Understanding Where You Are, and Where to Go Next

The College of Arts & Architecture was facing an enormous task. They knew their end goal: increasing enrollment. They were pretty sure that a measurable digital pipeline was critical to success. But they had no idea how to get there.

That dilemma is a common one. Writing an RFP to solve such a complicated problem would require their group to already know the answers–or (and we all know it happens) to make something up. Instead, they made a brilliant choice. Rather than hiring a group to fix the problem, first they’d hire a group to define the problem, understand the possibilities, and plan a strategic solution. We loved being that group. The “discovery & insights” approach worked so well that we now recommend it to many higher ed clients who are tackling big, gnarly problems.

Project Goals

1

Define website needs

The college had dozens–literally dozens–of websites under its management. Branding on these sites was irregular (when it was present at all) and the storytelling was anything but consistent. They knew it had to change. But they didn’t know how.

2

Plan for data and measurement

Throughout the college’s digital world, it wasn’t enough to create something that looked good. Solutions had to be measurable, and they had to be flexible enough to pivot when something wasn’t working or audience needs changed.

3

Understand audiences and their priorities

Speaking of audience, the college needed to understand why their enrollment was declining in the first place, and what kind of storytelling would combat that trend.

4

Map the competitive landscape

There’s a limited number of high school seniors going to college in a given year; the potential audience for recruitment is limited. Who else was competing for the same students? How were they solving these challenges? What were the unique offerings of this college that would let them stand out from the crowd?

48%


According to a user study done by Nielsen Norman Group, 48% of users tested didn’t realize that a university offered a specific program, despite looking for it on their site. Information architecture is key to making sure degree offerings are presented to the right audiences.

Discovery

Discovery was the cornerstone of this initial project — it’s what the college hired us to do. We went deep. We performed qualitative surveys and interviews with stakeholders across the university. We defined audiences and their needs, and we benchmarked other colleges that those audiences could choose instead. We did extensive website audits, mapping and defining the complex web of sites that fell under the Arts & Architecture umbrella. We paid attention to implications for brand, content, and SEO. And we focused on the details that would make for measurable metrics going forward (what would these sites need to be digitally ready for SEM and PPC?).

Strategy

Where did all that research get us? It gave us exactly what we needed to offer insights and make smart strategic recommendations to the college. The recommendations were developed purposefully so that the college could choose their own next steps. They could staff appropriately, hiring designers and developers to keep the work in-house. Or, they could use the recommendations as guidelines to hire a group to do the work. It didn’t have to be us, though we’re sure glad it was!

Analytics and Data

We didn’t put analytics in place during this Discovery and Insight phase; we did the important work of defining how that would have to happen down the road. Sometimes groups make the mistake of assuming that digital marketing can be used on any website at all– but we know it takes a strong foundation to be effective, and that’s what we provided here. A central site would be needed in order to obtain measurable metrics of user flow. Conversions couldn’t be an afterthought; they had to be planned from the start. And all of this had to integrate with the college’s staffing and process for managing recruitment. We provided recommendations that balanced all of these needs while providing a clear, measurable way to solve a complicated problem.

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