University housing and residence life departments are often complex organizations complete with everything one might expect in a big business. This includes understanding the basics of marketing and customer engagement.

The ACUHO-I Standards and Core Competencies both list knowledge of marketing strategies as important skills for the housing administrator and residence life educator. Understanding marketing basics is not just the job of our colleagues that focus on core business operations, such as conference services, or occupancy management. It’s also the job of our front-line staff – residential educators – who are focused on connecting students to opportunities and benefits offered in our halls and across campus.

Too often we discuss “marketing” in the form of marketing plans, campaigns, and (hopefully) outcomes. But marketing includes our everyday oral and written communication as well, which is happening continuously in semi-structured formats. It includes all of our “interfaces” with our “customers”–including residents, parents, and conference guests.

According to the Office of Strategic Communication at UC Riverside, for a company or institution to grow, it must build strong customer relationships … effectively communicate [the institution’s] mission, values and messages in ways that speak to your target audience.” Whether your shop has a “marketing person” or not; effective communication begins and ends with you. Consider how this is already happening on a regular basis:

  • When you speak with a student
  • When you promote a program or service
  • When you utilize or deploy software
  • When you send an invoice for damage billing
  • When you create assessment reports
  • When you speak with a member of your local community
  • When you post to social media

All of these actions have an element of marketing to them and they happen everyday. Each point of contact is an opportunity to communicate something about your core mission and values. Rather than thinking of marketing just as shiny websites and posters, think of the word-of-mouth and experiential components that make up your day-to-day operations.

Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” This approach also holds true in student housing. When it comes to the student experience, “everyone is in charge of the park.” It does not matter where you sit organizationally, whether at the top of the hierarchy or towards the bottom, all of us have something to contribute to the organization as a whole. We are all responsible for aspects of the operation whether they are explicitly written into our job descriptions or not.

Complex business decisions – opening a new hall or offering a new service – require marketing plans. The best marketing campaign; however, is not a campaign at all. Rather, it’s the little things that compound – the effective communication of our community’s unique values – that hold the key to building stronger relationships with our resident-customers.

Key Questions:

  • How do you imbue your current and new staff with a strong sense of customer service and its importance to your marketing efforts?
  • What changes when you view all interactions with students, families, and quests as a form of marketing?