I get it – you don’t want to be sold to. After the barrage of sales emails leading up to the conference, the last thing you want to do is head to the exhibitor hall and “get pitched.”
But if you did reclaim your 30 minutes of time, as Randi Zuckerberg sang the Little Mermaid song (Yes, that really happened), then I hope you managed to meet some of the excellent higher ed practitioners, who are more often than not your former colleagues, manning the booths. I will also let you in on a secret: most vendors have scheduled their sales meetings prior to the actual conference. Often, their main goal is to share knowledge, best practices, and where they see the future of higher ed marketing and admissions. This is a goldmine of ideas and an alternative source of knowledge.
So with that in mind, here are some of my favorite booths from our NACAC 2019 visit, insights into the conversations, and some thoughts on the strengths of the products and services.
The team originates from Scotland, so it was the first booth that I headed for! Imagine that your admissions team is fielding the same questions over and over again: Can you send me a prospectus? How can an international student ask to be connected to a student from their home country? Wouldn’t it be great to use chatbot technology – a technology that is projected to save companies over $8 billion by 2020 – and configure this technology for higher ed admissions? Luckily, it can be set up to work with your Slate CRM, so it is definitely worth checking out.
I would always encourage a client to buy an off-the-shelf solution before building a native application. Full Measure, headed up by Greg Davies, one of the founding members of Blackboard, has built an interesting mobile platform that is worth considering if you are going to build a content-driven, mobile-first website or app. I still fondly remember the mobile app “One Cool Thing,” an app that published one story every day about a cool engineering project that was connected to the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Built by Dan Kim and team, it had a great following and some fantastic content. If I was going to replicate a similar app today, I would build it on a platform like Full Measure. Apps are expensive to build, as you have to navigate the Android and iOS operating systems which require constant maintenance. Full Measure has much more functionality — including personalized, curated content and a sophisticated messaging platform. This is definitely a technology you should have on your radar.
Campus Sonar specializes in turning social listening into actionable market intelligence. CEO Liz Gross and Business Development Manager Steve App are also both superstars on Twitter, so we dropped by their booth and attended Steve’s presentation at the well-attended session, “Using Social Listening to Find, Engage, and Nurture Your Prospects.” Steve is a major proponent of Reddit, and while I am not a big Reddit user, it’s clear that when there are over 40,000 subscribers to the subreddit r/ApplyingToCollege, a community for anyone applying to college, it might be a good place to find out what matters most to the students who you are looking to attract. While researching this, I also found an article with insight into Steve’s thinking on Reddit. I invite you to fall down the Reddit hole!
In full disclosure, they are our client at eCity Interactive and the main reason that I attended NACAC. College Confidential is the largest online forum of students, parents, counselors and alumni – giving and seeking advice on their education journey. With over 20 million unique visitors per year, its reach and popularity are phenomenal. But what do admission professionals think of it? To find out, we hosted a dinner on Friday night with a group of fun-loving admissions professionals to discuss the College Confidential platform (you know who you are). The insights were fantastic and we found many opportunities for improvement. You don’t like what people write on College Confidential, we get it, and if you could only have an administrator profile, you would be on it more. We heard you.
As one of the main players in the admissions CRM space, TargetX has heavily invested in the design and user experience of their forms. It’s often easy to overlook the UX of the forms and online touchpoints that connect the system (CRM) to your users – but when one of your main goals is conversion and you want people to fill them out, maybe it’s time to take a closer look. Having built a multitude of websites, conversion and good UX principles should always be at the forefront of your thinking. It’s hard to benchmark what a good conversion rate is, but if you are working with TargetX, they are ahead of their competitors on this front.
I know that admissions teams love Slate a lot, and I know that the marketing teams would be impressed by their trade show presence! But we are going to have to wait until November’s AMA Symposium to ask the marketing teams in person what they really think about their admissions colleagues’s must-have tool. With admissions committed to the Slate cause, where does that leave marketers with their Hubspot, Pardot, or Marketo integrations? That’s another blog post and one that will have to wait for Vegas.
Thank you for taking a walk along the NACAC exhibitor conference hall with me. Next time you are at a conference, I encourage you to make time to meet the vendors; you never know what ideas, tactics, knowledge that you will pick up. And who knows, at some point in your career you may even be exhibiting yourself!