Let's Change the Conversation

Scaling Online Enrollments
Writen By: Marcelo S. Parravicini, CEO Cygnus Education

I have recently taken the time to reflect on the state of higher education marketing. Specifically, I zeroed in on how we, performance marketers, position what we do when it comes to generating demand for those institutions that target non-traditional students. Ok, granted, that isn’t what we do, right? Rather, we help our clients position their brands in the marketplace, augment their target audience reach and therefore enroll students. But when all is said and done, what we do, and how we make a living, is provide institutions with prospective, returning adult student leads. And how do performance marketers usually do this? By engaging in demand generation. However, the fact of the matter is, there is no need to generate demand.

So, what do I mean by that? Well, according to The National Center for Education Statistics, non-traditional students (25 and older) are expected to make up nearly 40% of total college enrollment by 2026. Additionally, over 70% of all public degree-granting institutions currently offer some distance learning courses. Translation: there is plenty of demand for non-traditional educational programs, and most institutions have taken notice. Thus, the challenge at hand isn’t demand generation, but rather high-intent demand capture. On that note, let’s take a few steps back.

Demand Generation vs. High-Intent Demand Capture

Historically, institutions that target returning adult students –primarily for online degree programs– have leveraged digital marketing initiatives to generate demand. Among these initiatives, the most common digital channels or tactics deployed are: search marketing (organic and paid search), display ads, email and affiliate marketing. For the sake of highlighting the difference between demand generation and high-intent demand capture, I’d like to discuss how, for the most part, affiliate marketers usually generate demand for higher education.

First and foremost, I’d like to highlight that a number of agencies that deploy affiliate or aggregation tactics have done a solid job at leveraging search marketing and other channels to generate well-qualified affiliate leads for institutions. Having said that, affiliate marketing usually relies on big data –which isn’t always good data– and the analysis of this data to “qualify” leads across various offerings. In short, the goal is to monetize each lead as many times as possible across as many offerings as possible. This approach is at the core of demand generation where, for example, an algorithm determines that consumers looking for employment may be open to returning to school. Under this scenario, job seekers are re-packaged as “qualified” higher education leads. Unfortunately, from an operational perspective, this approach can be incredibly costly to institutions, as most leads are not truly qualified for educational opportunities and therefore a great deal of effort goes into connecting with the few prospective student leads that are likely to convert. Bottom line, the consumer intent isn’t always there. So, is there a cost-per-lead, performance-based alternative to affiliate marketing? An alternative that zeroes in on high-intent demand capture, as opposed to demand generation through co-registration tactics? Yes, Performance Social Media. Specifically, LinkedIn.

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“The challenge at hand isn’t demand generation, but rather high-intent demand capture”

LinkedIn and Demand Capture

According to a recently published LinkedIn article, millions of active U.S. LinkedIn members are interested in going back to school. Additionally, LinkedIn member data indicates that students who have LinkedIn profiles before enrolling take 25% less time to graduate, while achieving a 2.5% higher graduation rate. Based on these metrics, and my recent experience with a number of partner institutions, I know that LinkedIn should be part of a well-rounded institutional demand capture and recruitment strategy. But first, let’s define what makes for well-qualified, high-intent leads.

Well-qualified, high-intent prospective students are people that are actively looking for career advancement opportunities and to expand or gain specific skills. Therefore, they are actively seeking specific programs or course content that aligns with their career objectives. These are highly motivated individuals that bring to the table clearly defined expectations for how education will help them achieve their career goals. This desire to advance one’s career is the primary driver behind high-intent demand, not some “co-registration” tactic. So, why is LinkedIn an alternative to affiliate marketing? First, the audience is there. Second, think about consumer behavior and how it predicts intent.

Capturing Prospects Through Behavorial Analysis

Professionals who actively promote themselves through LinkedIn are telegraphing a very clear objective: self-promotion aimed at career advancement opportunities. These are individuals who actively look for ways to position themselves in the marketplace for the next opportunity. This includes proactively seeking ways to expand their skills and remain relevant in the job market. The one thing these individuals do not want, professionally speaking, is to become stagnant. If professionals are already telling us their intent through their behavior, isn’t it possible to identify high-intent prospective students through behavioral analysis? Simply put, yes. LinkedIn provides institutions with the ability to hyper-target users that are actively considering educational options. At Cygnus Education, we take it a step further.

We help institutions augment their performance marketing efforts through a proprietary first-party social media audience targeting program. Through an ongoing analysis of social behaviors and life events, we target and capture prospects that are ready to take the next step and look forward to engaging with an enrollment advisor. Interestingly, often times we encounter skepticism when we first propose Performance Social Media to prospective partners. But, time and time again, our partners have come to acknowledge that Performance Social Media is a viable and scalable high-intent demand capture channel and a cost-effective alternative to affiliate marketing. Ultimately, institutions are rapidly realizing that those people that actively promote themselves through LinkedIn self-qualify, through their actions, for higher education programs that align with their career objectives.

I have spent over 20 years in marketing, with the bulk of my experience working in higher education marketing and enrollment management. While I have learned much over those years, the one takeaway from my experience in higher education is this: highly motivated prospective student leads –those people looking to advance their careers– tend to apply at higher rates, apply early during the admissions cycle, be highly persistent, and graduate at higher rates than any other type of prospective student. Why? The demand was already there; they were already sold. So, let’s change the conversation. It should be about high-intent demand capture, and not about demand generation!

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