B2B Lessons From Boston University


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Question: What does college admissions and b2b marketing have in common? Answer: Plenty.

In fact, if you are a marketer with kids who have gone off to college or in the process of researching them, you’ve probably already noticed the similarities. In both college admissions and b2b marketing there are long sales cycles, deep research, high buying costs, multi-touch campaigns and plenty of lead nurturing done along the way. Students consider many of the same issues as b2b buyers. They want to know how the organization will help them advance their careers and whether they’ll fit into the culture. They’ll also discuss their decision with peers as well as shop it up the management chain (read: their parents).

The university website is the first, and often last, stop for those on the long journey to pick the right school. Though most colleges provide plenty of stats, surprisingly few offer compelling insight on what it’s actually like to be a student on campus.

That’s why, as a former higher education reporter, I was impressed with Boston University‘s “You at BU” section of their website. It’s an example of how to employ all types of rich media without coming off as pandering. The site makes full use of actual students’ perspective with several student-narrated slideshows, embedded-style reporting of student activities and, my personal favorite, the “A Week in the Life” feature – which is made up of interactive student calendars.

Imagine that, the ability to gain an in-depth look at the way real students schedule their lives around study, work and play. “High school students…don’t really know what a day at college is like,” Kelly Walter, the assistant vice president and executive director of Admissions at BU, told me. “They don’t really understand this kind of schedule that students have once they get to college.”

In fact, the entire micro-site does the opposite of throw facts at your. It’s designed to bring students into the BU’s culture. “If students can close their eyes and say I want to be just like Phil or like Julie or like Emily or just like Caitlin, that’s exactly the kind of response we wanted,” Walter said.

Now, that’s what I call customer marketing.

Of the 900,000 or so unique visitors to BU’s website, the average visit lasts around four minutes. 71 seconds of that time is spent on the You At BU section, or nearly 30% — impressive when you consider how much time can be eaten up filling out an online application.

But what Walter looks for is steady, growing demand. Applications for Fall 2011 were up 9% at BU as the university amassed an incredible 41,734 applications. (Only 4,000 students will be enrolled, Walter said.)

BU largely drew inspiration from corporate entities, such as Nike and The New York Times lens blog, rather than competing schools when developing the You At BU section, according to Scott Dasse, Creative Director of Interactive Design at the university.

And like any good marketing operation, BU is planning an overhaul of the site after doing research on how students were interacting and valuing content. For instance, most students don’t wait for the acceptance letter to arrive in the mail, but check their status on the same day online. Increasingly, they are using their smart phones to access this information and information on their arrival on campus, as this graphic from BU illustrates.

To accommodate students, Dasse said much of the video content will be switched to HTML 5 so it configures with a wider array of mobile devices. Additionally, future content will skew more towards interaction with professors and classes, less towards campus activities and Boston city life, Dasse said.

“Students take for granted things we think are braggable – things like campus life and student life,” Dasse added. “What people really seem interesting in finding are where does this school excel and does it line well with my interest.” So rather than rely on old assumptions, Dasse and Walter are building what works with their audience and dropping what doesn’t.

Doing research, challenging assumptions, creating new things – isn’t that what college is all about? Isn’t that what good marketers do every day?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jesse Noyes
Jesse came to Eloqua from the newsroom trenches. As Managing Editor, it's his job to find the hot topics and compelling stories throughout the marketing world. He started his career at the Boston Herald and the Boston Business Journal before moving west of his native New England. When he's not sifting through data or conducting interviews, you can find him cycling around sunny Austin, TX.


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