Saving money when possible is a strategic priority. But sometimes our efforts to save money are counterproductive. Here are some ways higher ed marketers try to save that can end up costing more in the long run.
Saving money is great. It’s part of being a responsible steward of your marketing budget. It’s also often a pressing necessity in the face of too many priorities and too little funding.
That’s why it is especially important to ensure that your efforts to save money are actually accomplishing that goal.
In my experience working with scores of higher ed marketing departments, there are some common areas where I’ve seen schools try to improve their spending efficiency only to do the opposite.
See if you might be making some of the same mistakes.
Mistake #1: Hiring the perceived market leader
If you are planning to hire a marketing agency to support your marketing efforts, it might seem like a good idea to approach one of the best-known companies that has helped some of the big names in higher ed achieve results. Yes, they’ll cost more, but they also promise higher ROI.
The focus on ROI instead of cost is smart. And, in truth, it might be a good idea to hire such a firm — if your university is similar to the clients they tend to help. If it isn’t, however, you might want to consider other options.
Why? Different types of schools have different needs. A firm that usually works with large public universities, for instance, will have strategies and approaches that work well for that kind of client. They may not work so well for a small, private school.
They may be used to deploying marketing campaigns at a scale that just doesn’t make sense for a school that lacks the capacity to follow up with too many leads, especially ones who aren’t a great mission fit.
The end result is that you may spend much more than you need to. The best marketing agencies are probably the ones that have a track record of success with institutions like your own. This also applies to hiring the best advertising agency in the region. But, if they don’t have proven success in higher ed marketing, you might be paying for a brand awareness campaign that does not fit with your enrollment goals.
Mistake #2: Using the lowest-cost option
Another mistake some marketing teams make is basically the opposite of the first one. They try to find the cheapest resource to help them with a particular marketing need.
They might, for instance, hire an alumnus for that website redesign, even though that person doesn’t have a lot of experience. Or they look for help to a local digital marketing agency whose typical client is a small business.
Higher education marketing is tough and comes with unique challenges. Brian Kenny, CMO of Harvard Business School, emphasized this point in a conversation we had on our podcast.
“I also think [higher education is] the most challenging marketing role that you can have…the various audiences that you have to think about as a marketing person in education is quite different than if you’re selling a particular product or service.”
When you hire people to help with your marketing who don’t know this context or who lack appropriate experience you’re probably going to be disappointed with the results. You may spend less upfront but the return on your investment will be poor.
Mistake #3: Trying to save by not taking action
If one way to try to save in a particular area of marketing is to hire the lowest cost provider to handle it, another way is to forgo doing it altogether.
This is actually the right choice in many instances. As a marketing leader, you’re probably aware of so many things you could be doing, any number of which might be helpful to your overall marketing efforts. But your budget is limited and you need to be strategic.
The key is to make smart decisions about what you can do without and what is essential.
Consider your website, for example. Maybe you know that it could use a major upgrade. A professional website redesign is expensive, however. You could save a lot by continuing to make do with what you currently have.
Here the key question is one of opportunity cost. Your website is perhaps your most important marketing asset. How many potential applicants are you losing because of your current website that you could gain with a better one?
Those lost potential applicants are a real cost. When you take them into account, your efforts to save money by avoiding a site rebuild could actually be costing you a lot.
Mistake #4: Trying to do it all yourself
Depending upon the size of your marketing team, you may be able to handle many things in-house. It is rare, however, for a team to have the expertise and capacity to do everything in marketing well.
When you try to save by doing everything internally, this can end up costing you in two different ways.
For one thing, the quality might not be there. If your team is producing your own blog content, for instance, but doesn’t have a handle on SEO and content strategy, then this channel will not be nearly as effective as it could otherwise be.
Moreover, the time your team members spend on areas that aren’t in their area of expertise tends to come at the expense of time they could be devoting to areas that are.
The strategic use of outsourcing helps ensure your marketing efforts are effective and that your team is working efficiently.
Mistake #5: Not investing in the right tools
There have never been more software tools available aimed at helping digital marketers. While many of them are modestly priced, getting your team equipped with a new CRM or project management solution can be a significant cost — both in terms of dollars and in hours required to learn to use the software. It’s tempting to stick with what you’ve been doing to avoid the expenditure.
Yet a modest investment in carefully-chosen tools can yield big benefits in efficiency and in outcomes.
A modern email marketing solution, for instance, will allow you to personalize and automate campaigns while enhancing your ability to track prospective student behavior across marketing channels. This means more strategic marketing efforts and better conversion rates.
Again, a useful question to consider is what it is costing you to not upgrade your capabilities.
Seeing the Big Picture
When I consider these examples, I think the simplest way to describe the mistake we often make when it comes to saving money is that we fail to see the big picture. We confuse spending less today with spending less altogether. We see the price of what we decide not to spend but ignore the cost of the opportunity we miss.
Saving money is important. I hope these examples help you see the big picture so you can do it wisely and strategically. If you’d like help thinking through what that means in your context, let’s talk.
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