Hard metrics and KPIs get all the glory. When it comes to writing your case for support, they’re your A-Team. But the truth is, they don’t tell the whole story of how your brand resonates with your audience. And when it comes to inspiring your donors and supporters to take action, you need all the evidence you can present.
It’s time to give credence to soft metrics (the ones Google Analytics or Salesforce can’t identify). Seeking out intangibles like stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm can prove that your brand is resonating with your audience and why — or why not. Ultimately, they’ll help you tell a richer, true-to-life story that pushes your case for support further.
As competition in higher ed. intensifies for recruiting and retaining right-fit students, faculty and staff, sleeping on qualitative differentiators is a mistake. Take your soft metrics off the bench and put them in the game.
Soft metrics tell you the ‘why’ behind your KPIs.
Your team probably talks about digital engagement a lot. The amount of shares your content racks up on social media or the time spent consuming information on your website’s homepage are staples of data dashboards.
When we talk about soft metrics, we’re talking about engagement, too. Just not the kind that involves clicks, scrolls, and eyes on a screen. We’re talking about real-life, person-to-person engagement with your audience.
- Involvement. Active participation in your institution’s events, initiatives, and projects.
- Enthusiasm. Excitement and pride are shown for what your institution stands for.
- Interaction. Relationships are built and sustained over time.
A soft metric can finish the ‘because’ behind the number. For example:
- How many students rally behind your brand because they feel a strong connection to it.
- How many faculty and staff voluntarily use your brand’s language or the right brand elements in communications because they believe your brand embodies what they stand for.
- How many community members champion your brand because they support what you are contributing to the world.
- How many donors not only consistently give, but increase their gifts, because they trust in your vision for the future and want to be part of it.
- How many alumni have pride in your institution because of its culture and history of doing the right thing.
Even the latest, top-of-the-line version of Salesforce or Raiser’s Edge can’t tell you why.
Your institution’s soft metrics are just as important to capture as your hard ones.
Engagement — real engagement — hinges on whether or not people buy into and support your brand. Perspective students, right-fit faculty, and donors alike are more likely to get involved, lend their voice and wave your flag if their values align with yours. And increasingly so.
More and more research suggests that Gen Z heavily considers the values of an organization or a brand before committing to them — more often than previous generations have. So when it comes to recruiting the next generation, it’s not enough just to state your values and express how you’re different. You have to prove it throughout your entire brand.
Finding a way to align with your potential recruits’ values is a surefire way to persuade them to give you a chance. Your soft metrics will tell you what messages are resonating and what’s falling flat. For competitive higher ed. institutions, you can’t not know why what you’re doing is or isn’t working.
Of course, once your students enrol, donors make their first gift, and alumni get their degrees you want to make sure you don’t lose them. You want them all to feel good about where they are.
Intangible data — the stories behind your click-through rates — can help you craft a better message that makes them stay.
Measure the intangibles of your higher ed brand with engagement surveys.
If you’ve haven’t taken one, you’ve certainly heard of them: engagement surveys. Corporations send out annual staff engagement surveys to get a temperature check on their employee’s satisfaction. So take a page from their book if you want to find out what messages are sticking with your stakeholders.
Create an engagement survey for each group of stakeholders — prospective students, current students, staff, faculty, donors, alumni, and the community.
Through your surveys you can find out things like who has changed their opinions about your values based on their involvement with the university. You can learn about how active they feel the university is in promoting the values they espouse. You can uncover how people feel about your brand and whether or not they feel a connection to it.
- Are they all rallying behind your brand?
- Are they energized by the vision and the spirit of your institution?
- (For staff) Do they use the language that’s based on the brand, brand story, and the narratives that you’ve created? Are certain departments going rogue when it comes to interpreting and using the brand?
Another way to look at your soft metrics is to take a look at your budget. Yes, it’s still numbers, but it’s still qualitative data. Because you need to find out if your institution is delivering on what it says it is.
For example, if your values are sustainability, what does your messaging say, and how are you walking the walk? Are you funding research for climate change in your region? Do you offer courses focused on addressing environmental issues?
We’ll give you a hint, here. Making sure your actions and values are aligned with your brand isn’t just beneficial for marketing purposes. It’s just the right thing to do. As a higher ed. institution, don’t you strive to do the right thing?
Measuring your engagement can get you a heavy hitter on your team when you go to write your case for support. But if you still need help tracking your progress, tweaking your brand, or making the ask, call us up and put us in the game.