The Educated Marketer


Use the Secrets of the Genius Bar's Success for Your Inbound Student Recruitment

by Leah Peters | Feb 22, 2016

 |  college recruitment


How to use the same principles that drive the success of Apple stores to attract and retain college and university students.


“Hey mom,” my young son said. “When can we go back to that store with the cool seats and the iPads?”

Just weeks before a huge project was due, my MacBook wouldn’t turn on.

Even though it was starting to snow, I packed my kids and my seemingly broken MacBook into the car and headed for the nearest Genius Bar. The kids happily played with the newest iPads while I chatted with the friendly young man who explained what might have gone wrong—something rather insignificant, happily—and quickly got my computer going again.

 After running a few diagnostic checks, he said my (rather old) computer was still running strong, and that everything should be fine.

The store was full of people—midday on a weekday. Apple has never had to shut down a store, except to relocate. And the Genius Bar is a big reason why.

So how can the principles behind the Genius Bar inform best practices for student recruitment?

They don’t have to push you in—they pull you in.

My kids weren’t the only people testing out the newest Apple products that day. There was barely any extra room as people of all ages milled around freely, checking out the features of the latest tech goodies on display.

Why were they there? Certainly not because they were compelled to be there, by some external pressure. No, the genius of the Genius Bar is that visiting it feels like a treat in itself. It’s clean. It’s beautifully designed and well-lit. It’s user-friendly, interactive, fun. People want to go there—even kids, even without any particular intention to buy!

Inbound Marketing is like that—it doesn’t work by pushing a message at you; it draws you in by offering an experience that’s attractive and valuable to you.

But inbound is more than just having a beautiful, user-friendly, interactive university website. You need to offer an online experience of real value.

When a blog post or video stands on its own merit as great content—when it gives you information that’s useful to you or is simply entertaining or inspiring—it can be far more effective than traditional interruptive advertising. That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about content marketing.

But that’s not the only thing higher education admissions departments can learn from the Genius Bar about inbound marketing…

The Genius Bar focuses on the client’s needs—eye-to-eye

It’s happened to all of us—we go looking for a product or service, and the salesperson ends up trying to sell us something else. Something we don’t want. It’s annoying.

Not so at the Genius Bar. Go in and tell them that you’ve had your old MacBook for five years and aren’t inclined to replace it anytime soon, and they’ll do what they can to make that possible. And they’ll manage to do it without making you feel foolish for not knowing what’s going on underneath the shiny surface of your product. Folks at the Genius Bar are responsive. They help the customer feel like they’ve been heard. They help the customer feel smart—and all that makes it highly likely that Genius Bar customers will buy more Apple products.

Inbound Marketing is responsive and respectful: it’s about putting the client’s needs above the message the marketer wants to get across.

The Genius Bar wouldn’t be perpetually crowded if the folks behind it were constantly pushing their own agendas and running through scripted sales pitches. It works because the customer service at Apple really is about serving the customer— and that’s the mindset of inbound marketing. Great customer service is great marketing; not just because the delighted customer is going to be a repeat customer, but also because she is going to share her great experience with others.

There’s yet another way in which enrollment management professionals can learn from the Genius Bar…

Clients are willing to share their information with Apple for the privilege of using the Genius Bar, and because they know they’re getting something of value.

Buying email lists of rising seniors and their parents? That’s the stuff of a decade ago.

But customers gladly hand over their contact information to Apple in exchange for a (free!) trip to the Genius Bar. That’s another way in which they resemble inbound.

Your college or university student recruitment team needs to offer content that’s worthwhile and valuable enough that prospective students are willing to share a bit about themselves with you. Remember, inbound marketing is not about blasting them with what you want them to know. It’s about drawing them in for information or an experience that’s valuable to them, offering something that they want to take. Do you have a great eBook with tips on putting together a great college application—for any college? Offering premium content that’s really worthwhile to the students who are looking for what you have to offer is how you build trust and turn prospective students into contacts—and then applicants.

Your student recruitment team can use the secrets of the Genius Bar’s success, by offering attractive, worthwhile content that prospective students and their parents are drawn to, by putting their needs and interests first, by being responsive and respectful, and by leveraging the value you offer to obtain contacts to follow up on.

Learn how to beef up your college recruitment with our free Inbound Marketing checklist.

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