Higher Education Marketing Insights for 2019 | Market Flow Show Ep.1

October 7, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

(upbeat music) – Today we are with Clayton
Dean of Circa Interactive, an enrollment marketing agency. Welcome, Clayton. – Thanks, thanks for having me. – Today we’re going to be talking
about Higher Ed marketing. So, Clayton, what are the top trends for Higher Ed marketing in 2019? – This is something we talk with our, our partners quite often about, and this time of year something that’s always
in the conversation. Two specific areas we
really have our eye on moving into the next year. One is mission and story-driven marketing as kind of the foundation
of a marketing strategy. And just to set a baseline here, what we’ve seen in the
last decade in Higher Ed is a lot of institutions
are really focused on marketing more
feature sets of programs, rather than focusing on telling a story and really painting a
picture for individuals. So they’re focusing on
marketing, a degree program, how long the degree program
is, what the cost is, things like that. – More specifics. – Exactly, but, really,
looking ahead to next year, and one of the most
effective ways we’re seeing to be a bit more effective
in our strategies is focusing more on telling
a really clear story, connecting with faculty and stakeholders within the institution to
understand what matters to them, what their mission is, and
craft our marketing message and our content around a
lot of those narratives to make it a lot more impactful. Number two is deploying more technology. And I say that in the sense
of we need to find better ways to engage with folks, and technology’s a great way to do that. The demographic of students is shifting. Different communication expectations, so leveraging artificial intelligence and natural language processing
in chatbots for example. There’s a lot of technology we can deploy to be more effective and efficient in how we operate in Higher Ed and to do a better job of
engaging with students. – Cool. Let’s go back to storytelling. How are colleges and universities currently telling those stories? And how do you guys help
them tell those stories? – Really, at the end of the day, a lot of institutions
aren’t doing a good job of telling their story. I’d say that’s one of the
things we really focus on with any new partner that we work with, is coming in and sitting down
with all the stakeholders, with faculty, and really zeroing in, and identifying that story, helping them figure
out what that story is. They may have a general mission or something they kind of believe in, but to really craft a story and a powerful marketing message, you really have to put the
time in to talk to folks, understand the different personalities, understand their goals, objectives, individual courses, what are
they trying to accomplish? And at the end of the day, how does that tie into the
overall mission of the program, of the department, of the institution? And kind of putting that all together in a really tight, powerful package. – What does that package
typically look like? Is it blog posts, video? What does that look like? – It’s very holistic. So if you look at the
entire marketing mix, you’re talking video,
blog content, digital PR, where you’re working with
faculty to get them in the media, and you can help tell that
story through the major media. Paid advertising, paid
media, Facebook advertising, Google advertising, your ad
copy, your landing pages, your microsite. That story should really
touch and resonate throughout the entire marketing mix. – So not just one channel? – Exactly. – Hit them on multiple channels. – Yep, exactly. When we come in and
work with a new partner, we’ll really focus on, as I mentioned, sitting down and working with
faculty and stakeholders, and then our goal from
an output perspective is to create a very condensed guide that will help guide
everyone in the department, whether it’s marketing, enrollment, folks talking to perspective students, making sure everybody’s
clear and consistent on what that message
is, what the story is, and lay a baseline of recommendations for anybody who is doing any marketing, talking to any students, and make sure that’s all
consistent across the board. – Cool. What kind of stories are really resonating with this target audience
or target audiences? – That’s a good question. We come across a lot, and I think more than
most institutions realize, lie within their programs or departments. For example, American University,
we ran a campaign recently where the mission of the
education department, and specifically we’re working with a couple masters programs under that, is centered around insuring
individuals of all walks of life have access to education and
quality education at that. We ran a campaign with
the goal of engaging with our target audience
of prospective students for a specific masters program who align and believe
in that same mission, who really want to go in
and change their community and impact the local educational system, and make sure, especially
underserved communities are getting the quality
education that they need. The whole campaign was centered around raise your hand if you
believe in equal education, if you believe in equality in education. And that really resonated
with the audience, and we were able to align the
program with a target audience who connected with that mission and believed in that mission, so we were able to do our job better, and make sure we’re delivering
the best quality students for a program. And the program’s able to
deliver on their mission of sending out these
folks into their community to change the education system, whether it’s in their local community, at the state level, at the federal level. It allowed both of us
to accomplish our goals. – Awesome. What can a university, what
can a school or a program do to really set themselves apart from a marketing, advertising perspective? – That’s the biggest challenge right now with most institutions, especially those going online. The online space, even no matter how great
of a brand you have, you’re competing
nationally, internationally, so that’s a challenge a lot are facing. What we find one of the
best ways to do that is to focus on persona, individual personas and
very specific audiences. A lot of institutions will
do broad=stroke marketing. And a lot of times that’s
because of a lack of resources, or just by virtue of
what they have available they have to do as much as
they can with very little. But the more you can focus on targeting very specific audiences, and crafting a unique story and message that’s going to resonate with those folks, and you’re going to put yourself in places that you know they operate, and every audience can be
a little bit different. Especially if you’re
looking at generation Z and the 18-year-olds coming
into the undergrad space, where they live and operate
online and what they care about versus the graduate level, which might be 34, 35 years old. You have to think about how
you’re targeting both of those and the story you’re telling, the technology you’re
using to connect with them. That’s definitely a major focus. I think mission and story-driven
marketing is another. I know it’s a common theme right now, but that’s really the biggest
opportunity I think we see. We’re seeing our cost-per-leads
for a lot our clients, where we’re introducing
a really powerful story to our marketing message,
again, holistic marketing, the complete marketing mix, we’re seeing our
cost-per-leads cut in half. And we’re seeing an impact on
the bottom line for schools. We’re making them more efficient, but what that’s really telling us is it’s allowing them
to stand out in a market where traditionally they might be paying a
higher cost per click on their advertisements, but they’re getting a lot of traction and resonating with an audience, generating a lot of
natural, organic shares on their paid page strategies. We’re able to be more efficient
on the marketing side. Somebody’s scrolling
through their Facebook feed, the more you can connect
with them on a deeper level, and engage with them on a level that your competitors are not, you’re going to be in good shape. – Awesome. So we kind of hit on a
few of these channels that universities can be
effective at really engaging and connecting, right? What are some of the
channels that you recommend? And I know they could vary, right, depending on who the
audience is, undergrad, grad? What kind of channels have
you guys seen and noticed be more effective than others perhaps? – Yeah, right now Instagram and Facebook are still the big ones, and just by virtue of the
audience segmentation, and just by the sheer numbers
of folks on those platforms. We’re seeing some growth
in alternative apps. WhatsApp is definitely a huge growth area, especially as a lot of
institutions are looking to go international they’re
seeing a lot of traction there. Right now, undergrad, I’d
say YouTube’s a big one, and that’s where video
really comes into play. The numbers are pretty staggering when you look at the
generation Z audience, the current audience that the
undergrad folks in marketing are targeting, video is really it. That’s where they’re
consuming their information. They’re not reading. They’d rather engage with
quality video content, so YouTube, I think, is a big
one on the undergrad side. On the graduate level,
your traditional channels are still kind of king right now. But I think, as we look
for new alternative ways to target those folks as
competition increases, the cost to market on
those channels increase, we’re testing new
alternative methods in media to try to engage with those folks. So, for example, podcasts
are pretty popular, so we’re trying to testing
different, specific, and going back to targeting
very specific audiences, we’re doing some testing in those areas, and we’re seeing great results there. – Awesome. What kind of video
strategies are you seeing play a part in Higher Ed marketing? – A lot of the short and
impactful-type video content, the stuff you see on Instagram or Snapchat is really quality, and we’re seeing that work very well. We did some studies with
University of Central Florida and what we gathered from
some of the information that we collected was students like hearing
from other students. So, the content and the video where you’re talking, and interviewing, and learning what the experience is like, and what real feedback
from real students is, rather than a faculty member
talking about a program, and what it entails,
and why it’s so great. What we learned was those
prospective students want to hear from other
folks that are like them. And that’s really, I think, the biggest focus in video right now, should be focusing on organic,
authentic type video content, especially for that younger demographic. They expect that. They want it. They expect authenticity. They expect quality and I think that’s the best way to do it, in impromptu, not
super-planned-type video content is definitely going to, you’re
going to see more of that coming up as schools are getting more savvy, but there’s still a ton of opportunity, and a lot of people aren’t
taking advantage of that. – Cool. If you could speak to head of marketing, director of marketing, right now, and give them one single piece of advice that would really move
the needle for them, what would that be? – And I hate to go back
to storytelling but, I think involving
faculty and stakeholders, and not to contradict my last point, and what I mean by that is, they know the programs, they know your programs
as best as anybody. They’re at the top of their game in their fields and industry. A lot of this really is
on the graduate level too, but involving them in your marketing is a really powerful tool that a lot of folks in
marketing and Higher Ed aren’t taking advantage of, at least from helping craft the story, not necessarily making them
the focal point of the story, but getting them involved, and tying in what’s being
covered in the curriculum, what their mission is, what
their individual focus, and what their individual research is on, and what they care about personally. We’re seeing really really
strong results in that area. And I think the more folks
can pull those folks in and make them part of the picture, the more impactful their
marketing’s going to be, the happier their faculty’s going to be, especially if you’re trying
to launch an online program that some faculty may not be onboard with. I think it’s a great
way to get ’em involved, make ’em feel part of the process. And also leveraging their
expertise for marketing purposes like digital PR’s a great way to do that, and kind of taking their
research and repackaging that for the mass media, and getting it out into major publications where you’re getting a lot of
impact and visibility from. So that’d be my biggest recommendation. And I think a lot are hesitant
of working with faculty. They think it’s too hard. They don’t have time, but there’s a lot of
good solutions out there, and if you do it right,
it definitely can work, and faculty are happy, you get better results in your marketing, your marketing’s more impactful. It’s a pretty good situation. – So, what are some new
ways that institutions are engaging with their students? – I actually had a conversation recently, one of the major OPMs,
a friend of mine there, and they’re the best in
the business in enrollment. Some concerning statistics,
they were mentioning that they’re seeing their engagement rate with prospective students drop almost a half of what it used to be. And I think a big problem with that, as we have a younger demographic
coming into the pipeline, they’re not picking up the phone, they’re not communicating
through email like they used to, definitely not picking up the phone. So a lot of institutions are still stuck in the old ways of enrollment and really don’t have any solutions on how can they even get
folks into the pipeline to talk to them. What we’re focusing on, and we’re seeing a shift in thinking, is introducing new ways of communication. Text is a pretty obvious one. A lot of institutions still
aren’t making use of that. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are another really big
area and big opportunity, especially for the smaller institutions who may not have the
resources or infrastructure to handle a growth in enrollment. Or you don’t have the resources to hire additional folks to work, work on that end talking with students. We’re actually working on a product, artificial intelligence, chatbot, uses natural language processing to allow us to have a
pretty fluid conversation 24-hours a day. That’s a big expectation with the upcoming pipeline of students. They have a question, they
want to know immediately, and they want to know it at midnight. So these chatbot solutions are allowing us to have
those in-depth conversations, answer the questions they have, and successfully guide
them to the next step, whether that’s schedule a phone call if they do want to talk at that point, request more information,
download a brochure, or apply. And we’re able to tie in some
of the story elements as well and still make use of a broader, more mission-driven story
that’s a bit more impactful and gets prospective students motivated. And the great thing about AI,
and artificial intelligence, and chatbot-type solutions
is you can leverage these throughout the entire enrollment process, so it’s not only a great tool
to get ’em in the funnel, but it’s a great tool
to follow up with folks, ’cause there’s over an 80% open rate on Facebook messages, for example. So it’s a great way to get
in front of those folks, if you compare that to phone or email, which can be, you can almost drill that
down to about 10% or less. It’s a big difference from
an engagement perspective, but you can use that
tool to engage with them throughout the process, and also follow up with them
once they’re in the program on the retention side, just make sure there’s some support there. And this can all be done automated and without having to add
additional full-time hire on the other side. – Cool. Is this just for grad or
is also for undergrad? Or, sorry, for just for undergrad, or is it also for grad students? – Both, both sides. We’re deploying it on the grad side, but undergrad is going to
be even more important, ’cause they’re the early adopters. So you need to be thinking about, not only Facebook
Messenger and text message from an automated chatbot-type solution, but also WhatsApp and any
of these other technologies and platforms that are
opening up their API and opening up a chat solution. Yeah. – I’m not sure if you
guys get into AR at all. Do you guys? – [Clayton] No, it’s
definitely on our radar. – Okay. – It’s on our radar. We’re not seeing a lot of it. I know the University of Oregon is doing some really unique
stuff with their football team on the AR and VR side. We’ve talked a couple of times with a couple of institutions, just kind of spitballing ideas specific to the chatbot
technology that we’re rolling out, and how VR and AR can
be incorporated there. A lot of it was focused specifically on fundraising departments
and development departments. A lot of use on campus
when they’re giving tours and want to show a new building, and give folks a really realistic view of what they can expect there. We talked about, in an alumni campaign, and they’re looking to
build a new stadium. They send out a virtual reality
feature to all their alumni where they can put on some goggles and be in the new stadium
and get to feel that. I know Stanford, their lead program, they’re doing a lot of really
unique augmented reality stuff within that program built
within the learning environment. So you actually have a character, and you’re sitting in the lecture hall, and you can look around at your neighbors, and interact with your neighbors. And your neighbor here might be in China, and your neighbor here might
be in Sao Paulo, Brazil. – That’s awesome. – So I know they’re doing
a lot of unique stuff. I think a lot of the schools that may already have
an internal department who they might be doing
some research in AR and VR are going to be the early adopters just ’cause they have the resources. But I think a lot of
institutions are a bit hesitant and maybe a bit unsure
of really what it entails to even do something like that, ’cause a lot are just tying to make sure they’re launching effective
marketing strategies, and just basic paid strategies, let alone you get into that world. It’s a bit much, but we’re
going to see more of it in the coming years for sure. – Nice. What are some main
objections that you’re seeing in Higher Ed right now? – I think the faculty, when we approach folks and
want to work with faculty, we get a lot of objections around that. We get a lot of objections around internal departments, when we come in and partner with an institution, there might be some hesitancy of central communications
departments or marketing teams. It’s just a process for us of explaining our role coming in. We’re not taking anyone’s job. That’s not what we’re there to do. We really position ourselves as, literally an arm of their team, and really work to help their team do an even better job. So we see a bit of that in just working with some of the internal departments. I think you see a bit of hesitancy around investing in quality content. Maybe that’s on us as
marketers to do a better job with the data and of backing that up. Some aren’t quite sure
the dollars they invest, what’s coming out the back end of that. They want to make sure
every dollar they spend they’re getting something in return. But quality content really is
a driver of success right now. The schools that are
differentiating themselves well, connecting with prospective
students on a much deeper level are delivering really
high-quality content. On the flip side of that, the target audience expects
really high-quality content. The 18 to 34 demographic, they
want high-quality content. They don’t want just
engagement just for engagement. They really want it to
be something special. So we see a lot of that. Yeah. – Cool. What are institutions doing
right now that you’re seeing, that is just wrong or, not something that you
would want them to do? – Yeah. I would say, assuming that, and this is almost to a
point of where it’s like a, they’re assuming when
they launch a new program that if you build it they
will come kind of mentality. So we see a lot of that. That’s usually when we’re brought in when they realize a year
later when they’re in trouble. But a lot assume their
brand will carry them, even some top-tier institutions
are guilty of this. We’ve seen it at some
amazing institutions, specific when they
launch an online program, we see this a lot. They fail to invest in the
right marketing mix, if at all. So that’s probably the
biggest thing we’ve seen. Just even failure to make it a priority. A lot are also focusing on
very generic stock imagery, kind of the sea of sameness in terms of how they’re
marketing the program, what the messaging is. It’s the same as every other– – [Ryan] Super vanilla. – Yeah, very vanilla, very
feature kind of focus, two-year, 100% online, very flexible. That was great 10 years ago, but nowadays that’s really
not going to do you much good. I think the focus of,
oh, we’ll continue doing what we’ve always done, and
that complacency with that we see quite often. And we also see
institutions really failing to connect marketing,
enrollment, and retention. Some kind of silo those into
their own separate departments. Where in reality that story that you craft on the marketing side, you get somebody super engaged, and really bought into the mission, and want to be a part of it, they come into the enrollment funnel, and the enrollment team’s on a completely different trajectory than the marketing team. So that same story and message
is not carried through. And it leaves the prospective student wondering what they signed up for. So you’re going to see a higher drop rate. You’re going to see folks, if
they do go into the program, they don’t see it even when
they’re in the program as well. It’s not carrying through once they’re actually in the classroom. You’re going to run into issues there on the retention side as well. I think failure to connect
story and a consistent message across the enrollment funnel
is definitely a major gap that we see and something that we usually try to correct
as quickly as we can. That’s a lot of times why when
we do a lot of the discovery and story development we
create a really compact guide that will help. We can distribute that to the whole team throughout the journey of a student, and make sure everybody’s really clear on who we are, specific messaging, imagery, make sure in social media, in emails from an enrollment advisor once you’re in the program, that same kind of message and
narrative is carried through. – Cool. How should institutions involve students in the branding, marketing,
advertising side of things? – Yeah, that’s a big one. Students want to hear from other students. And I think when you talk about, you can make a lot of assumptions and I think we’re all guilty of that, especially in the administration level where we’re all in our own little bubble when we work with a lot of the folks leading the marketing teams. We make a lot of assumptions and I think that’s a failure on our part to not spend more time with students and understand how did they find you? What was it that drew them to your school? And it’s that scientific
kind of research thinking and creating something
that you want to go out and explore and find out is this really the way we
should be doing something? Are we putting our money
in the right place? And students are going to
be your best way to do that. On the graduate level we try
to do that as often as we can, and talk to alumni, talk to
current students if we can. Understand their
experience in the program. Is there anything we
can take away from that when we go and reshape
marketing messaging, which we try to do
periodically to keep it fresh. Again, going back to staying competitive. Talk to those folks as much as we can. And I also think it’s just valuable, just understanding their experience, I think there’s a lot of value, not only in the marketing side, but changes we can make on
the curriculum side of things. There’s a lot of value from that. – Cool. So why did you guys get into Higher Ed? – We’ve always been
intrigued by the industry. I started out in Higher Ed, as did our co-founder Robert Lee. And so when we started Circa we recognized an opportunity
to help a lot of institutions who may not have the
resources or the knowledge to launch complex,
multidimensional strategies. And we really connected to
the mission side of things. That schools are very mission driven, and our business, as a whole, we’re also very mission driven, and we connect with the
missions of the institution, but we also have the mission
of our organization as well. – So let’s talk about the
Higher Ed Marketing Journal. What is that? – Yes, so, gosh, about
six, seven years ago, being a marketer, I knew we needed to
start producing content. Really my goal, initially, was
to start publishing content, exploring some of the challenges, some of the things that are
working for me personally. And that’s grown and expanded. We have some folks, leaders
in the Higher Ed industry, that’ll write from time to time. But, for the most part, it’s
content written from our team, and different parts of our business, whether it’s our digital PR
team, our paid media team, our SEO team, who are
publishing best practices, things they’re seeing. It gets very practitioner oriented. Our goal is really to make
it very actionable stuff that you can take and relate to, and go back and apply it the next day. So it might be Facebook
targeting strategies, how to build out a creative guide that’s going to help
you define your brand, how to run a successful
interview with a faculty member. That kind of content
that’s really actionable and designed to help
people in our industry. – Awesome. And how can people get
in contact with you? – Circaedu.com is our URL. [email protected] is my email. The Higher Journal is Circaedu.com/HEMJ. That’s the best way to get a hold of us. – Cool, thanks, Clayton. – Yeah, thanks for the time. – Appreciate it. – Appreciate you. – Shakas and we’re done. (Clayton laughs) (upbeat music)