Bill Lee of Lee Consulting Group has written that it is, and the Harvard Business Review has published his opinion.

I agree that the method of marketing effectively has dramatically changed within the last few years. But fundamentally, all marketing begins with a premise… and ALL effective marketing follows a process, which begins with the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. College and Universities included.

Vince Lombardi would begin spring practice by lifting a football for all his players to see. With deep resonance he’d announce, “Men, this is a football”.

These guys weren’t your average group of football players. These were the Green Bay Packers. These were the veterans, the gladiators who knew the game best. They battled inch by inch earning four consecutive league championships, including the first two Super Bowls.

There’s a lesson here. The winning teams begin with the fundamentals. Begin with the basics and you’ll position yourself to perform best when the game is on the line.

In my experience, too many higher ed institutions have lost the will of focusing on the fundamentals. At least when it comes to time management within enrollment. There are just too many emergencies at hand. Seth Godin writes of this mindset in his recent blog, “Emergency Room Doctors”.

Branding is important — but not the solution

During the last ten years I’ve seen the importance of institutional branding increase to a status of an unwavering taskmaster dictating to all. Branded messaging is the cornerstone for enrollment success. Well, it’s a cornerstone, but not the keystone. The power of enrollment success lies within data.

Institutional Branding should begin to form after the fundamentals have been drilled into the team. By first practicing the science of the Fundamental, the art of the message and brand will gain more traction and have greater impact.

I find it astounding that an institution will “invest” hundreds of thousands of dollars in the development of a brand, and yet be unaware or unconcerned that 5% or less of their inquiries convert to applications. Or that 55% of the applications received never reach the completed to review stage. Or that the completion rate of Stealth applications is 15% lower than conventional applications.

The Keystone

An analysis of the conversion ratios of the age old admissions funnel provides wonderful insight into how well the team is performing at the fundamentals. Coach Lombardi knew that success is determined by the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. The same is true with the fundamentals of admissions.

It’s time to re-focus our attention on the basics. We begin by examining the quantitative portion of the admissions funnel — these are the key indicators of the fitness of the fundamentals.

I’ve spent the past 18 months developing a method of examining the correlation of fundamental performance indicators against reasonably expected rate of return on investment. The results are fascinating — and exciting.

Measuring ROI

If the conversion rate of an institution’s inquiries to applications is low in comparison to historical data or with peer institutions, what might the school expect the invested rate of return to be if there were a 1% increase in those conversions? What are the opportunities available to increase the conversion and what is the predicted cost?

By examining the fundamentals of performance and return within the admissions funnel, a college or university can greatly alter the anticipated net revenue represented by the entering class.

The question might be asked, “If we increase our conversion of inquiries to applications by 1% and the admissions funnel’s remaining conversion points remain historically consistent, by what amount might we expect our first year net revenue to increase?  And what might we expect this entering class’ four year net revenue to be? What is our anticipated cost to institute this increase in conversion?”

Pretty basic stuff. But surprisingly, many institutions don’t examine these fundamental questions.

Start With Why

The foundation to investigating these fundamental questions begins with an accurate accounting of first point of contact. To successfully refine the fundamentals, the admissions office must accurately record and track inquiry source codes. This fundamental requirement is critical to examining the health of your admissions process and for the development a rock solid marketing strategy & communications plan.

So, lets momentarily set aside our goal of branding the institution. Let’s begin with the fundamental question reflected by Simon Sinek’s premise to, “Start with Why”. Examine the actions behind admissions funnel conversion ratios.

How about working on blocking and tackling before we build the stadium? Let’s work on the basics, gain some traction and move forward.