“Know your audience” is one of the most time-tested fundamentals of marketing, but with the rise of digital tools and analytics, the concept has evolved. Especially in terms of email marketing and automation, it is now possible to tailor messaging to meet not only the person, but to arrive at a specific, critical point in their journey. You might say it’s detail-driven marketing, aimed at providing the information a prospective student wants and needs at the right time. This marketing approach is often called “personalization and individualization.”
Why is it important to colleges? Since the college selection journey is relatively longer than most buying processes, including multiple stages for what will be a significant financial investment, college marketers need to be able to sustain prospective student interest over long periods of time. All the while, applied and accepted students will continue to be contacted by competing institutions, and students are apt to change their minds at any point along the way. These circumstances benefit from long-term lead nurturing, and personalization and individualization is an effective tool for that.
We talked with Collegis experts Greg Miller, marketing automation manager, and Monica Koran, automation supervisor, to learn more about why personalization and individualization is an important tool for higher ed marketing, and how it can be used.
What exactly is personalization and individualization? Are they used together? Separately?
Greg Miller: Personalization and individualization are often confused with other terms or outdated experiences, but in today’s world they are one and the same. Both are the process of giving the user a unique experience that is targeted only to them in some way. This can be done by segmenting within many different categories such as by gender, geography or major of interest.
Why should colleges adopt personalization and individualization as an enrollment marketing tool?
Monica Koran: Personalization and individualization-based messaging can make the decision process easier for the student and help sway them toward conversion in a way that bulk communications cannot. It can help with lead nurturing and be used to convey to the student that they are valued as an individual.
What is an example of how personalization works in marketing today?
Greg Miller: As we collect more and more data on our users, we are able to provide a unique communication experience that is seemingly tailored to an individual prospective student.
For example, a college can use personalized messaging to connect with a student at multiple points along the college selection journey. There are opportunities to personalize messaging at each stage, for instance:
- welcoming the student’s initial inquiry
- beginning the application process
- completing a financial deposit
- inviting the student to attend orientation
Where should the data come from? Or, what is the preferred source of data for a higher ed enrollment marketing campaign?
Monica Koran: Data gleaned from how a student has interacted within an email and/or the college’s website is extremely useful. This, along with geographic and other data that helps define who the student is, helps us deliver more targeted messaging.
Another high-value source of data is the customer relationship management (CRM) system. Not all CRMs are created equal. They need to be able to integrate the data captured into other platforms or reporting systems in order to form a more complete picture of what’s going on among prospective students. But if a college has robust CRM with data analytics and reporting capabilities, it can be the key to understanding which marketing efforts are effective and what to do next.
Greg Miller: With the powerful data capture, analytics, and messaging tools available within automation, you do not want to fall short and be unable to bridge that communication back to your sales team. That is a missed opportunity.
Can personalization and individualization only be done with email marketing?
Monica Koran: Not at all! There are all kinds of opportunities. Email marketing is only one channel that you can build dynamic experiences within. There is an opportunity to build out a multi-touch communication experience across multiple channels including email, text, social, direct mail, etc.
Marketers often talk about the “Amazon experience,” referring to how fast, simple and accurate it is to shop on Amazon.com. Should colleges try to be as detailed as Amazon? Can they be that detailed?
Greg Miller: Colleges need to start trying to be as detailed as Amazon. I say trying because it is not going to happen overnight. But, if you are not attempting to become fairly robust with your tech stack, then you have already missed some opportunity. Colleges should know that wherever they are is the entry point; they don’t have to have all the bells and whistles to get started. Once the first step is taken, everyone on the team naturally begins to learn and become more comfortable with it.
If you were planning an email campaign for the next recruitment season, what key moments do you think would be most important to address in the college selection journey?
Monica Koran: It depends on the type of institution. If we were doing a recommendation for a campaign aimed at traditional prospective students, I would encourage the institution to build a robust email campaign that incorporates personalized dynamic messaging that speaks to each student persona.
I would map out what are seen as pivotal moments during a high school student’s senior year and speak to those moments. A healthy blend of seasonal, brand and personal messaging would create a strong communication path.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to look into student engagement within those communication paths, i.e., if the student is engaging with the campaign and website, perhaps increase the communication and build in real-time alerts to the college about this student. Finally, keep in mind the potential to collaborate with social networks.
A Boost for Long-Term Lead Nurturing
Personalization and Individualization can help ensure that a college connects with prospective students at the right time, with the right message, in the right place. This tool could be well applied as a way to reduce summer melt, and is becoming a tool of choice for many other types of marketing campaigns.