center.
+ Deliver factoids about the teacher/student ratio, the dorms, the meal plan, and security.
(I can now walk onto any campus in the U.S., and give the tour, sight unseen.)

Things that are bothersome, and are ripe for change:

+ Yes, the prospective student wants to hear from a real student, but not everyone's comfortable buying a $150,000 product from a 20 year old. (Like parents.)
+ The student tour guide is a representative of the end product. If she says things like "I'm ascared of the dark" or " with the softwares on your computer" or "most freshmans are on this plan," parents aren't getting excited to make a buy.
+ Most students (and parents) tour more than one school. By tour #3, they're bored out of their skulls.

There's an opportunity for someone to do something spectacular.
+ What about having an admissions/marketing person on tour with a student guide? Co-presenting, for the win? Sales teams present to clients selling $150K products every day. Why not higher ed?
+ Everyone has a meal plan, quad style dorms, blue light security systems and lecture halls. Hand out a fact sheet to cover the obvious stuff that everyone asks (but must be covered.)
+ What's different about your school? The entire campus of UMASS Dartmouth was pretty much designed by renowned architect Paul Rudolph. The buildings are striking. Any mention on the tour? Nope.
+ How could your tour be fun? Something that I want to tweet to my friends?
+ How could your tour be interactive? Is there a way to get the student/parent to participate?
+ Everyone has a camera in their pocket. Some even stream video. Let's put it to use, and give people a reason to take a photo. They might even share it with their friends.
+ Anywhere else in the consumersphere, you're treated like a rockstar if you've got over $100K to spend. How could you treat potential students (and parents) like rock stars?

Every higher ed admissions/marketing person should book a trip to Vegas today and take the Zappos tour. Seriously. This is a tour of AN OFFICE, and it's exciting, engaging, and you'll want to work there. What could your university be doing to make your tour more Zappos-like?


Todd said...

Darryl, any chance you could get Segway to loan my U some transportation to make the tours more fun?

Michael Sprague said...

Interesting post Darryl, and although I get your point here, I'm not sure it fully encompasses the whole picture.

Here's what I mean...

It's been a while since I've actively engaged in the college search process for myself but during my exploration of East coast and West coast campuses I can honestly say I don't remember a damn thing any college admissions officer (adult) said to me. What I do remember are the student to student interactions I had. The connections I made with students who housed me in their dorms for the one night stay on campus is what ultimately led to my college decision. It was the ability to live like a college student for a night that I could paint the clearest picture of what I thought it would be like there. Yes my folks ponyed up the dough for the education and luckily they agreed with my decision, although; if they hadn’t I would have worked real hard to “sell” them myself that it was the right school for me.

I agree the campus tour is still necessary and there’s probably room to improve the whole process. But it would be interesting to see the effect the campus tour actually has in the end decision.


Sam said...

I like the article, but I really question the necessity of having a marketing or admission professional on tour adn some of the finding here. There is no data to support these claims and they're appear anecdotal at best.
You're article doesn't address success schools "where 20 year olds" do sell a university successfully. Having an administrator is like having a car salesman on tour. It's too much of a hard-sell. Besides, some counselors didn't go to the school they work for, and may not know the details that a student whose attended for four years might know.

I think if you have well trained students equipped with their stories and facts, you'll win more often than not.

Prospective students and parents want an unfiltered and credible experience which a student led tour provides. You claim that all campus tours are showcasing the same things-facilities, gyms, dining halls, etc. Yet, there are psychological papers on perceptions of college bound students who see these as indicators of college prestige.

We've actually provided digital cameras for parents to use on tours and it hasn't achieved the results we've wanted. Most parents and students aren't recepetive and are taken off guard even when we tell them it's to document their experience that will be posted online. We are still tweeking the process.

Similar to the other comments, most people don't remember what the a college advisor says. They do remember the experience of being on campus and the experiences that are share by the tour guide.

darryl ohrt said...

I was definitely thinking during a couple of tours that a Segway PT would have been SWEET.

Agree that the student still drives the decision, and that nothing is better than a human connection. My focus on this post was really on the tours ONLY - which I still believe to be a valuable part of the process.

As a parent going through this for the second time, I can say that with our first kid it was the tour that sealed the deal on his school of choice. Higher Ed could seal more deals, IMO.

Yep. No data. Just my opinion. But my opinion as a seasoned marketer, branding genius ;), and customer.

I love your idea of giving digital cams to tour groups. Here's the bridge I think you need to cross:

It comes down to group dynamics. Most people are shy to take any action within a group. Especially at the risk of embarrassing their kids in front of strangers. So just having the camera isn't the obstacle (they all have them on their phones already). The challenge is how do you make it COMFORTABLE for them to take pics.

An example: At Clark University, they have a beautiful bronze statue of Freud. The college is known for their Psychology curriculum, and this is one of the only schools that Freud ever spoke at. OPPORTUNITY. If the guide facilitated the action - "If you guys could take your photo with Freud, I'll tell you a little about how we're the best in the country for Psychology." (And then kindly break the ice for the first person to do this. Once one does it in front of the group, they'll all feel comfy doing the same.) Or let them take Polaroids, and post them on a wall (Zappos does this.) Just a thought.

Thanks for all of the great comments and thinking!!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

@Sam - Going through search process with son right now and shared same problems with Darryl. Nothing's changed when it comes to how parents are pitched. (Hate to use the word, but, shoe, fits.)

Yes students ultimately decide, but parents can influence that if they feel the experience was a good one. I've been at universities recently where student tour guides met us all and came up to introduce themselves.

(The better schools had more outgoing students who were prepared while at the so-so schools, the admins and teachers picked up the slack and were more outgoing. Not sure if there’s a real correlation but I noticed it.)

To the point about cameras, I’d want the experience for me at least to be as non-intrusive and as easy as possible. I don’t want to have to work when touring the campus.

But Darryl and I talked too about the presentation thing. A boring hour-long intro at a student center by the dean of students, especially after I just drove three hours, really kills the vibe.

The bigger point is the idea of recruiting perspective students and their parents earlier in the process, not just the day they show up. Darryl’s right, people are dropping a lot of money on school.

Even a new car test drive earns your kid a balloon and cookie. o_O

Dean J said...

I've worked at schools with a strictly scripted info session and those can be pretty boring for everyone involved. Thankfully, we aren't scripted at UVa. All the data and general info is available online and in the brochures so we can use the info session as an opportunity to talk about what makes this place interesting and different. We also get to talk to students in detail about the application process and essay writing (we're known for giving a good essay writing talk). Obviously, there are topics we all need to cover in our sessions, but we're free to hit points in our own way, which might be why our visitors give us good reviews. The size of our groups and our budget doesn't really allow for "rock start" treatment, but I think we do a great job here.

BTW, here's a video taken by someone on our of our tours a couple years ago:
That was part of a larger "prank" pulled by the fourth year students:

I love the mom at the end of the second video asks "Does this happen every Tuesday?"

@UMassAmherst Diplomatic Corps said...

Good insights. Did any of the schools engage you with Marketing, for example UMass Amherst? Our goal was to inform students of the opportunities they would receive as well as give them the ability to see themselves here. Did any of that come across? Alos, your blog dealth with the experience of actually going through the tour. What was the conversation like in the car afterward? Was there a post mortem where the various brand strengths and weaknesses were discussed? I have found that to be one of the most significant factors in the decision making process. Do you have any feedback about what actually made an impression and do you think it will be a lasting impression leading to a final selection? Your further comments are appreciated.

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