Thursday, December 14, 2006

Web Sites, Signs, Objective Correlatives Hurt Enrollment

Let’s take one of the first correlatives students see – the web site. Most school websites are, well since it is the holiday season I’ll say they are not as good as they can be in working as objective correlatives for students. Why? Because they were created by people who believe in words and in linear realities. Not metaphoric leaps based on correlating objects and images.

We create webs as if they were documents, packed with words and minimal graphics or pictures. We even include entire catalogues on web sites as if anyone would want to read them online. Students hate catalogues and their page after page of, you guessed it, words we believe are important. They don’t nor do they believe catalogues are helpful or speak to them. That’s why catalogue personalization programs such as Leadwise are being adapted by schools. They speak to each student’s personal world and provide graphics and photos students can identify with.

Just look at where students go to on the web-YouTube, Facebook, Shoutwire - and you’ll see few words and almost all visuals. Moreover, the pages are packed with small boxes and thumbnails of choices to click on and download. We may have some trouble with this visual overload. They do not. Nor do they have trouble with the crawls at the bottom of screens during TV shows that can drive us nuts. Not them.

And the web is one of the first contacts with a school. Thus it is a very strong objective correlative. It has the power of the law of primacy – that which is first encountered is first and most powerfully to come to mind. And what most college websites do is create a picture of a school as very “old school.” Not good.

Another powerful, primary objective correlative that is almost universally overlooked is the signage, a fancy way of saying signs. When a potential student first comes to a school or campus, the first material object they see are the signs used to direct them, to inform and to welcome them. If the signs are unattractive, too small or not quickly and easily informative, they generate a negative metaphor for the school’s concern for people.

When we do a college service audit, we find that schools usually don’t even have adequate or enough signs to guide people to locations. It is sort of like a test to see if you can find your way around to qualify for going there. After all, we who live at the school now got lost at first because there were no signs for us and we found our way around. If we could do it, new students can too. Dumb belief.

The lack of signs, uninformative signs, outdated signs and so on, create a very powerful correlative to how much the school cares about helping and assisting. So much so that we have found poor signage such a very dominant force in forming early metaphors that we would rank poor signs as a major negative factor leading to lost enrollment. We have found that if students can’t find their way around with signs, they often just trace their way back to their car and leave. Remember that as posted earlier, as much as 12% of enrollment is lost when students make actual contact with a school.

These are just a few examples of the objective correlative in customer service leading to loses in enrollment and retention. It is a topic we will come back to in later postings.

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