Dan Tudor

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June 4th, 2012

3 Ways to Get Your Recruits to “Buy” You Subconsciously

I  often find that the primary thinking of most college coaches when it  comes to getting prospects interested in their program could be  described as a simple three-step process:

• Throw everything we can at them as soon as possible.
• They focus on one or two big selling points for our school or program.
• Those big selling points compel the prospect to want to come to our program.

Oh, if it were only that simple…

In  reality, we’re finding that today’s teenage recruit takes a much more  sophisticated approach to identifying with a school and, ultimately,  choosing a program.  While they have trouble explaining the process, our  research as a part of our On-Campus Workshops around the country and continuing work with our clients shows that their decision making process mirrors that of grown adults.

The best example of this is found in a recent fascinating study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience.   Researchers have shown that we make buying decisions even when we  aren’t paying attention to the products, and that electronic observation  of brain activity can predict these decisions. Here are the details  from the study:

Imagine you are standing at a  street with heavy traffic watching someone on the other side of the  road. Do you think your brain is implicitly registering your willingness  to buy any of the cars passing by outside your focus of attention? To  address this question, we measured brain responses to consumer products  (cars) in two experimental groups using functional magnetic resonance  imaging.

Participants in the first group (high  attention) were instructed to closely attend to the products and to rate  their attractiveness. Participants in the second group (low attention)  were distracted from products and their attention was directed  elsewhere.

After scanning, participants were asked to  state their willingness to buy each product. During the acquisition of  neural data, participants were not aware that consumer choices regarding  these cars would subsequently be required. Multivariate decoding was  then applied to assess the choice-related predictive information encoded  in the brain during product exposure in both conditions. Distributed  activation patterns in the insula and the medial prefrontal cortex were  found to reliably encode subsequent choices in both the high and the low  attention group.

Importantly, consumer choices could be  predicted equally well in the low attention as in the high attention  group. This suggests that neural evaluation of products and associated  choice-related processing does not necessarily depend on our processing  of available items. Overall, the present findings emphasize the  potential of implicit, automatic processes in guiding even important and  complex decisions.

So, let’s circle this back to recruiting:

If  subtle messages do indeed play a key role in your prospects’ view of  you and your program as psychology suggests, what are the most effective  ways to reinforce your story to your recruits?

Here are three foundational ideas that we think work for practically any coach, at any college level:

Consistency. No matter what college staff we happen to be working with,  the one consistent measure that we find important to today’s prospect  is consistency.  Your message to them has to be consistent, both in  timing and in content.  From a timing perspective, we find it is  critical that your prospect has some kind of contact from you – either  through letters, social media, email, phone call, a visit to your blog, seeing you in  person – on a weekly basis.

From a content perspective, consistency is  important in your message: You need to make sure you are telling a story  that takes them through the recruiting process step-by-step, building  on your message and leading them to a decision.  If you’re a coach who  has had trouble mastering this aspect of your recruiting approach, as  many do, make it a priority to build out a plan for accomplishing this  before the next recruiting class is ready to make their decisions.

Keep it short. What we find works the best in terms of message retention is a shorter,  more straight-forward message.  Your prospects have told us that most  of the recruiting letters and emails that they open and read are way too  long, and centered on all the wrong things (mainly, you, your college,  your facilities, your facts and statistics, etc.).  Your messages need  to be re-worked so that they are shorter and more easily understood by  your prospects.  That enables them to pick-up on those little details  that will stick in their mind…and stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Head towards the edge. It’s safe and comfortable to look and sound like everyone else.  For  example, your admissions department’s brochures do a great job of  looking exactly like every other college in the country in terms of the  photography showing the smiling photos, highlighting your school’s  impressive statistics, and bragging about the education that they can  deliver. The problem with that?  Every single other admissions  department presents the same message.  And, that trickles down to the  marketing philosophy of most college coaches.  You head towards the  middle, and play it safe.  For 1% of you reading this, you can get away  with this because of how your program is performing at the moment.  But  for the other 99% of you mere mortals, if you want to get the attention  of today’s marketing savvy teenager you’d better say things differently  than your competitors.  So, when I advise you to “head towards the edge”  I mean that you need to come up with a compelling story, told in a  different way, and not be afraid to define yourself so precisely that  you will let a few of your prospects know instantly that you aren’t for  them.  While you’ll lose a handful of recruits that would have said no  eventually anyway, you’ll attract three times more who will gravitate  towards your philosophy of being unique and different from everyone else  that’s recruiting them.  I’ve seen it work numerous times, for coaches  willing to take a leap and tweak their approach to their prospects.

The  science backs me up on this way of approaching your prospects.  And,  that same science could just hold the key for you and your program making this year’s upcoming recruiting class the best ever.