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The Value of a Data-Driven Marketing Strategy

By implementing robust mechanisms to determine which marketing activities are having the most success, higher education institutions can save money by focusing resources on high-return strategies.

The following interview is with Lesley Snyder, the Director of Continuing Education and the extended academic programs at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. UNC Charlotte’s Continuing Education division recently began taking a more metric-backed approach to marketing. In this interview, Snyder explains their strategy in a little more detail and discusses the importance of making decisions based on metrics.

1. What metrics do you use to define success when accessing marketing practices?

Well, I would say that the first thing that we always start with is an emphasis on the planning cycle so it’s really critical for us to market our programs on a program-specific basis and use the types of channels and marketing channels and marketing tactics that work for specific audiences and specific programs. So going from there we create a plan for each program and kind of delve down into the details that work best for attracting the students we’re trying to reach. …

For example in our non-credit programming, every student who registers—whether they call, they go on our website, or they come in person—we ask them how they learned about our program. And we have our program questions targeted in such a way, that for each program we only give them possible answers for marketing channels that we have used specially for that program, so that way we’re eliminating some of the extraneous responses that you might receive that are not program-specific. So we’re collecting this data on a per-course, per-enrollment basis. And we use the data from these reports to really roll up and take a look at exactly what types of marketing sources are working for us to which ones are not, so that we can be really strategic in how we go forward. …

We do quite a bit with email marketing and we have a tracking code built into our website in order to track email conversions. So, I’m able to run reports and actually see on a per-email, per-link basis to find out exactly what types of email messaging is working for us and to see how those emails are resulting or not resulting in enrollments. So we have a really clear picture of our return on investments for our email marketing efforts.

Additionally we do quite a bit with Google Ad words, and it’s a really nice tool because it’s real time. So if you run an ad and you find out that the key words you’ve chosen are not really working for you, you can change them.  So it’s a very immediate response based off of prospective students’ response or non-response. And we found that it works really well for us to be able to drive traffic to our website to specific programs and then be able to capture that information on our site in order to turn suspect students into prospective or inquiry students.

2. How do the rest of the metrics impact the way you market education to adults?

I would say in terms of communication tracking, one thing that’s really critical is being sure that we’re communicating in a way that the prospective student wants to hear from us. I do a lot of research into adult learner preferences and trying to see exactly where the trends lie on a national level, but also tracking that on an individualized basis for our specific students.

Every time we have a new inquiry someone inquiring about a course, requesting a brochure or signing up for a class, we always ask them how they want to hear from us in terms of marketing and whether or not they do want to hear from us in terms of marketing. So we give them some options for electronic communications, telephone, no communications at all, or direct mail. And then that way we know that the marketing channel we’re using for that particular student is how they want to hear about us. And what I’ve found is that helps to really develop the relationship between our institution and the students’ so we can build that kind of life-long relationship with them and hopefully they’ll come back to us in the future for training, or recommend us to their friends.

3. Have you found that the more measured approach to marketing impacted institutional revenue generation?

I would say yes, definitely just in terms of tracking what types of sources are working and which ones are not. We’re able to then redirect some of our funds into the sources that are working and eliminate the expenses for the sources that are no longer working. And it’s on a very program specific basis. So for instance, in some programs we’ve found that direct mail is still a really valuable channel. And for those programs we’ll continue to do direct-mail pieces.

For other programs that may be more progressive or attract a different type of audience, we’ve found that electronic communications work best. So we’re able to save money by not wasting money on the channels that aren’t working. And also being able to kind of redirect, in the departmental-level, any funds that might have been thrown away previously towards more strategic efforts.

4. Is there anything you’d like to add about basing marketing activities on metrics?

The main thing I’d really like to emphasis is planning. Planning ahead and taking a look at your audiences can make all the difference in the world. And being able to communicate to the right audiences through the right channels is really the best way to meet your enrollment goals.

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