They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I buy it, for the most part, especially when you think about it in terms of our new Lead Confidence Toolkit.
All of our lead management and compliance solutions have value in their own right. But when bundled together, the impact is far stronger, the cost is more effective, and the results are simply better.
Schools have looked to Datamark and our best-in-class partners for quite a while to help them reach higher quality leads and do so in a way that meets federal compliance standards. Our lead quality and compliance solutions, or “parts” if you will, do just that:
LeadBin scrubs leads on nearly 40 different parameters
Lead Audit, powered by LeadiD, tracks the history of a lead so you know how and where it was generated
Lead Verification, powered by Neustar®, eliminates leads that do not provide valid contact information
Lead Scoring determines how closely inquiries align with your ideal student base
Compliance Monitoring and Management, delivered via our partnership with PerformMatch™, detects potential regulatory violations, and then we work with lead vendors to resolve any issues
Now, for the first time ever, colleges and universities can leverage our “sum” – aka, our Lead Confidence Toolkit, which includes our lead quality and compliance tools. Simply put, it is a more comprehensive and cost effective way to safeguard online leads. We analyze up front your interactive media buy to determine the degree to which each of our tools will be most effective, and then we customize a solution just for you.
At Datamark, we are not in the business of selling our own leads. Rather it is a win-win to find the highest quality leads for you to market to. The sum of our parts produces far greater results for both of us, and greater is good.
Part one of Three: Response integration and attribution
Staying on top of the trends and happenings with regards to CPL and media is a key priority for us at Datamark. We’ve compiled a three-part series that feature observations which may be key to your future marketing plans as you look to attract the attention of a continually changing group of prospective students.
#1 Happening: Response integration / attribution the digital world.
Marketing attribution is the practice of determining the role that communication channels play in impacting and influencing the customer journey down the decision funnel.
82% of polled companies report using some form of attribution in the last 2 years. 28% report adding in the last 6-months.
Attribution techniques vary widely:
Last click is the most common (54%)
First click and custom weighting by channel score as the 2nd and 3rd most common way to credit the response.
Time decay model suggests the click closest to the conversion is valued most.
“Divide equally” attribution model that gives equal credit to all clicks in the conversion funnel.
Changes to channel investments resulting from attribution (% of marketers who will significantly increase or show some increase in spending) by channel as a result of their optimization efforts:
Paid Search – +60%
Online display, SEO, social and mobile – +50% -
Email – + 46%
Affiliate – +31%
TV / Radio – +29%
Direct Postal Mail – +19%
Source: 2012 Google Agency/ Corporate Attribution Study
Let us help you evolve your CPL and media strategies to more effectively reach students in a manner in which they not only prefer, but also one that drives results. Contact Scott Jager, Director of Business Development, for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-639-1657 to learn more about partnering with Datamark.
Having returned recently from LeadsCon, I can’t help but think back on the conversations our media team had with education marketers and how their challenges and opportunities translate into trends that we believe will impact the sector in the months and years ahead.
Based on what we heard, here are the trends we think are going to play out:
#1: EduPortals are investing much more aggressively in in-house generated original content. A handful of sites have become known and respected for their engaging content and high converting leads. We agree with those in the space that content is “king,” so, out with the “host and post” affiliate partners and in with original, robust editorial and video content.
#2 : EduPortals are still pushing call center products in two formats: Call verified and warm/hot transfer leads. We believe the industry is more receptive and willing to test warm/hot lead transfers when documentation and archeology of the lead can be provided. We are seeing call verified leads being used to fill in the gaps of lead flow and keep the call centers operating at peak capacity.
#3: Push for Cost per Click (CPC) campaigns: Some EduPortals have developed new CPC offerings. These vendors usually rely heavily on display, search, and email channels to stimulate and capture the interest of the respondent and present them with options. The billable occurrence happens upon clicking on a school’s listing. We realize that the neat thing about this CPC channel is the “broader net” of expanded reach of the potential pool of respondents.
#4: New and affordable Video and DR TV channels: TV, in all of its formats, still has a dominant share of advertising spending for all measured brands and product categories. We are starting to see new, more affordable ways to test “TV” and video that efficiently target higher education intenders. We believe the following channels are worth investigating: Google TV, Google and Yahoo Video Channels, Hulu, TVWeb 360, Televisionfanatic and hyper-local cable options.
#5: Attribution Solutions: Our industry is still driven to test, prove and verify media channels that show direct accountability to a cost per lead or enroll model. More higher education marketers are pushing to test attribution models that can determine the “halo” effect that traditional branding channels have on other media channels.
Other topics of interest among attendees included mixing in brand agnostic campaigns into current media plans and increasing interest in attracting and enrolling military personnel – two key topics on the minds of our customers and Datamark. It was another great year at LeadsCon, and we look forward to exploring these trends and topics on a deeper basis to test their validity.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)
One of the central tenets of any marketing plan is to increase brand awareness. You want potential buyers, or in the case of education, potential students, to be familiar with your brand and the value it possesses. Traditional wisdom states that the more closely your brand is identified with what you have to offer, the more of an advantage you will have in reaching your targeted market.
Proprietary schools spend substantial amounts of money building brand equity. As a for-profit alternative to traditional education, it’s seen as critically important to have a branded presence in the mind of education consumers. As more people have become familiar with for-profit schools, many of these brands have established equity within the general population. However, during the initial stages of reaching out to a potential student, how important is your brand?
I’ve spent the last seven years advertising on behalf of proprietary schools through interactive, pay-for-performance marketing. Recently, I joined Datamark to head up their new lead generation practice. The idea was simple – we would leverage our ability to generate direct mail campaigns, but do so in an entirely brand agnostic fashion in which we target students by program offering, such as online business degrees or Allied Health. We wouldn’t mention brands at all until a prospect contacted us, requesting information. That’s really nothing groundbreaking and no different from the campaigns I’ve run in the past, except in this instance we would use direct mail instead of online banners or search.
The Non-Branded Response Advantage
Here’s where it gets interesting: non-branded direct mail campaigns outperform traditional branded direct mail campaigns in terms of response, often times 4-to-1. In every instance, non-branded outreach has generated greater interest. Why would leading with a brand reduce response?
Our internal strategists do a tremendous job of targeting prospects who might be interested in improving their lives. We have a good idea of who might be interested in furthering their education, but we were surprised to see the disparity between branded and non-branded response. One of the factors in the non-branded advantage is curiosity. The prospect received an offer in the mail to learn more about educational opportunities in a given field. What are these educational opportunities? Branded campaigns are obviously trying to sell something, but non-branded campaigns are offering a chance to explore options. Some potential students will respond because they are curious and would like more information. This opens the door to more detailed conversations.
Another possible explanation for reduced response is brand aversion. Regardless of how you feel about your brand, there will be some prospects who aren’t interested in hearing from you, even if you offer exactly what they’re looking for. Sometimes this is due to brand saturation and at other times it is attributable to how the prospects see themselves. By leading with aspirations, the non-branded campaign can be more effective in generating leads and offer respite in geographies where your brand may have saturated the market, as well as generate conversations with prospects who might not normally consider your school.
All that being said, those two points cannot account for a 4X difference in response rate. So, what else might account for the increased response?
Who Responds to Non-Branded Advertising?
A non-branded campaign generates many of the same education-seekers as does a branded one, but there is an additional subset of prospect who respond. A branded campaign gives a definite means to an end. Your typical campaign talks about your school and there is a very clear path for a potential student to become an actual student. However, a non-branded campaign is more open-ended, with the path to becoming a student less defined in the prospect’s initial experience. This approach inherently entails less commitment from the potential student. A prospect that is hesitant to make a firm decision today might be amenable to a lesser commitment of learning more about their options. In essence, non-branded campaigns generate a subset of prospects that are in the browsing phase.
Many admissions professionals will say they are most interested in people who are proactively exploring their educational options, as these prospects are typically poised to matriculate through the admissions process. I wouldn’t argue with that logic. I would, however, highlight the increasing level of competition among schools for potential students, as well as the declining enrollments many schools are seeing, as the very reasons they should be interested in prospects from non-branded campaigns. The competitive advantage a non-branded approach offers is the ability to reach a potential student earlier in that student’s decision-making process. These prospects are just beginning to do their homework on what school is right for them. In fact, our campaign may very well have been the catalyst for their interest. When you reach a prospect that early in their decision making process, there will be little to no competition from other schools.
How do Non-Branded Campaigns Convert?
While generating conversations with four times as many interested prospects is likely appealing to you, the next logical question is: how do non-branded campaigns convert? The first month a campaign is live is slow in terms of starts and enrollments, as would be expected from a direct mail campaign. The contact rate is high due to the fact that our prospects go to the effort to mail a business reply card back to us, but they fall into a slightly longer conversion curve typical of direct mail. In months two and three of a campaign being live, we see an exponential jump in activity, with application rates climbing up to twelve percent. Again, the admissions curve is slightly protracted with prospects taking their time before making a decision. Campaigns are mature by months four and five and it is here that we see our non-branded campaigns outperforming the competition – especially in cost-per-start. Furthermore, data suggests a longer tail on these leads, with starts and enrollments continuing to flow in up to nine months after a mail drop. You will see many of the same kind of education seekers as you do in branded campaigns but the addition of the “exploratory prospects” will add to the top of your admissions funnel, continue to bolster enrollments, and drive down costs for nearly one full calendar year.
All of this suggests that running a combination of branded and non-branded campaigns will generate a larger pool of more diverse prospects that will fill your admissions funnel for the next three quarters. In geographic areas in which you feel you may have saturated the market with your brand, non-branded campaigns offer ‘brand respite’ while continuing to produce starts and enrollments. Your branded efforts will continue to generate enrollments but mixing in simple innovations, such as non-branded direct mail, is the next step for making your marketing efforts more effective.
Your school’s brand will always be the cornerstone of your marketing, and developing more equity in that brand should always be a priority. However, non-branded campaigns, when executed correctly, will augment your traditional lead generation, growing your admissions funnel and providing a fresh approach to finding new students.
For further information, contact Brian Abbey at email@example.com
As we come to the next part in our series on the changing landscape of CPL and EDU Portals, let’s talk about our second key finding from the group of CPL vendors who participated in our Media Days event.
As predicted, there has been a significant sorting out of the “bad” apples - those affiliates that are still trying to “cheat” the system by not playing by the rules of conventional wisdom of compliance. There are still enough other CPL options (personal finance, insurance, healthcare, fitness, etc.) that many of the questionable affiliates are willing to play the game of cat-and-mouse with their “downstream” aggregate partners. Obviously, questionable non-compliant messaging offering unrealistic degree outcomes, free tuition or grant money still “hook” the unsuspecting – if they are found out in the EDU space, they can always go to other categories to earn an easy buck.
Many of the “real” players that are committed to the EDU space have made every reasonable attempt to be compliant, at least in principle – they have their livelihoods at stake and they will do all that is necessary to protect their multi-million+ businesses!
There has been a definite move toward “one-strike and you are out of the game” for compliance violations of upstream affiliate partners. Many of the “long-term” players have dropped affiliate networks and have brought everything “in-house.”
By the way, we find it interesting that the media team has fielded dozens of inquiries from many of these “dirty” affiliates within the last 2-3 months who are making a last gasp effort to broker their EDU leads.
We hope you’ll join us next time where we’ll talk about our third key learning, the shift from quantity to quality.
The annual LeadsCon event hit Las Vegas recently and turned out an insightful crowd of people. I joined several of my Datamark colleagues for the event, and it again proved to be a productive opportunity to meet with clients and leaders in internet lead generation to discuss trends, innovation and regulatory change. Congratulations to Jay and Dave on yet another successful event.
Regulatory-driven change remains top-of-mind for education lead generators and consumers. I left encouraged by the good faith efforts that many of the largest suppliers are taking to assist schools in meeting new regulatory demands, but disappointed at the amount of unnecessary churn and wasted resources that the Education Department’s vague misrepresentation rule is creating not only for our school clients, but also for our vendor partners. Other takeaways:
Major .edu lead suppliers are forecasting declines of 15 percent in volume for the year, driven by reduced budgets and shifts of remaining budgets to other channels.
School responses to July 1 deadline varied widely. Lead vendors reported that a minority of schools had announced highly restrictive “zero tolerance” policies to address misrepresentation risk, significantly limiting lead purchases.
There is a continued shift toward call-verified/call-generated leads.
Demand continues to shift towards leads for programs with high completion rates.
I’ll close with my prediction on where this will all shake out as we approach July 1. I expect that we will begin to see a bifurcation in the market for online .edu leads. Generators and aggregators will become more willing to certify (on some level) leads generated from owned/controlled channels. The shift of school risk to the generators will put upward pressure on pricing for leads from these channels. Conversely, I expect continued resistance from lead generators to assuming risk for channels that they don’t fully control, notably affiliate networks and call-generated – even for their largest clients. Unless we see a significant drop in supply from affiliates decamping for other verticals, prices for these leads will likely drop as demand shrinks.
As we look to the future of the lead generation environment, we need to take into consideration both economic and regulatory drivers. To what extent will these factors, along with new technology, influence lead volume, lead cost and lead quality in the months and years to come?
We recently gathered 10 of our top lead vendors during our Fall Forum Media Days. It was an insightful meeting that produced the following key findings that I’d like to share:
The Education Marketing Council (EMC) Guidelines have been implemented as the compliance standard by all major Education Portals, who are treating these guidelines as minimum requirements for compliance with a “one strike and you are out” mentality.
Education Portal partners are willing to verify that leads are compliant, but it is in the best interest of the lead buyer to perform routine compliance checks as well.
Lead volume decreases are likely as non-compliant sources are ferreted out and eliminated.
Cost per lead (CPL) is likely to increase as Education Portals retool to replace lead volume from non-compliant sources.
The 90/10 funding ratio and Gainful Employment issues could drive demand of Bachelor, Masters, and Doctorate degrees, thus impacting historical CPL levels with increases especially likely for graduate leads.
As the industry migrates toward a more robust mix of Bachelor and Advanced degrees, there may be a greater availability of Certificate and Associate degree leads at favorable CPL levels.
As Education Portals search for alternate ways to generate leads, many partners will engage in the following tactics to supplement lost volume:
Ramp up Call Center qualification techniques, including Hot Transfer of leads
Improve lead verification processes
Shorten the duration of online college test drive courses
Enhance content on sites to drive SEO capabilities and response levels
Migrate to social sites including Facebook and LinkedIn