I recently had an essay published online by The Washington Post as part of Jenna Johnson’s “Campus Overload” blog. You can read the piece, in which I compared what I think it feels like to be recruited by a college to the barrage of campaign calls and mailing I received during the Iowa Caucus, here.
The comparisons between political campaigns and the college admissions process are considerable and news today led me to think about another comparison; this time I have been thinking about the decision-making process.
Presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, on the stump and in interviews is intimating that Mitt Romney cannot go head-to-head against President Obama in a debate, or, presumably many debates should Romney receive the nomination of the Republican Party. In today’s piece in The Politico, Gingrich suggests, “Mitt would be a mess” when discussing his chances in competing on the debate stage with the president.
This is theme Gingrich has been emphasizing in recent weeks and made me think about the college decision-making process and prospective students.
I expect Gingrich is making the case that he’s the superior debater and is more likely than Romney to play semantic-gymnastics with President Obama in a debate. I’ll concede that Gingrich is smart and is a very good debater.
I hope others will concede that debates don’t decide elections. Nor, do they attract much attention from the electorate (perhaps the exception to this is all of the pundits and politicos who love to tell us who one and lost each debate).
It seems to me Gingrich wants to make us believe that he or she who is the most competitive debater and has the greatest ideas is the best candidate (i.e. I can make the stronger case in a debate and am more intellectual than Romney, therefore I am the best to take on Obama). This is the same mistake I often seem made in admissions and student recruitment.
In admissions and student recruitment the case usually is something along the lines of “if students only knew XXXX about us they would certain choose us over the competition.” The statement is usually followed by some mumbo-jumbo that goes like this “let’s develop a positioning statement and some proof points to convince people we are better.”
Gingrich and many colleges think that if they can simply convince people that their case, message, skill, whatever, is stronger than the competition than they will be sure and certain choice does not jibe with reality.
These decisions, who to vote for and which college to choice, are not made by weighing the preponderance of evidence and arriving at an intellectual choice…these important decisions are emotional decisions.
It’s hard to convince people that these decisions are emotionally-driven, but it’s true. Many, including faculty, college presidents and I am sure Speaker Gingrich, reject the idea that you can’t convince people through facts and data, but gut-feeling, likability a far more important considerations.
Early in my career I was influenced by Bob Sevier’s 2000 article “Recruiting Funnel,” which appeared in The Journal of College Admissions.
Sevier described the recruitment developmental stages funnel as having the following stages:
Early (sophomore year) = Inquisitive
Middle (junior year) = Rational
Late (senior year) = Emotional
The recruitment developmental stages model illustrates that we can’t just develop one message and expect the message to fit at each stage a prospect goes through when choosing a college. Customizing the message and meeting them where they are is critical to making a meaningful connection. But, most importantly, Sevier’s model suggests that a final choice is emotional.
I believe this is the same for the election cycle. And, while Speaker Gingrich might be trying to make the case that he’s the best debater to go up against President Obama, it’s more than likely that for him the countless primary debates are the only ones that fit into the developmental stages of voting.
It’s during the primary that voters are rational and comparing and contrasting.
When it comes to enter the voting booth or to choose a college it’s emotion that guide the decision.
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission