Colleges and universities can use any edge they can find to boost their marketing message and gain a competitive edge in recruiting students and attracting donor dollars. As even a quick look on the web will reveal, there are literally hundreds of software and web-based solutions clamoring for your attention, and your wallet. To help you make sense of this plentitude, what follows is an overview of some of the more useful--even indispensable--marketing support products.
To help provide a bit of structure, I'll break this discussion into three key activities:
* Market research
* Planning and execution of the marketing strategy
* Web-related software
There is so much excellent market research software that it is almost impossible to know where to begin. However, serious researchers almost always recommend two packages. The first, Excel, is hard to beat for basic and not-so-basic data manipulation. Because Excel is part of the basic Microsoft Office Suite, the odds are high that you are already familiar with it. Any time spent learning the intricacies of Excel will be well-rewarded.
The second package is SPSS, which many of us may remember from our college days. Today's SPSS, however, is more user-friendly and much more sophisticated, especially if you buy the add-ons. Denton DeSotel, associate research director at Stamats, suggests three additional modules for the sophisticated user:
* SPSS classification trees
* SPSS regression models
* SPSS advanced models
If you are using research to help answer complex questions, especially those questions with political implications, these modules are essential.
A couple of other research programs were also recommended including:
Apian Software's SurveyPro. A very friendly and intuitive package, it will help you design market research studies and even specific survey instruments. It also has modules for web surveys, kiosk surveys, telephone surveys, and scanned survey entry.
WebSurveyor. This is very useful if you are inclined to conduct largely web-based research. It helps you design the instruments, analyze the results, and share findings. Importantly, WebSurveyor allows you to host the surveys on your site or on the company's server. Like all good research software, it exports to Excel, SPSS, Lotus, and other analysis software.
Microsoft's PowerPoint. Interestingly, this was repeatedly suggested by my informal brain trust. Bart Herridge, of Abilene Christian University, reminded me that even the best research studies are enhanced through the use of graphics. In addition, he says, because most research will be judged as much by the final presentation as the final report, good presentation software is important. However, look beyond the simple templates that come with the basic PowerPoint package. A Google search of PowerPoint templates returns 2.1 million hits for aftermarket templates that will jazz up your data.
Because so many packages fall into this category, I broke it down into a number of elements including:
* Planning and management software
* Media relations software
* Design software
* Constituent relationship management
* List management
While there is a lot of great planning software available, my cabal of marketing experts avoided software such as Marketing Plan Pro from Palo Alto Software that can sometimes be unduly regimented with their "fill in the blanks" approach to plan creation. In general, these programs are not particularly suited for colleges and universities. Instead, we opted for more general planning software. At the one end of the scale is MS Project (www.microsoft.com). Project is extremely sophisticated and able to handle even the most complex plans. Unfortunately, it has a fairly steep learning curve (imagine a vertical line). Our favorite "best of both worlds" planning software is AEC Software's FastTrack Schedule. FastTrack is easy to learn (you don't even need to bother reading the manual), sophisticated, and inexpensive. Importantly, FastTrack allows you to keep track of such key plan elements as who, how much, and when.
One suggestion about planning software: Before you rush out and buy planning software, check with your facilities people. Chances are they have some planning software you can borrow.
There are two other software packages that will help you with your planning process. The first is Microsoft's MapPoint. (One of the best map plotting software packages around, MapPoint gives you a highly visual sense of your marketplace. You can plot where your alumni live, major donors, prospective students, even feeder high schools and churches. The result is an amazingly rich and highly visual dataset that will help you plan everything from road trips to media buys. The accompanying illustration shows how MapPoint works. The map contains two datasets. First, a college's prospect pool is represented by black dots. And second, that same college's incoming class is represented by the stick pins. Based on these data, it is not difficult to determine the college's primary market.
A second favorite package is Visio (yes, another Microsoft project). Visio can be used to create everything from flow and org charts to process maps. Like most Microsoft products, Visio is easy to use and generates---because of the amazing number of included templates---striking and highly professional results. If you are trying to organize a complex undertaking like an inauguration, a centennial, or even a direct mail program, Visio is a must.
To help you manage the production of such in-house media as publications and your website, you might want to consider a package called PrintSmith. Recommended by Greg Carroll, vice president of Marketing/Public Relations at Furman University, PrintSmith is available with a variety of modules--especially PrintSmith Report Writer, which can also help you monitor copy, track printing, and even manage the publication budget.
We have come a long way from Rolodexes filled with the names and proclivities of favorite writers and reporters. Now, of course, almost everything is electronic. Ipressroom is an online media center that makes it easy for college PR pros to extend their traditional media campaigns onto the net. Says the site, "Our proprietary internet pressroom management service and dynamic communications tools work with any browser and enable non-technical personnel to upload, approve and publish press releases, media alerts, company news, sales information, digital assets, logos, images, audio, video news releases, earnings reports and virtually any other type of information that influences perception and action in key audiences including customers, investors, internal stakeholders and the news media."
We also recommend Google. Surprised? Don't be. Google has an amazing feature called "Google Alerts" that sends you a message every time a specific word (such as your college's name or the name of a competitor) is mentioned on the web or in any media that has a web presence. To access this feature go to the Google homepage and click on "News." From that page, click on "News Alerts" in the far left column. Follow the simple directions and away you go.
Bacon's MediaSource is a huge resource for media-relations professions. It has come a long way from the old, wire-bound printed guide to media. Now it can help you research media, contact media, monitor coverage, and evaluate campaign results. Interestingly, Bacon's also monitors blog content.
Profnet is an online community of 12,000 experts, including many college and university faculty, that is accessible by journalists worldwide who are looking for a specific excerpt or quote. The "sign in" page asks whether you are a journalist, an information officer, or an expert. Pretty slick.
There are three generally well-received design software packages that are worth looking at including InDesign and PageMaker (both from Adobe) and QuarkXPress. All three packages are capable of wonderful design. There is some feeling among those in-the-know that Pagemaker, while easier to learn, may not be as cutting-edge as InDesign or QuarkXPress. Says Dick Damrow, Stamats vice president for Marketing Resources, it is best to let your design staff decide which package to purchase. One reminder, however: Make sure all your designers use the same package and the same version.
While not exactly design software, Adobe's Photoshop is the only real option for editing, manipulating, and handling images and graphics. Fortunately, it is more than up to the task.
Colleges and universities are gradually figuring out the lifetime value of a customer. To help manage these key relationships, many are turning to CRM software. Chances are, your enterprise-wide software package has a CRM module. Chances are, also, that it is difficult to use and requires a legion of tech support. Fortunately, there are several small-box packages available, including ACT, Goldmine, and Maximizer.
These programs originated as prospect management tools. In other words, they were used by sales people to keep track of their leads, proposals, contacts, etc. As a result, they are excellent basic, but still surprisingly powerful, packages for both recruiting and fundraising. Largely similar, these CRM packages can help you sequence mailings, track who attended your open house, and even support telemarketing.
Both Goldmine and ACT offer free trial downloads so, rather than falling prey to the Goldmine vs. ACT websites (of which there are hundreds), check them out for yourself.
If you are interested in a CRM software to help you recruit athletes, take a look at Recruiting Hawk. It is a straightforward yet highly intuitive software that will help you more effectively manage your contacts with this particular and sometimes peculiar target audience.
Considering any direct marketer's dependency on e-mail and postal mail, list management is emerging as a critically important marketing function. Today, list management is much more than the simple compilation of names. In fact, Kim Leonard, Stamats' Database Marketing director, says that list management involves compiling, cleansing, segmenting, merging, de-duping, and migrating data. It's clear this can get technical in a hurry.
If dollars are tight and your needs are not overly complex, take a look at Filemaker Pro or Microsoft's Access. Either package can easily handle most postal or e-mail campaigns.
Larger institutions that are heavy users of lists might opt for their own custom version of SQL- or Oracle-based engines. These options are much more flexible and allow significant integration. However, these more sophisticated packages have a hidden cost: the need for a programmer. As you might suspect, most programmers don't understand marketing and most marketing people don't understand programming. As a result, delays and confusion often reign. This is one reason many colleges and universities choose not to purchase more advanced list management software and turn, instead, to outside companies for help. For example, Stamats has a software solution that allows us to design, execute, and track very sophisticated direct marketing, including e-mail, campaigns for our clients.
There are a couple of other list management programs you should take a look at. Firstlogic's Postalsoft, for example, has three basic modules that allow you to do everything from address correction and encoding to presorting and label design and printing.
Another powerful list management package is WinPure ListCleaner from the United Kingdom. WinPure cleans, corrects, de-dupes, and standardizes lists from Excel, Access, ACT text files and other databases. It can handle any type of list including contact address details, e-mail address lists, student names, etc.
Finally, take a look at QuickAddress from QAS. QuickAddress has an amazing variety of features and modules. It features fast, real-time address validation, using something called "fuzzy matching" against the USPS address data file. Another utility, QuickAddress Batch, automatically corrects spelling mistakes and formatting errors while adding Zip+4 codes and delivery point barcodes. At its most basic, it features address look-up, postal address verification, and ease of data entry.
And, as Kim Leonard, our database marketing director is fond of reminding us, even the best list management software will founder if the quality of the data is faulty. In other words, GIGO (garbage in/garbage out).
The increased importance of the web as a marketing tool in higher education has been accompanied by a whole host of supporting software. Fortunately, the days when only the IT people held the keys to the kingdom are over. Now, effective software is available for almost every user at every level of sophistication. We'll organize web software into three broad categories: web page development, site maintenance and evaluation, and feature integration.
Because "web presence" means many things to many people, developing a website for specific needs and audiences becomes more and more prevalent. There are several tools out there that require little-to-no HTML or other coding experience.
By almost any measure, Macromedia is the "Microsoft" of web development. The company's Dreamweaver allows you to develop a site, integrate with a database (like Access, SQL, or MySQL), and publish to a live server. It integrates coding languages, such as ASP.NET and ColdFusion, and makes it easy to include elements from Flash, Fireworks, and other Macromedia web development and design tools as well as similar tools from other companies.
Another web authoring or development package is FrontPage from Microsoft. Used with Word, FrontPage allows you to have a very basic site up and going in a couple hours. Adobe's GoLive is a site-development tool that integrates well with other Adobe products such as PhotoShop (included in Adobe CreativeSuite2), focusing more on the design of the site, rather than the maintenance of the content.
In addition to FrontPage and GoLive, you might also want to check out Macromedia's Contribute, a partner application to Dreamweaver. Scott Hall, Stamats' Interactive Media director, describes GoLive as a sort of simplified Dreamweaver, allowing average users to edit web pages. Combined with Macromedia's Contribute Publishing System, it allows you to create a lightweight content management system that could serve a cash-strapped admissions or even advancement office.
To discover how visitors use your website, use Morae from TechSmith. Morae records, tracks, and analyzes individual site visits and allows you to analyze your current site before a major re-design, or to test navigation and design during the development of a new site. Another software package for testing is Online Opinion from OpinionLab. This automated polling application makes it easy to add short surveys to a website and allow users to rate and comment on different aspects of your site.
To ensure the site will be as usable as possible, be sure to test for browser compatibility, ADA compliance, and load-time optimization. For browser compatibility, nothing beats viewing the site in the most popular environments, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Netscape. Without a full testing lab, this can be rather difficult. One package, BrowserCam, allows you to enter a web address and receive a snapshot of the layout of the site in a wide variety of browsers. For ADA compliance, WebXACT from Watchfire is a software package that can test for Section 508 and W3C compliance, also providing tips for making the site fully compatible for visually-impaired visitors.
To make your site more "searchable" take a look at Google. Google can have an index-based search box up in minutes with a quick snippet of code to include on your page. Once up and running, Google indexes your site for visitors to find content just like they would at www.google.com.
NetMechanic's HTML Toolbox is a free web-based tool to optimize your site. For individual webpages, this site will show HTML errors, load time, and link checks. NetMechanic also provides a service--Search Engine Power Pack--that helps you optimize your site for searches and submit the site to key search engines.
Every time a visitor comes to your website, information about the browser they are using, how long they spend on the site, where they visit, where they enter the site, and where they leave the site is logged. Software packages such as WebTrends and AWStats will generate reports based on this information. Reports are generated at regular intervals allowing you to trend site visits. We recommend setting up monthly reports, then making navigation, design, and content changes to your site based on six-month and one-year trends.
Eric Hodgson, a client consultant at Stamats who specializes in web strategy, notes that an effective site cannot merely provide information or just promote. It must become a two-way marketing and communications environment. In other words, features can be incorporated to allow site visitors to share experiences, ask questions, and promote relationships. First, a suite of applications are available from Chat University. The central feature is the online scheduled chat, allowing visitors to ask questions in an open forum with other visitors. Chat University has expanded its services to include message boards, smart FAQs, and the very popular blog. Blogging is also available from hosted services, such as Blogger (now owned by Google) and Blog.com To host a blog in-house, a popular and very customizable blogging software is WebWiz Journal.
One final tool to consider is Trillian from Cerulean Studios. As instant messaging grows, you will need a tool that can manage contact names for the major messaging services. Trillian is up to the task. It allows you to manage AOL, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, and IRC names with one application.
Bob Sevier is a senior VP of Stamats Communications. He can be reached at email@example.com.