Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Race to Rapport

How does a someone choose a college?

The college search and admissions process pretty much ends when a prospect feels like a school is the 'right choice' for them.  While often backed up with facts and figures, this is an emotional decision. Therefore, the institution that builds rapport first usually wins.

So how do two common tactics used to start the admissions process differ in terms of establishing rapport? 

Direct mail allows for more creativity in demonstrating why a school is different. Although I may have to retract that a bit after seeing the picture to the left: This is what Emmie, a high-school sophomore, has at home. It also supports a little more of a broadcast or outbound approach; buy a list and send a piece to prospective students - who may not even know the college exists. A serious drawback of direct mail is that there is a disconnect between the piece on the counter and the cell phone in a prospect's pocket.

Leads from an online source can be routed directly to call centers or admission reps for follow-up.  And we're talking sub-10 minute follow-up, not in the next day or so.  But this approach requires the prospect to first raise their hand first and hit a submit button on one (or many) of the myriad of education sites and portals.  The fact that every institution can appear on a portal levels the playing field in terms of awareness while at the same time diminishing the chance to differentiate one from another.  Most portals show a list of school banner ads along with a small amount of text associated with the "request more information" form.  There really isn't much there to help a person choose one option over another and get to that gut feeling that the school is the right one.  That's not a portal's job.

If time to rapport is the critical success factor for admissions then some more thinking is required to get from point A to point B.  Online prospects should have more information, maybe delivered in the 10 minutes between submit and hello.   Direct mail recipients, while often seeing personalized URLs, may need a different delivery form or connection method.

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