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Case Study: Ringling College Embraces Lifecycle Marketing

WhyRinglingRingling College of Art and Design, the premier art college located in Sarasota Florida, had the same goal that every higher education institution has: to increase admissions. However, while every college may have the same admissions goal, each faces a unique set of challenges in trying to achieve that goal.

Ringling College is a private, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering Bachelor’s degree programs in 11 majors, including Illustration, Computer Animation, Game Art, Motion Design, Fine Arts, Digital Filmmaking, Graphic Design, and Advertising Design. The college has received numerous distinctions, including being named among the top 25 U.S. film schools by The Hollywood Reporter, which has elevated its position among art colleges globally. Alumni have also been awarded many honors including Emmy® and Academy Award® wins.

The Challenge: Corporate Distrust, Peer-to-Peer Influence

However, as with other private art colleges, the admissions department is faced with studies and reports that suggest an art degree is less likely to pay career dividends, despite the proven success of Ringling College’s alumni. Further, as a private college, the average tuition is higher than that of many community colleges,  which is  serious obstacle to the admission team’s efforts coming out of a period of economic depression.

Rich Kaplan, Ringling College’s VP of Marketing and Innovative Partnerships, understood these challenges and realized that a different strategy than that embraced by most colleges was required. He tasked Sensei Marketing to design and develop an innovative solution that would increase brand awareness as well as show measurable improvements in new student acquisition.

Sensei analyzed the realities faced by post-secondary institutions: Intense competition; limited marketing budgets; and a highly-connected social audience that put more faith in peer commentary (even if anecdotal) than in facts and proof points advertised by colleges. Further, due to limited resources, most colleges take a very myopic approach to lead generation. Admissions often focus on high school students who are within 12 months of choosing a college; alumni are most often targeted for financial support, and rarely are those efforts connected or consistent from end to end.

The Solution: Lifecycle Marketing

A long-term engagement strategy was developed for Ringling College that would guide the institution toward fostering a continuing relationship with artists from the age of 14 to 100.  Specifically, the strategy would see the college facilitate relationship building among peers, mentors, and influencers, which will continue from the first year of high school to their adult lives.

Sensei mapped the “customer journey” that a typical art student would pass through during their teen and adult lives, and cross-referenced that with life events, situational factors, and relationships that might affect students’ decisions to attend art colleges.

The first phase of the strategy was launched last week, which included a new website targeting students in the college decision-making stage. The website, www.whyringling.com, and the associated social media campaigns utilizing the #WhyRingling hashtag, provide the peer-to-peer social proof that high school students have indicated they turn to when making college choices. The site was built using Responsive Web Design (RWD) because research indicated that the mobile devices were the primary tool used by the target audience for researching and discussing college-related information.

Ringling College of Art and Design

Case Study: Ringling College Embraces Lifecycle Marketing

The website’s content, which is managed by a content management solution so that content may be refreshed many times per week, is driven by the student and alumni’s voices, not the typical “corporate speak” created by higher education institutions.  The site features profiles of current students and alumni sharing their views about why they chose Ringling and what it has meant to their careers. In addition, the site highlights the benefits of living in Sarasota, the on-campus culture and support system, the art work developed by students and alumni, and the many awards the college’s students are winning.  The interactive,  Tumblr-style home page was designed in direct response to the research results that indicated the audience’s preference for a more visual graphical user interface than traditional website structures.

In addition, a dedicated online art community, powered by social media platform TicTalking, was also launched to facilitate peer-to-peer conversations focused around art, design, advertising, and creative culture. The community, which is open to anyone interested in these subjects, will be focused on fostering peer-to-peer relationships and not direct promotion of the college.

The primary goals of the initial social outreach program include fostering an interest in art and design, nurturing relationships, educating the community on the benefits of an art degree, and promoting profitable and fulfilling art-related careers.  Stay tuned to this blog in the future for details on the release of future phases and results from this first phase.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego


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