Concordia University, Irvine Brings the 4 P’s Back to Higher Ed Strategy

Your university experience is a product—even if that term makes you uncomfortable.

Concordia University, Irvine has an incredibly interesting approach to academic program development that we’re going to share with you today. We recently interviewed Rick Hardy, their Lead Marketing Officer, on the Enrollment Growth University podcast, and Rick shared how the “Four P’s” of marketing are still in play for higher education—and how you can get the rest of the university to get on board with that.

How to Use the Four P’s for Academic Program Development

Rick preaches two main marketing truths on campus:

1) The market rules. If there’s not a market for a program and you’re trying to recruit students for it, you’re going to be in a tough situation. Rick tells people, “You can’t outspend a bad market.”

2) Our job as marketers is to essentially leverage market dynamics. This means all Four classic P’s: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

When you look at marketing, it’s not just promotion. “Marketing is more than just promotion.” Since social media and “new media,” as it was called years ago, came into being and started merging, some designated thought leaders were saying, “Let’s replace the Four P’s with the Four C’s.”

Here’s an example: Consumer wants and needs, Cost to satisfy those, Convenience to buy, and Communication. In higher education in particular, “marketing” has been kind of a dirty word over the decades. Yet it’s becoming more and more adopted by colleges, especially private universities.

Rick’s been at conferences where the speakers say they go to campuses and can’t even say the C word: consumer or customer. Moreover, as marketing finds a place and is recognized on campus, a number of faculty and executives at universities tend to say, “That’s marketing,” or “That’s admissions, so let’s create a program. Now you guys need to go and recruit for it, market it, and find a position for it.”

Rick likes the Four P’s because they put us right back on the campus. Start with product (or program if you have to name it that way at your university). Here, we’ll call it a product. You have to align it to the market price. That’s generally understood at universities.

The Four P’s model lends itself to asking questions across all areas, and it allows lead marketing officers to talk about customers and markets and ask tough questions about the program that they’re reviewing.

A Higher Ed Product Marketing Success Story

We asked Rick to share a success story in which he was brought in to determine the market viability of a program pre-launch and learned something in that process or during the promotion process that helped steer the program in a different direction.

Here’s the story he related.

After he joined the university, there was a graduate program in existence that he reviewed. Its enrollment had plateaued and was experiencing some decrease.

He helped form a small committee of faculty and administrators to go through a marketing plan review. They said, “Time out. We really have to have data.” The program went about surveying alumni and students to find out what the authentic student experience was, what the real brand of the program was.

As soon as they had that data, they started to react to it and see bullet point after bullet point under product where there were some issues with the student experience. Price wasn’t an issue, but with promotion they saw a big disconnect between how marketing had been branding the program and what the actual experience was.

They developed a new brand campaign for that program and put it in place. This is a long process, especially in higher education. It took a few years’ time for them to figure out the brand and for the academic house to make changes.

Now, a few years later, everything has turned around. They don’t hear the same issues with student experience.

A previous marketing plan had identified students straight out of college, young millennials, to market to, but that group coming in was mixed with seasoned career professionals, and it was causing some issues in the classroom. They shifted away from that, and that process has changed both the promotion but also the program itself.

It came as a result of sitting around a table multiple times, talking, and being honest. At some institutions, that may not be possible. Typically, a dean might hold a program director responsible for meeting enrollment goals, and he or she looks at marketing and admissions and saying, “Well, I don’t recruit.”

At Concordia, by bringing it all together, they can say, “OK, we’re having some trouble with enrollment. We’re finding that it’s not matched to the market exactly. What can we do? How can we work together to fix whatever’s broken?”

For Those Who Love a Product Marketing Approach to Academic Program Development . . . But Don’t Know Where to Start

Universities and campuses are so different. The cultures vary drastically, and they’re tied in with the history of the institutions.

Rick’s general belief is that you have to start carving out professional relationships with (in this case) academic leaders, even university leaders. Relationships are important, and they help you lay ground rules.

You really have to find what branding is for you. It’s what students experience with you, or what people have heard you to be. It’s different than identity, which is very much what you say it is. Brand is the perspective from outside your department.

Have conversations, and there has to be an openness at the highest level to do this. If your university is decentralized or at schools, then you have to work on each school differently.

But no matter where you’re working, it’s worth reiterating: have conversations. Nothing happens without them.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Rick Hardy from Concordia University Irvine. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.