Tony Rossell has thoughts about what association executives can learn by looking at what motivates teenagers considering vast number of college options. These impacted his college-bound son's decisions:
1. Consistent mailings
2. Personal contact by individuals
3. Enthusiasm of students, tour guide
These things impacted ME as an association exec as colleges have marketed to my daughter, or she has marketed to them: [note - leaving out the obvious academics, sports, and reputation]
1. Personalization. One marketing postcard that landed on our refrigerator was a college in FL that had my daughter's name spelled out in sand on a beach. Contacted the company and had them make postcards on a legislative issue - with individual legislator's name spelled out on snowy car windshield. Postcards with personalized images did get a lot of attention. [Can't find site, but will link later if do]
2. More personalization. Definitely noticed which colleges used her nickname after visits versus those that didn't. As associations, if we ask for nickname, do we still print labels and other things with their formal names?
3. Asking for interaction. Many colleges set up sites for each applicant. One college sent handwritten postcard same day as tour, the student guide gave business card for any follow-up questions, and admissions director sent us postcard -- all encouraging interaction. Do associations encourage interaction from the start?
4. Easier than ever to apply - the common application. Teenagers definitely appreciate that many schools share a common application - while some require supplemental information and many charge different fees. How hard would it be to have local/state/national on common application - with supplemental information by organization and ability to assess fee based on where applying? Do associations make it easy to apply?
5. Most important thing on earth is to make you successful. My favorites are ones that give feeling that nothing matters more to them than my daughter's success. Some schools in their talks have more of a "you'll be lucky if you're here" approach or completely factual "hey we give this to a hundred a day" presentation. Do associations communicate that nothing matters more to us than our members success, that it's no big deal they joined, or just hand over a bunch of material and say goodbye?
6. The website matters. In touring colleges this weekend, interested my daughter and her friend compare website to what they saw. If dull virtual tour, bad pictures, no demographics, no details of college life - in some cases, they were ready to rule out less well-known schools from what they found or didn't find on the site alone. If someone was making a decision to join based on your association web site, would they?
7. The voice matters. Made absolute judgements based on who gave the talk and tour. One kid at a prominent university never lived in dorms and couldn't answer questions about dorms or food. That mattered. One admissions director told us how hard she worked to get a student from South Dakota so all states represented. Students as geographic statistics. Huge plus when student enthusiasm, expertise and honesty. Whoever talks about your association - do they know it well enough to answer questions and do they treat members like more than a statistic?
Is it time to pay more attention to what organizations competing for talent (or increases in numbers) do? Do they get that "I belong here" feeling?