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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Market Your Language Program to Students at Key Decision Points

by Ann Abbott

As language departments face decreasing enrollments, one thing that we can do is improve our marketing.

When we think of marketing, we often first think about creating slick brochures and websites. The trick, though, is to first define your target audience with precision. Then you have to tailor your message to the benefits that they care about. (What pain do they feel, and how to can you alleviate it?) Finally, you have to know how to get the message to them: where will they see it, how will they find it, and when will it reach them? 

I'll write more about that another day, but for now, I just want to say that many language departments are not effectively marketing to the one set of students they can most easily access: students who are already enrolled in their program. More specifically: you already have the emails of all the students who are enrolled in the last semester of your basic language program so at the very least reach out to them with a message that is tailored to them.

Here's an example. I composed this today and asked the course director to forward it to the students. Ideally, I would have sent this the very first day that students were able to sign up for next semester's classes, but I'll put that on my calendar for the next time.

SPAN 141 & 142 students: keep going!

Dear SPAN 141 and 142 students,

Because you are finishing the last semester of the Spanish basic language sequence, there is so much more that you can do now. Here's a short list:
·         Major in Spanish. If you already have a major, don’t worry. Many of our students realize how important Spanish is within the US and globally, so they decided to do what I call “Spanish +”. They double major. (By the way, when I was an undergrad student many years ago, I double majored in psychology and Spanish, and things have turned out pretty good for me!)
·         Minor in SpanishNot ready to commit to a Spanish major? That’s okay. The Spanish minor is do-able and adds real value to your university experience and future professional life.
·         Study AbroadStudying abroad is often a transformative experience. One of my former students studied a semester in Bilbao; look at what she did and what she learned. If it is at all possible, I highly recommend the year-long program in Barcelona. There’s nothing like a whole year abroad.
·         Register for SPAN 200, 204, 208 and 228SPAN 141 and 142 are equivalents, so whichever course you took, you can register for any of these courses.
·         Explore another language. Students rave about our Portuguese program; you can study one of the most important languages in a program that is rigorous and fun at the same time. Our department offers Catalan and Basque, too.
·         Continue attending Mi Pueblo Sessions. Even if you don't take any Spanish classes in the fall, you are still welcome to attend Mi Pueblo. 
·         Take SPAN 202 with meThe course description makes the course sound much more boring than it actually is! Both SPAN 141 and 142 count as the prerequisite. See the picture below, and read the real description: “Register for SPAN 202, and let's work together next semester to build the skills that professionals need today: Spanish proficiency, cultural competence, global literacy, critical thinking skills, social media marketing experience and practice facilitating group discussions. Everyone says that they're an ideal candidate, but you'll finish with a portfolio that actually proves it. I love teaching, challenging my students while supporting them, providing real-world experiences and maintaining ties long after they have graduated. If this sounds like the kind of course you need and the kind of professor you like, please sign up today and/or share this message with a friend who could benefit.”

Identify the natural points when students make decisions about the next level of your program. Reach them at those points, and use simple yet effective marketing to "pull them" along throughout the entire program.

Here are some decision-making points in our Spanish program. What are the decision making points in yours? Please share in the comments.

  • Some students are only required to take three semesters of a foreign language. In that third semester, we can encourage them to take one more course of the basic language series.
  • Many students on our campus are required to take four semester of basic language courses. During that fourth semester, we can reach out to them and let them know that they have everything they need to start taking courses in the major and minor. And even if they don't want to commit to the major or minor, there are some "fun" classes that they can take, just to keep up their Spanish.
  • When our minors have taken their required 300-level courses, we can show them how easily they can take a few more courses and graduate with a major. 
  • When students are finishing a semester abroad, we can encourage them to take more classes when they come back to campus and finish up a minor or even spring for a major.

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