Appendix B
Episode 041 -

When Reality Fights Marketing

Text reads Appendix B: When reality fights marketing

Joel Goodman and Kristin Van Dorn discuss what happens when a university’s marketing messages conflict with the reality of their campus, operations, and website content.
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From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. Short conversations about the largest challenges facing higher education marketers.

My name is Joel Goodman. With me is Kristin Van Dorn. Hi, Kristin.

Hi. How’s it going?


We were talking, last time about the frustrations between websites that are outdated, from a content or design or structural standpoint, and the relationship and tension that is held with external marketing, strategies like paid advertising, and things like that.

Yeah, and I kind of wanted to get into some of the pitfalls that you might run into if you’re running against a paid media campaign that isn’t supported by your current website, and what that might feel like for a prospective audience member.

So the first thing I wanted to draw your attention to is whether your proofs of concept or your social or data proofs are supportive of your paid media.

So oftentimes, people will run a paid campaign that will say that they’re innovative, or that they are offering exceptional student experiences, or that they’re tethered to the job market. Then, that paid media campaign will send people to a website where you have quotes about how well a student did or what kind of job they got from 2008.

Or you might have some statistics on your site about how your students were employed that go back to, like, 2017, which doesn’t seem like it’s that long ago, but to a prospective student, they wanna know how students are doing now, and they wanna know what opportunities are for them in this job market, not the job market of five years ago. And so if your social proofs or your data proofs are not aligning with your campaign, then a student may feel like the experience isn’t making sense to them, or why would you send me here or tell me that you have these things when I can’t find them?

Yeah. And. It’s a couple of different problems there. One, it’s an issue, I think, to your point, with design continuity and things feeling familial. But then there’s this larger kind of infrastructural UX problem, uh, the sort of thing where if you are running a paid ad for, let’s take, an MBA program because that’s always the one that people are dumping money into, uh, an MBA program and you send someone to a search landing page. You know, that one of these ad agencies that we work with in higher ed has set up, and all it contains is a white paper download that doesn’t really say anything and a few little bullet points and maybe a short description. If that’s not enough to get that person to apply or inquire about the program, they’re gonna bounce.

They might, if they’re super resourceful, go to your main website and search around and try to find that program information and hope that you have a little bit more detail there. but if not, then you’ve already kind of put yourself at a disadvantage.

Especially if they get onto your main website during a little bit of a search and they just can’t find the thing they’re looking for because you don’t have a program finder or you’re putting them in front of a 60-point bullet list of all the programs that you have. That’s something that can be fixed pretty easily. But still, the bandaid is there—putting this ad in place and hoping that the volume that gets pushed into a search landing page is going to make up for those really quality, qualified leads that could come through your website because you actually have good content.

You have actually shown care for them.

I totally agree with that. And then on top of that, I think that if your messaging doesn’t match the facts, like, so if you are saying something like you have bleeding edge programs, or you have innovation, but like the experience doesn’t feel that way,


Then you’re running aground of a major branding problem that you’ve caused by putting out information that doesn’t match the experience.

Yeah, I mean, I think about technical schools and other institutions trying to like, break into the new burgeoning markets of AI and everything else—and trying to train the next tech leaders—and then have websites that are clunky and old and have poor UX because. maybe because of all the voices that are there. Maybe ’cause it’s outdated, maybe, you know.

But what that does is just communicate two opposing messages. It’s one like, Hey, cool, here’s the ad. And then, yeah, but can you trust us? Because what we’re showing you doesn’t match up to what we’re saying we’re going to provide.

And, I think part of the problem is that in institutions because universities have a lot of different programs by a lot of different people, part of it gets lost because of other internal priorities or…

Yeah, I mean, think about saying something like you’re very student-focused or that you put your students first. A lot of institutions say we’re students first, and then you arrive at a website, and you find links for alumni and links for employers and links for parents, and it’s like, well, wait a second. Where do I come into this story? Like, where’s the information that’s specific for me? How do I validate this? You’re students first.

So I think what we’re saying is that it’s important to make sure that we aren’t overpromising on the marketing side of things or that we’re aware of the incongruities that come about between the things that we say and what we want to aspire to be in our programming, in our branding, in our messaging and marketing and what we actually offer. Whether that’s from a design side on the website or the actual content, the actual UX and experience, like the experiential side, has to fit what we’re saying we do. We can’t just, we can’t just talk about it or show something and then not back it up.

I mean, if you think about how this leeches out into conversations of diversity, equity, and inclusion, too. You might see digital campaigns featuring really diverse students, and then you arrive at a website that hasn’t been updated in four years. The photography and the video all show a lot of students that look really similar to one another and don’t feature the same diversity that you’re putting in your paid media. That would create a lot of trust issues.

The other thing that I think about is how often in website refreshes, we’ll redesign the homepage and we’ll redesign like three or four pages down. But then, as you get into either college pages or program pages, all of a sudden, the design completely reverts to what you had six years ago or seven years ago, and you have old page templates, you have clunky design, you have things that feel really out of date.

Yeah. I see that all the time as we just kind of look around on the web. And you know, institutions get so excited about the new homepage that they have worked so long on. If you can only update the homepage, maybe a couple of landing pages and the rest looks really old, I think that signals on top of what you just said, Kristin, or on top of those troubles, I think it signals that there are further internal issues that need to be addressed.

It means everyone wasn’t on the same page. It means not everyone is happy about this. It means not everyone could agree on what needed to happen. It means there are too many voices in it. and yeah, that’s just another data point that erodes that trust factor.