Butler’s Marketing Goes to the Dogs

In recent years, applicant yield has decreased for many colleges and universities as schools struggle with increased competition for fewer students. According to data from a U.S. News survey, the average yield among National Universities was 32.9 percent in 2015, down from 33.6 percent in fall 2014. Among National Liberal Arts Colleges, that percentage is even lower.

To address this issue, many schools have turned to website personalization as a way to create custom experiences for prospective students based on who they are and what they’re interested in. And while many schools and colleges across the country have invested in more personalized content creation and delivery, Butler University made headlines this spring as the first school to create personalized content, not just for their accepted students, but the dogs (and cats) of their accepted students.

To learn more about this innovative approach to applicant yield marketing, we welcomed Kristi Smith, Associate Director of Enrollment Marketing at Butler University, and Michael Kaltenmark, Director of External Relations at Butler to the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast. In this episode, they share the genesis and planning of the dog and cat-vertising campaign, why they felt confident taking a risk on this unique approach, and what the response has been like from current students, prospective students, and their parents.

Kristi Smith On How The Campaign Was Born:

“Here at Butler, we use the admissions CRM Technolutions Slate, and around the same time that this idea was planted, Slate rolled out some upgrades around the way you can collect relationship information in the system. Instead of just collecting mom, or dad, or parent information, we could basically start collecting anything we wanted. We immediately said, let’s start collecting cat and dog information, which I think a lot of people thought I was crazy at first when I was pushing for it. But we did just that.”

Kristi Smith On The Implementation Process:

“We have a microsite that’s the cornerstone of our yield marketing campaign, and this year we added an optional form and we asked a lot of different fun questions, but the only one we legitimately cared about was ‘Do you have a dog or cat? If so, what are their names?’ We started collecting that information, and we sat on it for a few weeks hoping that students would forget that they gave it to us, and they did. Meanwhile, on the back end of things we were working with Holistic Select to have them donate some small bags of cat and dog treats and we put together print pieces for cats and dogs. We waited a few weeks, and then we did a big mailing to the cats and dogs of the admitted students from Trip Butler Blue III, our mascot. It had the treat in there, it had the note from Trip telling the cat or dog ‘Hey, I’m going to look after your human while he or she is here at Butler, and it essentially was like a little mini celebration/care package for the pets of our admitted students.”

Michael Kaltenmark On the Decision to Use Butler Blue III:

“The market is pretty saturated and schools really struggle to find ways to differentiate themselves and it just so happens that we have one of the most prolific and prominent live mascots in the college landscape these days. Why not take advantage of that? I don’t think it cheapens our message in any way, and in fact, I think it almost bolsters it. I know it does. I’ve often said we should utilize the dog, if that gets us more eyeballs or ears, then kudos to us.”

Kristi Smith On The Immediate Response From Students:

“We mailed the packages out and pretty quickly started seeing students tweeting photos of their dog or cat. They were very excited, very surprised. We saw a lot of captions like ‘Oh my gosh, this university just sent this to my dog,’ or ‘I can’t believe my cat just got mail.’ Another thing that was a little bit unexpected is that we saw a lot of parents lose their minds. You would see a mom or dad jump on Twitter for the first time in a year just to tweet at Trip or just to tweet at Butler with a photo of their pet and the mailer.”

Michael Kaltenmark On Measuring Success:

“It’s tough because the responses you get from a campaign like this don’t necessarily correlate to hard enrollment numbers. That’s a tough sell to have our superiors approve expenses for these type of mailings. Yet, we persist that they do because I think there is at least some hard data in terms of the number of eyeballs and social media stats and things like that that this will generate. And you can’t question that’s all favorable and results that wouldn’t have happened had we not done this. But then you still have to go back to that anecdotal piece and give it some value.

It’s not easy to quantify, but what we’ve had working in our favor these last few years are these dog visits. Those do produce some decent results and quality data. What we’ve learned is that these personal touches with our live mascot, with the dog, can go a long way. I’m not suggesting that a dog is the reason people decide to attend Butler University, but I do believe the dog can get someone to give Butler a closer look, and that’s everything, especially in this market. From that notion alone, I think it’s worth investing in campaigns and initiatives like this because if we get a couple of more kids to take another look and those lead to a couple more students coming to Butler in the fall, then it was worth every penny. What we’ve found through the dog visits, and now these campaigns, is that’s exactly what happens.”

Michael Kaltenmark’s Social Media Shout Outs

Tim Cigelske: Director of Social Media, Marquette University

Follow Tim on Twitter at: @cigelske

“He’s the guy behind social media at Marquette and the @FatherMarquette persona. He’s been a great resource for us. He’s introduced us to Sprout Social, which we use to manage our social media at Butler. He wrote the book on social media, literally, you can Google it. It’s called Analytics to Action, it’s a great read. In addition to all that, he also writes a weekly newsletter you can sign up for, and he teaches a class at Marquette. He’s a very accomplished distance runner. This guy is fast, but I think he uses it as an excuse just to drink beer. He calls himself the Beer Runner, so he blogs and writes about that.”

Todd Sanders: Director of Digital Communications and Social Media, University of Florida

Follow Todd on Twitter at: @tsand

“Hilarious guy. I first met Todd when he was doing social media at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and now he’s at the University of Florida running their social media operation. I love his philosophy. When he first got hired at the University of Florida, his family was still in Wisconsin and he told me that he was just trying to get fired in his first year at Florida. He was pushing the envelope so hard, and that’s because he’s not afraid to fail and he believes in what he’s doing. Fortunately for Florida, those folks went along with him and they’re doing great things and he keeps getting their administration and other folks involved. It’s really fun to watch him work and to get others involved at a huge place like Florida.”

Kristi Smith’s Social Media Shout Outs

Technolutions Slate: CRM software developed exclusively for higher education admissions

Follow Technolutions on Twitter at: @Technolutions

“It’s not necessarily an individual person, but I would recommend following the Technolutions Twitter account. They’re one of the fastest growing CRMs out there and I think they do a great job on their Twitter connecting institutions and bringing people together around ideas and concepts. There’s always something interesting on there.”

Alex Williams: Senior Program Manager, Technolutions

Follow Alex on Twitter at: @AlexMWilliams_

“He manages the Technolutions Twitter and on his personal account he’s always great about sharing interesting articles, sharing information about trends that are out there in the digital and higher ed world, and he always responds to my cheesy tweets. People around here refer to him as my Twitter BFF, so he’s definitely worth a follow.”

Special thanks to Kristi Smith and Michael Kaltenmark for joining the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast. Michael spends most days tweeting, posting, and snapchatting on behalf of @ButlerBlue3, but you can also follow his human persona on Twitter @MSkaltenmark or connect with him on LinkedIn. Kristi is active in the higher ed marketing space on Twitter @kristilafree, and can also be found via LinkedIn.

You can listen to this episode on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Music, or wherever podcasts are found. To explore previous episodes of the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast and sign up for alerts regarding new episodes, visit our Hashtag Higher Ed hub.

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