digital communication


My series on the ABHE-Barna research report, What’s Next for Biblical Higher Education? now turns to the last of six major themes I have highlighted.



Will you be talking past your audiences, or will your digital media mastery have a leveling effect?


I have three simple points to make on this subject:

  1. You have to adopt digital communication as your primary communications mode for prospective students and other stakeholders.
  2. Plenty of help is available.
  3. Digital provides you the economic capacity to compete with the big boys.

Let’s consider each one in turn.


#1 Make digital communication primary.

You need to “go digital or go home” for two reasons:

  • it’s the first language of your target audience
  • the digital tools at your disposal are amazingly potent
Most of your prospective students—yes, even most of your non-traditional age prospects—are unequivocal members of the “Net Generation.” When it comes to communicating with them, digital is their first language.


Way back in, wait for it … 2008 … University of Toronto Rotman School of Management professor and Globe and Mail journalist Don Tapscott published one of the most prescient and influential analyses of the first generation who grew up in an exclusively digital world: Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. Hey, that was more than a decade ago! It’s past time your student enrollment and educational delivery frameworks caught up with that reality.

And we’re not just talking about technology gadgets. We’re talking about how digital platforms have transformed the mindset of a generation. Here’s the gist of major mindset shifts that constitute a radical departure from the traditional Four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, place). NetGen consumers’ thinking and behavior have shifted:

From pliable consumer to suspicious herd — they are sophisticated, skeptical, and skittish; they’ll do their homework and punch holes in your hollow claims and shallow slogans

From buying products to immersing in experiences — they want a “relationship” with you and with each other, not simply a transaction

From pre-packaged to participative customization — they bristle at “one-size-fits-all” reasoning; they’re used to having choices and expect to be able to customize their purchase in terms of product and price, as well as their entire experience with your educational offerings [refer to my discussion of “hacking” in my last post, Diversifying Your Distribution Channels]

From static place to flexible pathway — the “where” is not a fixed and static location; they are accustomed to instant and efficient access whenever and however they prefer

Now here’s the second reason you should make digital communication primary:

Consider this summary of digital marketing’s advantages from an Invest Northern Ireland blog post:

The main advantage of digital marketing is that a targeted audience can be reached in a cost-effective and measurable way. Other digital marketing advantages include increasing brand loyalty and driving online sales. The benefits of digital marketing include: global reach; lower cost; trackable, measurable results; personalization; openness; social currency [your message gets passed along to others via social media networks, maybe even goes viral!]; improved conversion rates.


#2 Take advantage of available help.

My second point about the benefit of going digital with your communications is that there is a huge vault of readily-accessible help available to you.

Get a Platform

If your enrollment management efforts are not yet built on a state-of-the-art CRM … oh wait, you don’t know what a CRM is? Here’s a good definition from one of the industry leaders, Salesforce:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.

As I was saying, if you are not working from a state-of-the-art CRM, you need to make it a priority to choose and implement one.

If you want a primer on digital adoption, consider this one from Digital

Engage Partners

One of ABHE’s strongest partners in this arena is Bart Caylor of Caylor Solutions. If you and your key team members are not subscribed to Bart’s Marketing Minute for Christian Higher Ed blog, do so right now. Check out these links to recent blog posts and I’m sure you will see the value of this free resource:

Marketing to Multiple Generations

Two Things About Gen Z Prospective Students Every Marketer Must Know [By the way, if you’re in need of a seriously good chuckle, you will want to view Michael Tyler’s Gotta Love Millennials video embedded in that post.]

How to Train Student Brand Ambassadors

See what you’ve been missing? Give ABHE a call—or refer to our website for additional info about digital marketing and CRM partner-vendors via our Leadership Development events or Annual Meeting Exhibitor lists.

Another great resource partner for connecting with and developing NextGen leaders would be our good friends Steve Moore and Tim Elmore of Growing Leaders. They have their fingers on the pulse of the emerging generation, so stay plugged in to the insights, resources and recommendations. Tim’s book, Marching Off the Map, would be a very profitable read for all of your enrollment management team.


#3 You can level the playing field.

The third and final point I want to make about Becoming Digital is that, despite your very small size and limited resources, you can now compete with the big boys in terms of cost.

Proliferation of digital platforms levels the playing field in terms of marketing cost. The leveling effect of “disruptive innovations” will make it possible for relatively low-resource providers to compete with higher resource institutions in ways heretofore impossible.

No longer do you have to pity yourself because you can’t afford those full-page print ads in Christianity Today, or … [insert the name of your denominational magazine], or those incredibly slick, printed, high-res, four-color viewbooks—not to mention the cost of sending them via “snail mail.”

Consider just this one example:

Microtargeting (also called microtargeting or micro-niche targeting) is a marketing strategy that uses consumer data and demographics to identify the interests of specific individuals or very small groups of like-minded individuals and influence their thoughts or actions.

You can develop a precise “high mission quality” student profile and, with expert help, identify and micro-target messages to those individuals who correspond to incredibly specific attributes, interests, and behaviors online. As your digital targeting apparatus “learns” where to find your best student prospects (i.e., those most likely to “convert” along every step of the enrollment path), you can refine your aim and your messaging to more and more efficient yield levels.

Well, there is a lot more I could say about Becoming Digital, but this is not the platform for it and, besides, I leave that up to folks like Bart Caylor and other great ABHE partner-vendors.

Thanks for sticking with me through this extended consideration of how we can more fully leverage the insights from What’s Next for Biblical Higher Education?


One last time, here are what I take to be the major takeaway themes from the report:


Definitional Dilemma

The tension between established public perception about the nature and scope of Bible colleges and the institutional self-identity, scope, and aspirations of many ABHE member colleges.



The key to enrollment success and mission fulfillment.




This is not a problem, it is a fact of life.




Today’s prospective students are hungry for what we’re good at.




One size does not fit all—and it doesn’t fit most of our prospects.




Will you be talking past your audiences, or will your digital media mastery have a leveling effect?


I have distilled the ABHE-Barna research findings into six major categories. What have I left out? I again beg you not to allow this landmark research effort to go to waste. Have you made your own analysis? Have you discussed and debated the report’s implications with your enrollment management team?

I’m convinced that together, with God’s help, we can grow the biblical higher education movement despite the demographic and cultural headwinds we are facing. In a recent talk to a select group of ABHE presidents, celebrated higher education reformer and Babson College President-elect, Dr. Stephen Spinelli, jarred me awake to recognize that the disruption we are experiencing in the higher education enterprise need not be seen as a series of threats but as an incredible opportunity. May we all have eyes to see.

In the words of our good friend and fellow ABHE President, Wayne Cordeiro:


“The world has been waiting for you … and so has the Kingdom!”


Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


  Venezuela: All you need to know about the crisis in nine charts

This series of charts published in February 2019 by BBC World News offers about as succinct, stark, and graphic a depiction of Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis as I have seen.

  Trouble Doesn’t End Witness: Venezuela Today

ABHE’s 2019 Biblical Higher Education Award honoree and WEA Global Ambassador, Brian Stiller, complements the above Venezuela political and humanitarian summary with a report on the contemporary situation from Church/Kingdom perspective. We know which story would have been featured in the Book of Acts.

  Is Marxism All That Bad?

Well, if you take Venezuela as a poster child, perhaps so. But there are many of us who rightly rage against the rapacious, unbiblical nature of modern crony capitalism as well. This well-documented, cautionary essay from our friend Peter Jones exposes the worldview underpinnings of Marxism/socialism’s political project while commending a calm and confident, if nevertheless vigilant and resolute, gospel witness in the face of this largely insidious contemporary political movement.