3 min read

Communicating with Parents is Not a Passing Fad

Last week was a long week as I both exhibited and attended enrollment conferences in both Charleston and Chicago. Often at conferences, I’m having lunches, networking, on the phone, etc., and fail to get in and attend some of the sessions that are rich in information. I’ve made it a point recently, to try to focus more on attending some of these conference sessions to get a good sense on the tenor of those attending.

A session at Chicago’s ACT Enrollment Planners Conference caught my eye where the speakers were promising to bust several myths about enrollment marketing, messages, and channels. I’m always interested in hearing a good myth being busted. Over the last few years, I’ve written several myth-busting blogs myself. I’ve blogged about CRM and the implementation mistakes some institutions have made on one of the biggest capital expenditures in enrollment management. I’ve written about the myth of response rates and the lack of understanding of how to effectively and efficiently execute a Student Search campaign without blowing the budget.

But this session left me a little perplexed because many of the myths that were “busted” are not myths…they are marketing truths. What the speakers and researchers in this session did not realize is the dichotomy that exists in enrollment marketing. When we communicate effectively in our enrollment messaging we realize we are engaging both parent and student. Broad, sweeping conclusions cannot be drawn upon a small survey that was performed on students alone.

The preferences of both parent and student should be considered in any research about which channel is more effective because we can never really know, until we build personal rapport with the family, who is going to have the most influence on the final decision in selecting a school.

Myths that were busted in this session unfairly included direct mail and print media. I’m a big fan of both when it comes to communicating with parents.

I’m also on a mission to find the next big things. Currently my team is developing technologies that I think could change the landscape of higher education communications for years to come. We’re doing cool things with technology like fingerprinting and tagging devices, pre-targeting households based on IP address and mailing address correlation. We’re trying to find relevant applications for Near Field Communications (NFC) methods so that the awkwardness of downloading and opening apps is eliminated, allowing smart phones instant access at the bump of a phone to websites that are programmed into microchips imbedded in print media.

All of this is cool but what I know is that it may not ultimately work. But it’s worth a try. What I do know that works now are the two saltly old dogs—direct mail and print media, especially when it comes to finding a way to the eyes of parents.

Many are finding that these tried-and-true methods are often the only way to get to parents especially after the student has applied and parents appear on the sidelines. Many schools are finding success in postcard flows designed especially for getting key information to parents. And the last time I checked, most households include parents that are often the check writers who are also known to helicopter over their instagramming and snapchatting kids. As a parent of two who have gone to college and one teenager that will be going soon, I know mom and dad have some serious influence on where their sons and daughters will be spending their next four years.

I left the session feeling like an old fart who was glad that these skinny-jeaned, snap chatting, mail and print haters we’re not writing the checks at many of these institutions. I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.

Email me and tell me about your experiences communicating with parents. Share any surprises that you’ve had along the way when you thought you knew what the millennial mind preferred. I won’t always know about which social media platform is the most relevant with my 19 year-old. But I do know who writes the admissions checks in his home and a little bit about the effectiveness of some methods, like direct mail, and how they have withstood the test of time.

You can reach me at Mike.Wesner@enrollmentfuel.com.

Have a great week.