A pitch for marketing

Third in series of campus budget fora explains why an investment in marketing is critical to UND’s future

Sol Jensen

UND Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Services Sol Jensen gives an audience of staff and faculty a colorful preview of what UND has in mind for a proposed $3 million investment, showcasing why it’s critical that the dollars are spent now. Photo by Shawna Schill.

The UND community got a lesson in the recruitment power of branding, web design and digital advertising on Wednesday during the third campus budget forum.

UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo said he’s been fielding several questions about UND’s marketing plan, and his weekly forum offered an effective venue to learn more and discuss the theory behind the plan.

Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Services Sol Jensen and his team gave the crowd a colorful preview of what UND has in mind for a proposed $3 million investment, showcasing why it’s critical that the dollars are spent now.

Jensen opened the conversation by pointing to a survey from 2016 in which two-thirds of university admissions directors across the nation reported that they didn’t meet their enrollment goals. “That’s the state of higher ed,” he explained. “That’s just setting the stage for where we are, and why marketing continues to be such an important initiative moving forward.”

Cohesive strategy

Assistant Professor of Marketing Jennifer Stoner is serving on a working group that has partnered with a hired branding firm to develop a strong branding strategy for UND. That work began with recent focus group discussions and a branding survey that has garnered more than 5,000 responses from the UND community—with the goal of creating a clear message of what UND represents.

“Coming to a university is a big decision. It has a lot of risk—financial risk, time risk and psychological risk,” Stoner said. “These students feel they are making a decision that will impact the rest of their life, and we don’t want to give them mixed messages about what we are.”

Associate Professor and Chair of the Communication Department Timothy Pasch offered his insights to help build plans for a mobile-friendly UND.edu. He called upon studies from Pew Research to back the need for a redesign investment.

“Ninety-one percent of teens are accessing the internet on a mobile device, and a growing number are indicating a preference for mobile devices as their primary browser choice,” Pasch said, pointing to a projected graph. “So ensuring that our site and our landing pages for recruitment are mobile-friendly and optimized for mobile devices is extremely important.”

One of the most visually intriguing moments of the forum was the unveiling of one of the first landing page redesigns for Accounting, which features a video banner, clear “call-to-action” buttons and typographic facts that appeal to potential enrollees. Jensen said about 40 pages have been completed with a full website rollout expected in a year.

The third leg of the marketing plan will use digital advertising for recruitment. Online retargeting, display ads, social ads and pay-per-click elements will come together as one cohesive strategy.

“Theoretically, the perfect ad hits the right consumer with the right message at the right time,” Stoner said. “Digital marketing allows you to get closer to that pinpoint.”

Stoner described the process of advanced targeting, in which messages can be tailored to specific geographic areas, education levels, ages and interests. “If we know who is more likely to apply and to accept an offer from UND, we can specifically target those people through digital marketing,” she said.

Dexter Perkins

UND Professor of Geology & Geological Engineering Dexter Perkins raised concerns about parts of the marketing plan that call for increased enrollment at a time when faculty numbers are decreasing at UND. Photo by Shawna Schill.

 

Lingering questions

Following the presentation, Jensen opened the floor for questions, the first of which came from Director of Women and Gender Studies Rebecca Rozelle-Stone.

“Three million dollars has been earmarked for marketing and advertising. Why haven’t we had a precise breakdown of what those costs are going to be?” she asked.

Jensen replied that most of the proposed marketing budget would go toward digital advertising, with smaller amounts going toward video content and ongoing website maintenance and updates.

“The current problem with our website is that we’ve never reinvested,” Jensen continued. “It’s been seven years since we’ve really touched the website. Part of that $3 million is for annually keeping the website up to industry standards.”

DiLorenzo added that the marketing plan is still a work in progress, so exact costs are still fluctuating.

Earlier in his presentation, Jensen referenced data from UND’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness that showed how recruiting just 117 more students would create a $3 million return on investment. College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs asked if that number considered UND’s current retention rate, or if that was taking new retention initiatives into account.

Jensen confirmed that the numbers showed the current retention rate. “It’s very conservative. We hope to increase that,” he added.

Professor of Geology Dexter Perkins raised a worry he has as a faculty member. “The assumption is that we want to increase enrollment. Right now we’re decreasing faculty size, although we hope that’s not forever,” Perkins said. “If we bring in more students, we have to teach more students. How is this all going to balance out?”

DiLorenzo offered an example of how marketing is working with academic units to find that balance.

“One of the criteria for setting up the landing pages was, ‘Do you have capacity now?’” he said. “If we brought in students right now in certain areas, they would be able to take care of them. Those will be helped first.”

The full marketing presentation can be found on the UND Provost’s website.

No budget forum will be held this week due to Spring Break. The fora will continue on Monday, March 20 from 3-4 p.m. in Education Building Room 7, where they will continue through the semester. Additional fora will be held on the following dates from 3-4 p.m.:

Wednesdays
March 29
April 5,12,19
May 3

For more budget-related communications, click on the Budget tab of the UND Today homepage.

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