Friday, June 25, 2010

Job Swap: Education and B2B Marketing

Why should education institutions hire B2B marketers?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to write two guest posts recently.  The first was for myUsearch and focused on battling the sameness of branding and admissions marketing in the education space.   The second was for Content Marketing Institute that offered a way of segmenting prospects based on their need state using the B2B market as an example.

The education piece argued that the 'sameness' of their marketing reduces colleges and universities to the lowest common denominators of cost and convenience - not a position many schools actually want, nor where they can actually survive.  The B2B piece suggested that at any point in time prospects are in one of several need states with respect to a given problem, e.g. think of a pain as being latent, chronic or acute.   

Since both markets consist of high-consideration products where the decisions are made by a very social group there could be some complementary thinking.  What would B2B marketers bring to education?

The best B2B companies, and particularly technology-focused ones, identify or create the category they want to dominate and compete in.  They are often experts at setting the rules that establish how their offerings are perceived.  'Industry leading', while over used, does reflect an understanding that it is critical to know what category prospects put them in.   In comparison, education institutions rarely can articulate the category in which they compete.  Instead they rely on a mantra of 'education is good for your career'.  True, but not very helpful - it is like saying 'shampoo gets your hair clean' or 'cars are safe'.  There is no attempt to differentiate nor is there an equivalent to "industry leading" and there should be.

In addition, while educational institutions have a brand that would make most B2B firms envious they often treat all their prospects as if they're all on the same time frame.  If the prospect doesn't apply and enroll within 60 days they are often relegated to the rehash or forgotten bin.  In contrast, B2B understands the value of nurturing because not everyone is ready right now.  The marketing objective is often to raise a pain to level of where action is taken - and this takes time.  Nowhere is this more important to understand than in the marketing of Master's degrees. 

So, the next time you need a marketer with a fresh perspective for the edu space look no further than the B2B sector.  

Monday, June 21, 2010

Separate Marketing of Master's Degrees from the Rest

Should we continue to market the vertical stack of degrees?

For any given month, they say there are 2 million leads and 100,000 people who will enroll - for a 5% conversion rate. 

The historic thinking for growth has been to increase the payout and buy more leads, this in turn funded the tactics used to grow the size of the pool.  The usual focus was on acquisition and taking one's fair share of the conversions.   But at some point, either the increasing cost per lead or a slower growth rate suggests that we need to think about converting more than our fair share.  

If we take the point of view that in a given month there are a fixed number of people who will enroll, then the question becomes: How do we differentiate ourselves in order to grow? Some suggestions.
  1. Brand - Be known for something - there is simply too much sameness across institutions making it difficult to break out the mold.
  2. Message - Move beyond 'ease, convenience, and cost' - there are segments of the market where more specific messages and benefits work well.
  3. Proof Points - Targeted content - augment the good strides in identifying specific niche groups of potential students with customized content for each program segment combination.
For Master's degrees these suggestion take on more importance for two reasons.  First, conversion rate is much lower than the 5% average cited above.   Second, this audience researches their options fairly heavily over a period of time.   This combination suggests a distinct approach and possibly a dedicated team to service this growing segment.

Like many other categories, fragmentation is coming to education - I think it is time to adapt our marketing accordingly. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Five Easy Pieces: Ideas for Marketing Education

What were we thinking?

Walking around the Career College Association convention we had an iPad with a number of short presentations.  They were ways to engage in discussion around some fresh ideas we've been working with and sharing with clients.   Here is a brief summary and links to individual posts where the presentation can be found.  

  • Positioning Programs - a way to look at individual programs based on how graduates intend to use their degrees.
  • Leveraging the Curriculum - thoughts on how the course catalog can be used to battle 'sameness' and differentiate a program in prospecting, admissions and remarketing.
  • Marketing by Degree - a look at the emotional needs of prospects across levels of education and by interest stage. Fragmentation is only going to continue.
  • Organizing an FAQ - there are a 1,000+ questions prospects have.  Here's a simple suggestion on  a way to organize content to answer them.
  • Syllabus-Week - Master's degree seekers are different, they need to compare and think.  This one is an idea for creating a consumer-facing site where prospects are matched with faculty and programs.
ps - the iPad is a great way to give presentations in small groups.

Leveraging the Curriculum

How can we better use the course catalog?

Battling Sameness. Once the big three questions are answered (financing, timing, and credit transfer) prospects end up with several schools in their consideration set. And as Seth Godin argues, they all look pretty much the same at this point and it is up to the sales skills of admissions to turn interest into enrollment. Courses and faculty can help make the difference.

In prospecting, conversion and remarketing curriculum-based content can help meet objectives.

Key Message: free the course catalog from the shackles of a 19th century document to help differentiate your programs.

This is the second of Five Easy Pieces

Positioning Programs Based on Outcome

How do we use a degree to get a job?

Differentiation. We all make the claim that an education leads to a better career. But exactly how does that work? This presentation provides an answer to the question "How Do Prospects Use a Degree?" When a competitive set of programs are plotted according to the specialty of the curriculum and the specialty of the institution four different segments are created.

Key Message: prospects choose a program based on how they expect it to help them.

This is the first of Five Easy Pieces

Marketing by Degree

How do emotional appeals vary by degree level?

Fragmentation. All categories splinter into sub-categories, each with its own strategy, audience and market leaders. Eduction is no different. However, all too often the same approach is applied to both the level of degree (Associate, Bachelor, and Master's) and stage of the relationship (inquiry, admissions, and remarketing.)

A simple framework looking at the needs of prospects is provided to help refine and improve creative plans.

Key Message: segment by degree and stage as you develop marketing campaigns

This is the third of Five Easy Pieces

Organizing the Myriad of Questions

What three folders of content do we need?

FAQs. Like any high-consideration product, education spawns 1,000+ questions from prospects. To ensure that they are all adequately planned for this presentation introduces a simple way for organizing your content..

All prospect questions can be reduced to three topics:
  • Program - Institutional
  • Placement - Career or job centric
  • People - Social

Key Message: build out a content library around the 3 Ps of education marketing: Program, Placement, and People.

The fourth of Five Easy Pieces

Marketing Master's Degrees with the Syllabus

How can we use Syllabus-Week as a recruiting tool?

They are Different. All the research, both real and anecdotal, suggests that people seeking Master's degrees don't think or behave like other prospects. They tend to be more deliberate in their process and often have a longer time horizon. If Master's Degrees weren't the new black maybe we could get by with traditional marketing. But this sector is one of the most attractive segments to focus on.

Maybe what the industry needs is a comparative shopping engine or matching program that focuses on the prospect's decision-making process.

Key Message: facilitate the natural tendency of Master's seekers to compare programs.

The fifth of Five Easy Pieces

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lessons from Mirren: Cheat and Make it Up

How should we tackle new business?

Alex Bogusky recently spoke at the Mirren New Business conference.   The two key points from the videos:
  1. Cheat by breaking the rules: smart is being different, not the same
  2. Make it up 12 hours before the meeting: new is better than a rehash
Carrying this forward into the education market; here's my thinking.
  • Don't focus on generating and selling leads to schools, focus on helping prospects choose one school over another
  • Syllabus week is a new way and better way to market master's degrees because this segment researches like crazy
Actually, that last point came to me driving to the CCA conference last week so it is a couple of days old.  

Monday, June 14, 2010

Notes from the Exhibit Hall

What did we learn walking up and down the aisles?

Last week at the "Career College Association" (CCA) conference in Vegas there was a lot of talk about the big three issues:
  1. Impending regulations for the inquiry (lead) environment.
  2. The risks posed by loan defaults; or the 'new subprime market'.
  3. The opportunities created by rising costs and decreasing quality.
A decade ago Clay Christensen wrote a piece on disrupting education arguing that the 500 year-old model would implode when several conditions existed.   The necessary conditions are:
  1. Technology that makes delivery and consumption simple and foolproof.
  2. Sufficient numbers of non or over-shot consumers to create momentum.
  3. A business model that changes the economic model and prevents incumbents from fighting back.
Based on the conversations at the booths of vendors, agencies and a few institutions, we might be close.  There was a sense that the current lead and delivery models may not be the best or only way of doing things.   While no established company openly abandoned their previous business, they were very interested in talking about the implications and the art of the possible.   And when established companies talk this way, changes are a coming.

Consider the following companies that are doing things just a bit differently:
  • StraighterLine - focuses on delivering education starting at $99 a month.  
  • Zinch - reverses the recruitment process by making high-school students the center of the universe.
  • Instructure - a learning management system that gives its product away to teachers.

Maybe our thoughts about comparing curriculum and faculty across schools in a 'syllabus week' isn't such a radical idea.   And the thought of an 'on-demand' education taking courses from a variety of institutions isn't such a wild idea. 

Prediction: Openness in education will lead to building your own program and degree.