Ready for 2023? Digital Transformation in Higher Ed

Key takeaways from the 2022 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education
Ready for 2023? Digital Transformation in Higher Ed

I’ve worked in higher ed marketing for a decade, yet had somehow never been to the industry’s signature event, the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. For 10 years I’ve done booth planning, built content for presentations, and had many great post-conference follow-up conversations, and now I finally made it in-person! While several higher ed marketers attend this conference religiously, there were lots of first-timers, people in new roles or at new institutions - making for great discussions about today’s higher education landscape.

Digital transformation - or what I like to refer to as digital evolution – was a common thread through presentations and conversations. There is a heightened focus on the continuous data-driven optimization of your digital experience and how it can maximize brand and business growth. While higher ed marketers may not explicitly be talking about digital transformation or digital evolution, the objectives we are tasked with and the challenges we face, often stem from outdated, broken, or siloed digital ecosystems making it impossible to effectively engage, convert, and measure activity across the entire student lifecycle.

Earlier this year, in partnership with AWS, The Chronicle of Higher Education released a research brief: Digital Transformation on Campus: Assessing College Leaders’ Attitudes on Strategic Technology Changes. Campus leaders were surveyed and of the 519 that responded, almost all agreed that digital transformation is key to their institution's future but 73% of respondents said higher education is behind other industries when it comes to this topic.

Now, as we look ahead at 2023, we wanted to get a better handle on how colleges and universities are faring in their quest to create seamless experiences for prospects and students, and measurable journeys for marketers. So, we asked attendees a few questions, including:

In your current role, what are your top challenges right now?

  • We do not have enough resources to do the work needed to be successful (34.3%)

  • We cannot easily measure Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) (31.4%)

  • We do not have a marketing strategy that is focused on the lifetime value of our students (25.7%)

  • We have an outdated website design and experience (25.7%)

These responses were very much reflected in presentations, voiced during roundtable discussions, and overheard as marketers conversed during networking breaks. The common thread? It’s time to ramp up the digital evolution to support marketing and admissions teams and their objectives – and create better, holistic experiences for prospects and students.

1. We do not have enough resources to do the work needed to be successful.

The Great Resignation has impacted so many industries and higher education is no exception. Faced with less resources, technology limitations and decentralized teams, at Primacy we often have institutional leaders coming to us with strategy and technology objectives aimed at better aligning with business goals and improving efficiencies. Solving for these needs, without losing sight of enrollment goals, is a process we are helping our partners through. Our evaluations exercise to prioritize efforts based on feasibility and impact, and designed to address immediate needs while making strides towards initiatives needed to sustain long-term success.


2. We cannot easily measure Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI).

The changes towards a more privacy-centric world have significantly shifted the ways brands are able to measure online activity. Add a complex or broken technology stack and a whole lot of stealth applicants, and it’s become more of a challenge to measure and prove the ROI from your marketing efforts. This of course makes it difficult to align on decisions and get buy-in on the investments needed to foster ongoing success. With 20+ questions at the end of a session about measuring ROI, it's clear that this topic leaves higher ed marketers feeling frustrated and deflated. At Primacy, our clients are no different. However, we have made great strides in quantifying the ROI on marketing investments through our digital ecosystem evaluation process, development of measurement and attribution strategy, and implementation of automated KPI reporting infrastructure.

3. We do not have a marketing strategy that is focused on the lifetime value of our students.

Understand the lifetime value (LTV) of your student is the holy grail in higher education. But continuing with the ongoing theme, decentralized teams and technology make automating the LTV KPI feel far out of reach. These same challenges prevent us from implementing marketing strategies based on the lifetime value or the full student lifecycle. As higher education evolves to include more online programming, courses, and stackable credentials – and as consumers expect more personalized and ecommerce-like experiences - we have to adapt how we market to them. At Primacy, more and more clients are coming to us as they look to evolve their business model, looking for support with adapting their business strategy, marketing tactics, and online experiences. Now, more than ever before, we are focused on looking at the whole student, their journey, and that next best experience (NBX) to support their lifelong learning goals.

4. We have an outdated website design and experience.

Experience was, by far, the most used term as AMA this year. Siena College had a great session centered around the importance of a 360-degree brand experience. There was another great session about incorporating neurodesign best practices to support a better website experience. There is so much research to support your website being the most important tool or experience during a student’s enrollment journey. Yet, ‘we need a new website’ was the top thing we talked to attendees about this year. Why? Because so many institutions opt to only partake in complete redesigns every 5-7 years, with little to no improvements in in interim time. At Primacy, we’re rethinking and reimagining this redesign process to emphasize continual adaptions and evolutions. Now, our redesign projects include collaborating with our campus partners on an annual or multi-year roadmaps that set principles and guides to keep up with the constantly changing needs and expectations of our target audience.

As we look into 2023, strategic plans and marketing campaigns centered around the student experience continue to be prioritized. Developing the technology, systems, and resources to support those initiatives will be critical to building those experiences successfully.

Are you setup for success? What are your top initiatives for 2023? Let us know!