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Anticipation As a Student Recruitment StrategyTuesday, November 15th, 2016

christmasanticipateby Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

There are just over 40 days left until Christmas. Sorry, but my 7-year old daughter decided to start the countdown this past weekend. She came across a toy that she wants, and now she’s full of anticipation.

If you’ve got kids, or even a young niece or nephew, you know that the thought of toys and other presents under the Christmas tree can almost be too much for them to handle. That anticipation can really be a powerful thing. Much like it does during the holiday season with my daughter, it can change our emotions and our way of thinking.

Which brings me to your current student recruitment strategy. Are you using anticipation? The reason we talk about the importance of creating a “feeling” in the stories that you tell prospective students is because they rely on those emotions to make their final decision just about every time.  I know it isn’t always the smartest way to choose a college, but according to our ongoing research, there’s little doubt that it occurs on a regular basis across the country.

That means building anticipation, and understanding the components of why it’s such a powerful force, should be something that you aim to do in all of your recruiting messages.

Here’s how you can do that:

  • Your prospect will anticipate your next message more if you lead into it with the previous message.  This is a foundational strategy that we use when we create our clients’ monthly recruiting message campaigns. Your emails and letters should be ongoing and sequential. One message should set up the next message…and so on, and so on.  Too many communication plans that we’re asked to review contain singular messages that try to cram every key point about a certain topic into one email or letter. The result is something that feels pieced together, is way too long, and overwhelms and bores the reader. Instead, focus on breaking up those longer messages into shorter, easier to digest stories that build into the next message rather than answer every single question right away. At the end of your email or letter you could say something like, “Keep an eye out for a letter from me next week”, or “I’m getting ready to send you more information about this soon”.  Create that anticipation.
  • Your prospect will anticipate that next phone call from you if you exceed their expectations.  Too often admissions counselors jeopardize future phone calls with a prospect when they fall back on the same tired, boring, run-of-the-mill conversation points that students tell us they dread: “How was school this week?”, “Do you have any big plans this weekend?”, “What music are you listening to these days?”…You get the picture. When you have a one-on-one conversation with your prospect, you need to have a plan to engage and amaze them if you want to keep positive anticipation on your side.  Much of that begins and ends with the types of questions that you ask. Whatever you choose to discuss with them, make sure you’re providing value and creating excitement and anticipation during their conversation with you.
  • Your prospect will anticipate coming to campus if they’ve been given a sneak peek at what awaits them.  If you want your prospect to take time out of their busy schedule and visit your campus, you have to provide them with a concrete reason why. Why should they look forward to walking around campus, or touring the dorms, or eating in the dining hall or attending a campus event? Those are some of the key elements our research has uncovered as to what triggers that anticipation in the minds of your prospects when it comes to the idea of committing to a campus visit.  Even students that have applied for admission will rarely visit a campus without a good reason that is solidified in their mind – either one that they came up with on their own or a picture that you’ve painted for them over a period of time.

Let me add one more thing. Since I started this article with a reference to Christmas and presents under the tree, think for a second about what happens after they open the presents. There’s almost an immediate “crash”.  The anticipation and excitement disappears quickly, and all that’s left is a pile of toys and a ton of wrapping paper and empty boxes scattered across the room. Sound familiar?

I want you anticipate that “crash”.  For example, that means after they visit campus you need to anticipate that they will need a clear picture of what the next step in the process is in order to maintain their focus and excitement about your school. Otherwise, the anticipated now becomes the familiar, and they’ll search out a new source of anticipation and excitement…like say a competitor who entered the picture late thanks to the fact that your prospect’s friend is having such an enjoyable recruiting experience with that school.

Your job is to manage their recruitment experience and continue to build that anticipation in their mind from start to finish.

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