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How to Market an Online Graduate Program: Longer-Term Strategies for Sustainable Growth
[00:00:00] Zach Busekrus: Welcome to How To Market an Online Graduate program, a special four-part podcast series brought to you by Enroll and our friends at Archer Education. Over the course of this series, we'll unpack everything you need to know to properly design a go-to-market strategy for your new online grad program, and we'll also talk about what the first few years of marketing and growing your program should look like.
[00:00:22] We'll dive deep into where, when, and how to use paid search and paid social effectively. How you should think through appropriately balancing paid and organic efforts in years one and two versus years three and four. We'll talk about what positioning strategies you should test out. We'll also talk about how to properly leverage the personal brands of your faculty and staff members and so much more.
[00:00:43] This series is made possible thanks to our friends at Archer. Archer is an education technology company. Dedicated to personalizing student recruitment. If you wanna learn more about how Archer might be able to help your institution get more bang for your marketing and admissions buck, head on over to archer [00:01:00] edu.com and tell them that your friends at RFI sent you their way.
[00:01:03] Without further ado, welcome to this special series, how to Market an Online Grad Program.
[00:01:19] In episode four of How to Market an online graduate program, you'll meet Ray Martinez, vice President of s e o, and Nikki Sandberg, senior Director of Creative and Content at Archer Education. In this episode, Ray Nikki and I discuss how schools can ensure continuous program improvement and innovation beyond the initial three-year marketing period, how schools should evaluate their marketing strategy in relation to current market trends and competition.
[00:01:41] How schools can leverage the data accumulated over the last three years to inform other program growth strategies. And some hot takes on leveraging faculty for alumni engagement and student recruitment. For more information on this series and Archer Education, be sure to check out the show notes below.
[00:01:59] But without [00:02:00] further ado, welcome to episode four of How to Market an Online Graduate Program.
[00:02:09] All right, Ray and Nikki, we are, we are live. This is the fourth episode of this special four-part series that Enroll and Archer have teamed up on, on how to market an online grad program. So if you are just tuning in to this series, There are three episodes that come before this one, which you can find in the show notes below.
[00:02:32] Each episode can absolutely stand on its own, but it's a little bit more fun to binge the content. So if you are just tuning into episode four, you might wanna pause, scroll down to the show notes and take a listen to episodes one through three. And that said, if you have listened to episodes one through three, welcome to episode four.
[00:02:51] We are in for an exciting conversation today with Mickey and Ray. All around what to do after those first few [00:03:00] years that you get a new program off the ground. How do you keep the marketing momentum going? How do you ensure that you're pouring fuel on the places that make the most sense given sort of the focus of the program and given what you've learned over the last several years of building and then marketing your, your grad program.
[00:03:18] So I wanna kick off guys with talking a little bit about how schools can. Ensure continuous program improvement and, and innovation beyond sort of that initial three year marketing period. So, Nikki, if I'm gonna put you on the spot, if you don't mind, and I, I want to hear just some off the cuff thoughts.
[00:03:37] Once a program has been out in the wild, so to speak, for a few years, we've all learned a little bit about. Who the program is great for how to effectively market that program. What are some things that we should be aware of and or what are some considerations that folks should keep in mind as they think a little bit more longer term about continuing to market and promote the program?
[00:03:58] Nici Sandberg: great question, and this is something that [00:04:00] all universities, institutions of higher ed should be thinking about. I mean, it's fun to launch new programs and get started and you get to. Learn a lot in those early days, but then what do you do, you know, after you've been going for a little while? And so one thing that I am passionate about is on the content side and really student and faculty and alumni profiles, and I think those are a great way to keep your audience engaged and to use the information that you have.
[00:04:30] Obtained over the years. So as you've been in market for a couple of years, you've been, your program has been live, you have students, you have graduates, talk to them. Yeah. What are they saying? What are they interested in? What do they wanna see? And then use that content. So you've had graduates, what was their experience like?
[00:04:50] What has their success been like? What were their outcomes? How can you use their stories to amplify what you are trying to tell at a higher level [00:05:00] as a university? So I think that those are some important ways to do that. And you'll probably hear me talk about student profiles, alumni profiles quite a bit, because I think those are so important because there's so much you can do with them.
[00:05:12] Yeah. Authenticity there, right? You are hearing directly from the people who you want in your programs, the people who have been successful, and then how can you use what their words in other places. You can put them on your website, you can put them in your social media. There's so many things you can do there, and I think.
[00:05:32] That's something that a lot of universities should focus on Yeah. As they are in those post-launch
[00:05:39] Zach Busekrus: phase. Yeah. I, I, I couldn't agree with you more there. And one of the, one of the funny things is that folks spend so much time and money and resources attracting students. Spend a lot of time and money and resources keeping them engaged in the, in a respective program.
[00:05:57] And then once they graduate, [00:06:00] we kind of forget about them until we ask them for money. Right? And so it it, but what's so funny about this is like, If way more time and attention was spent on gathering these stories and not just like clipping, like a quick little excerpt, like a one-liner, right, that you do throw on social.
[00:06:16] While that's absolutely important, there's so much more value to be garnered in, like longer form content with, with students, right? With, with, with graduates. Like what would it look like to have a little podcast series even right where you're interviewing 10 people who went through the program who all look a little bit different and like where they're at now.
[00:06:34] Right. Uh, imagine being able to offer that as a content asset for a, a, a new prospective student. Ray, Ray, I wanna get you in here too, uh, and any sort of thoughts here. Uh, you're obviously, uh, an expert with all things ss e o and, uh, obviously. Great content is an important pillar with respect to s e o, but in this, as a program gets a little bit more mature and has, you know, survived those first few [00:07:00] years, what are some strategies and tactics that folks should be really paying attention to as the program gets into more of like that, that scale phase?
[00:07:08] You know, I think Nikki alluded to some really great. You
[00:07:11] Ray Martinez: know, points there and, and you know, when you're introducing new types of content, specifically, like student profiles, faculty profiles, those are great. But I think en encompassing the larger plan, it's like, okay, if, if we've been doing what we're supposed to be doing years one through three, we've built up a nice repository of content, right?
[00:07:28] And let's understand what's in that content. 'cause sometimes we might, you know, build out content. Around individual pieces of curriculum for a school, right? And let's say a particular faculty member leaves, or, you know, that that course changes its offerings or the way it's structured. Those things may not be true.
[00:07:44] So I, I think, you know, in year three, it's really getting back to let's, you know, we have, we've built this momentum, let's audit, let's make sure that we're driving efficiency here. Let's find ways to test things and expand from a content standpoint, whether that be through like faculty or student alumni [00:08:00] profiles or, you know, expanding, you know, via content
[00:08:03] Zach Busekrus: hubs that
[00:08:04] Ray Martinez: we haven't thought about or, or touched yet.
[00:08:06] Like, you know, looking at, you know, what are other, for example, if we have like an M P H program looking about, you know, what, what's the offerings in public health? And we see a shift building up, you know, Constant silos around that shift. Right. So I, I, I think it's always just constantly looking for improvements around your program to best highlight and position the actual
[00:08:28] Zach Busekrus: r o i
[00:08:28] Ray Martinez: and outcomes
[00:08:30] Zach Busekrus: driven by that program.
[00:08:32] Yeah, that's a, that's a really good point. And you know, I, one of the first things that comes to mind too, is, In this, you know, year four, if you will, if you've got three years of, of, of marketing under, under your belt for this prospective program. Now, now you have hopefully the, the foundation to, to take a little bit of like risk, right?
[00:08:49] And like, hey, what does it look like to experiment a little bit in, in different channels, right? What does it look like to experiment with different mediums, but what does it look like to, to experiment with [00:09:00] different, different stories, right? And, and formats, formats of those stories. So hopefully, right, you've, you've at least done the work to ensure that you've got some.
[00:09:07] Core pathways set up that if, if by chance you have a reel that pops off and, and goes viral, that you have some pathways, right? To ensure that you can capture that new attention, that, that you're suddenly given and, and now you have the opportunity to actually play around a little bit and try new things.
[00:09:25] Nikki, uh, I'm curious. One of, one of the things that can happen at this juncture too, is folks at the leadership table, right, want to expand, right? They wanna expand the program. You wanna expand sort of the personas of the program. Maybe you spent the first few years really dialing into like that key persona, but now you've got a new faculty member, right?
[00:09:45] That's teaching a couple courses and or the, what you've realized along the way is that while this program is really good for this particular group, it's also. A really great fit for groups, you know, uh, y and z and what would it look like to [00:10:00] begin testing out some campaigns to assess interest from those groups?
[00:10:03] So what, what are some thoughts that you have from a creative standpoint, from a content standpoint, on how folks should think about expanding the audience for this program? Should that become an an institutional priority?
[00:10:19] Nici Sandberg: Yeah, I think it can and should, especially after you've looked at your last few years and where you've seen success and where you think there's some opportunity to do something different.
[00:10:30] So much of this is going to be looking at the information that you have gathered over the last few years, and that will give you some indication of where you might have smaller pockets, where you could grow those areas. Yeah. So you may have one or two. Students in a particular industry or in a particular geo, and that tells you that there could be a little bit more opportunity there in that industry or geo.
[00:10:58] So thinking about things like [00:11:00] that, looking at the data you have, looking at the students that you have come into the program, what is that telling you? Are there some opportunities there? And I think also looking at one thing that I think is. Helpful and interesting that maybe not all universities want to do.
[00:11:18] So hopefully this isn't too controversial, but understanding what your region's needs are. What are the key employers? In your region looking for where are the skills gaps from the graduates that are coming out? Um, what should the universities be looking at and focusing on to help in the job market? And universities are more than obviously, uh, trying to get people jobs, but that is an important part of what they do.
[00:11:47] And students today are very savvy. They know that there are. Some programs that have better employment rates and better job outcomes than others, and they're knowledgeable of those things, that information is out there. So I [00:12:00] think if universities can get ahead of that a little bit, talk to the major employers in their region, and even if you are talking about an online program Yeah.
[00:12:08] Or adult learning. I think most of the research shows that people are still coming to a campus that's within 100 miles or so. Of, of their location, partly because of brand recognition and things like that, it's, they wanna be close to the campus just in case they need to go there for some reason. So I think there's still some benefit to looking at the geo there to say what will help support our community.
[00:12:36] Zach Busekrus: If you work in student recruitment, you are in the market for eyeball time. You're not just competing with other institutions, you're competing with every other brand that's in the market for views, clicks, and conversions from your target audience. Getting attention is hard enough, so once you have it, You've gotta do everything that you can to harness it and to keep it.
[00:12:55] And that's what our friends at Archer Education helped schools do so dang well. [00:13:00] Archer is pioneering a new era in personalized student recruitment through its story-driven and technology enabled approach that's designed to support the entire enrollment process. If you wanna learn more about how Archer might be able to help your institution get more bang for your marketing and admissions, Buck, head on over to archer edu.com and tell them that your friends at RFI sent you their way.
[00:13:22] Again, that's archer edu.com.
[00:13:28] Yeah, I think that's a, an incredibly keen insight and something that we've talked about throughout this series too. Is that data that you're referencing that Yeah, I think it's like. 60 to a hundred miles for online, even, even though it's an online grad program that, that you're marketing, that's where you wanna spend most of your ad dollars.
[00:13:43] Ray, I'd love for for you to jump in here too. I, I think a, a big reason for that, Ray, as you just highlighted, Nikki, is because of brand recognition and the reality is that brand, institutional brand tends to matter for online grad programs, whether we like it or not. It, it is a factor, especially when you're, uh, targeting a more regional [00:14:00] audience.
[00:14:01] Ray, this brings up a kind of a good question around. Kinda like the balance of spend and, and attention that should be spent between continuing to nurture and reengage existing audiences and also thinking about audience expansion. What are, what are some thoughts based off of your experience with clients and at at Archer around how to address this dynamic of.
[00:14:24] Should there be a major shift in span after the program's been live for a few years? Is this the time to kind of like, get, you know, really creative and just start spending in other kind of secondary and tertiary markets that we have otherwise haven't been able to spend in? Or how do you think about sort of advising folks who've got a little bit of traction but there, you know, just getting into skill mode as to where they should spend their time and money?
[00:14:50] I, I, I think
[00:14:50] Ray Martinez: it's, it's examining, right? Like taking a look at each individual channel's performance, historically. Right? Right. Understanding where the return is. [00:15:00] Normally on a, on an organic, you know, per performance level, we will normally see like a higher lead to enrollment higher. To enrollment rate than other channels, but it's understanding that BL blended, right, and then putting them together and then looking at, hey, what does conversion
[00:15:17] Zach Busekrus: across the school
[00:15:18] Ray Martinez: look like?
[00:15:18] Looking at in internal data, I've just looked at like across a bunch of schools and I did this exercise for clients to say, Hey, I'm gonna give you an average of ballpark, and we were, you know, in that 15 to 20% range, right? Yeah. From an all sources conversion standpoint. And I think understanding, you know, how are we converting overall and then how are the individual channels converting that, that's gonna give you that guidance as where you should reinvest, right?
[00:15:43] And then, then you can like dive into those channel strategies, like specifically on the organic side, you know, that's where you get into like, okay. Now let's do some auditing to understand where our gaps are and let's fill those gaps and, and that'll help you plan out more of that investment. Or, for example, on the [00:16:00] paid side, you know, you see performance on a particular, you know, subset of ads because you're, you're, you're bidding strategy is on a, you know, Particular
[00:16:08] Zach Busekrus: subset of
[00:16:09] Ray Martinez: program related keywords that are exact match.
[00:16:12] Right. And it might be time now because we've tapped out the bottom of the funnel though, to open up and expand that to more of a top of funnel approach or, or moving out. So I think there are lots of ways that we can take a look. I think it's just. Showing what the, the channel performance dictates and getting pretty granular in there, right?
[00:16:29] And then let's it, it's also taking those numbers and saying, okay, let's rectify this to our internal, like universal, like our Google analytics account or whatever analytics that we're tracking from a user perspective to understand where the growth lies. And we can create a model from all that data to say, Hey, here's where I want to go.
[00:16:48] So now what actions do we need to take to get there? And I think that that's, you know, a big piece where I see a lot of schools, schools that are really, you know, data oriented and, and, you know, have high data [00:17:00] integrity. They do this really well of forecasting here's what our next set of enrollment goals look like.
[00:17:06] Zach Busekrus: And I, and I
[00:17:06] Ray Martinez: think it's, it's constantly looking at those, all right, now, you know, we're in year three, you know, if we did what we needed to do in year one, two, and three, we set our projections for those years. Let's go back and measure against that. Right. Let's, where are we all. Understand what those gaps are.
[00:17:22] Understand, you know, oh, we saw a drop in keyword rankings here, or we saw a drop in traffic here and this was an algorithmic update, so this is a great indicator that we may need to fix x, y, Z on the site. Right? I, I think it's marrying those two things to tell a really unique story. Nikki, do you, what do you think of this?
[00:17:42] Like, you, any, anything I'm missing out there?
[00:17:45] Nici Sandberg: No, I think you're definitely right. And this is something I was thinking is we're talking about data and you were just talking about analytics such an important piece. So I think when we're talking about areas to consider, areas in which to grow, [00:18:00] I think analytics is a piece of that, and Ray and I are not necessarily analytics experts, but we both enjoy diving into our different areas and seeing what those analytics say.
[00:18:10] And I know that it may not always make sense, especially for, say, a smaller program or institution to have an analytics expert full-time on staff, but maybe investing in some training for a marketing specialist on your team or somebody who can help you. Look at all that data, understand where those gaps are to raise point.
[00:18:31] What can we do better? Because if you don't know what's happening, yeah, you can't choose where to reinvest. You can't choose what to do next. And then the only thing I should have added, I think when I was initially asking or answering the question you asked Zach, and that I thought was, you kind of alluded to it, is once you get, after those first couple of years, that's when you can.
[00:18:54] Get a little crazy, do some experiments, have some fun. Yeah, test some things. What did you [00:19:00] not do in your first year or two because you were being cautious and wanted to make sure that you were just capturing I. The demand that was already there, but now it's time to actually generate some demand. What do you do for that?
[00:19:12] And how can you start to, to do something a little different and have a little fun? Maybe as long as you have some, some freedom and some support in your marketing department, but thinking about some different things that you can try that you didn't do in those early days.
[00:19:26] Zach Busekrus: Yeah, that's a such a fantastic segue.
[00:19:28] Oh, did you wanna add something to that Ray? Yeah, go ahead. I, I did because I think, I think, I think it's
[00:19:32] Ray Martinez: pretty interesting because I think a big piece of this too,
[00:19:35] Zach Busekrus: I think where I
[00:19:36] Ray Martinez: see a lot of partners have a
[00:19:37] Zach Busekrus: stru have struggles is they get to year three and they're like, I have this analytics built, but they didn't keep up to date with things.
[00:19:44] Ray Martinez: So tags broke. So tracking isn't reliable. So it goes back to that data integrity question. It's like when a partner has great data integrity, it's great. Like we can do a lot. But when it, when we're trying to pull data together, I think it makes it more challenging and internally for like, from an [00:20:00] institutional standpoint, like then you really have no foresight into what is actual r o i and what, what these are, these efforts really paying dividends.
[00:20:08] Yeah. So yeah, I mean I especially like thinking about recent shifts, like July 1st, we just. Flip the switch on Google Analytics. Four. Yep. Um, which is a, a totally different user experience than Google Analytics. Three. For those who haven't went in there, I recommend you do so right away, because that means that Google's just automatically updated your tag.
[00:20:28] And there are a lot of things that you gotta go in there and do out, out of the box to make sure that you're tracking the right things. Because if you don't, it's gonna really be hard to compare data from previous periods to what you're looking at now.
[00:20:40] Zach Busekrus: Yeah, yeah. Which is an incredibly important thing to have in order as you, as you think about like developing the models that you were referencing earlier, Ray.
[00:20:49] Right. And, and as you think about sort of your strategy for the next few years, If in three years from now you can't go back and understand, hey, it's the program's been live for six years now, what have we learned? [00:21:00] Right? And if you can't go back and reference that historical data, a lot of people are gonna be really frustrated in that boardroom, right?
[00:21:07] Sitting around that conference table trying to figure out what to do when, if you just take some time now to fix this, uh, you're setting yourself up for, for great success later on this whole. I idea right around being able to kind of test new things and experiment is, is a really like great segue into my next question for, for you, Nikki is around a lot of the times content, right?
[00:21:28] The content creation is hard, right? It, it takes time. A lot of people don't like doing it. We sort of resist it. Everyone wants the. Silver bullet kind of approach, and we wanna be able to do one thing once or write that one blog post and have that one blog post, like live, like, and be enough for 10 years.
[00:21:46] And the reality of the situation is that the way that attention works, the way that content cycles, the way that all these algorithmics play, you really, if you, if you want to do content marketing at all, you sort of have to do it all the time and, and do it very strategically all the [00:22:00] time. So, It after a few years, right?
[00:22:03] Of, of, maybe at first you don't have the budget. You can't bring on like a writer. You can't, you, you, you only have, you don't have any students to interview, right? Because you don't have anyone, students in the program yet. Now, now you're at a juncture where you actually, hopefully do have some time, a little bit more knowledge about where things are going, a better understanding of your target market, and also some, some current students and also some, some, some alumni.
[00:22:26] How do you think sort of. Content plays, uh, at this juncture, what are some specific things that you see folks doing well with respect to kind of creating content? Are there content types that you think are worth exploring at this juncture that might have been ignored earlier on? And if so, what might that look like?
[00:22:47] Nici Sandberg: Q and I are gonna become best friends from this podcast. I just love that you're talking about content, the way that you're talking about it. But content is an always on. Approach as SS e o is too, [00:23:00] which Ray can certainly speak to, but from day one you should be publishing content. I mean, I know that's might be hard to hear.
[00:23:08] And then the question is, what are you publishing? Right? To your point, you don't have students yet. You don't have graduates yet. You do have faculty. Hmm. So you could certainly have some faculty content. But beyond that, what are the topics that your potential or prospective students might be interested in hearing about and write to that.
[00:23:26] And yes, you may not have the budget yet for a full-time writer on staff, but you can start small and have freelancers. There's lots of freelance writers out there who have experience writing for higher ed in these types of topics. I know I've worked with. Probably a hundred or so at this point in my career over the years.
[00:23:45] So they're out there and you know, use those resources that are available to you even if it's in small doses. To get started, what are the, again, the topics that people would be interested to hear about that you are knowledgeable about as an [00:24:00] institution of higher learning? So, This could be a variety of different topics.
[00:24:05] Yeah, it could be about the degree, it could be about the industry. If you're a nursing program, what is happening in nursing? There's lots happening in nursing. Of course, there's entire industry publications for the industry. What are they talking about and how can you put a fresh perspective on that? As a university, as a nursing school, there's a lot of resources out there that you can use to put and then put your spin on it.
[00:24:34] I would say also that some institutions of higher learning do not know exactly what content might be, and so if I can, I'll just give a very quick. Explanation or overview of what that could be, please. Because yeah, sometimes we'll work with universities and they're gonna start doing content with us and at Archer and they say, oh, we're already doing content, and it's gonna be something like a press release [00:25:00] or.
[00:25:01] Maybe a, an article about a new program or new faculty member or an event that happened on campus. And that's fine. Yeah. But there's so much more that you can do beyond that. That's more of a general interest. That's going to, again, that demand generation piece. Again, talking about what are these degree programs, why are they helpful?
[00:25:22] What are, what are you going to learn in them? Industry trends. So your article, your blog post might just be, Five jobs that you can do with A B S N instead of an rn. Yeah, and I'm gonna keep using nursing 'cause I, I work on that one a lot. But there's so many different potential topics. And again, I say this, I've worked on.
[00:25:42] Literally thousands of pieces of content over the years, and there's plenty of topics to talk about it. It can be daunting to get started, but I think you find maybe a freelancer to tell 'em some topics you're interested in. Do your research on what those topics should be. [00:26:00] What is happening in the industry, what can your faculty speak to, what can you speak to as the university, because you're already a subject matter expert in that regard.
[00:26:10] Zach Busekrus: so use that. Yeah, so well said. Ray, would you just, would you add anything to, to what Nikki's sharing right now? I, I, I think the
[00:26:20] Ray Martinez: main thing is, yeah, I, it, it's, it's finding new areas, right? I think that thought leadership piece that Nikki alluded to, it's never ending, right? Yeah. Like content is always, even your existing content, it's going back, pruning it, making sure it's up to date, it's not stale.
[00:26:33] Making sure your program page is the best, most accurate reflection of your program. These are the types of things, content updates that I, I think are really vital. And set apart programs that consistently perform well and consistently drive traffic, it's because, you know, they, they're taking this level of care from a content perspective.
[00:26:55] I think it, it, you know, it can be challenging, especially, you know, when, when programs are [00:27:00] responsible for their own content or copywriting. Yeah. And that, you know, so you then you have a faculty member who's now has to write web copy, which may not be. They, they're, they're strongest a strength for them, right?
[00:27:12] Yeah. Yeah. And I don't, you know, I, I think, you know, so it's, it's challenging. So making sure that, you know, at least from like a build standpoint, making sure you have templates, making sure that your, your staff is trained on best practices around, hey, how to public, you know, year three, it's like, to me, At a university.
[00:27:31] You know, when I think internally and think back to my own time, it's like that means there's new staff that we're gonna have to train on, on policies, procedures, and constantly just be focusing on those little things to make sure that we're being consistent and we're, and we're putting the best foot forward each day.
[00:27:47] Yeah. But yeah, I, I think you already see the struggles. You know, Zach, I'll ask you what, what do you think of some like,
[00:27:53] Zach Busekrus: top level university content out there? Yeah. I mean, I, I think that. [00:28:00] There are some great brand videos that come to mind, right? You see, like, I think of like, I think of Purdue as sort of a, a flagship brand that's done a really great job at, at investing in content.
[00:28:10] Now they're a large public institution that has a national brand and, and whatnot. And so they, they have a lot of things that a lot of the folks who are listening to this conversation probably don't have. Right. And, and might never have in, in their respective context. But I do think what. When I think about marketing more holistically, and you look at marketing across other industries, there's been this major shift in just focusing on sort of like new customer acquisition to sort of like customer experience and customer success, meaning I.
[00:28:42] I think brands have realized, hey, if we really, really, really double down and excel on great customer experience, and if we put that like on this like pedestal and then we make that the most important thing, then we're actually helping all other areas of the business. Because what ends up happening is.
[00:28:59] You [00:29:00] set the stage for kind of like word of mouth referrals, which are the best word of, you know, the best sort of acquisition channel. Everybody wishes, everybody wants you to tell, somebody wants you to tell a friend about something that you know they're offering. And if you can set the stage and optimize for that, I think in, in, in, in large part, a lot of the other areas of the business get, get taken care of and I think we're just starting to see.
[00:29:23] Experience officers kind of coming into higher ed. It, it's very, it's few and far between, but we are seeing like a little bit of this, and I think that should be a signal to, to everyone that, hey, if we, like you were saying earlier, Nikki, if we really invest in taking the time to talk to our students and we really develop a strong network with them and a strong relationship with them, and I actually think that this is.
[00:29:47] Quite frankly, a lot easier to do at the program level. So if you are, if you have launched a new online program, right, you don't worry, don't, don't just immediately think it's advancement's job after these students make it, make their way through the program to [00:30:00] just kind of take care of them. Like you're, you know, you've checked, you checked the box, you got them to enrollment check.
[00:30:04] I think the best programs out there, the ones that really do care about growth, and not just growth in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality, right? They care a crap ton about their relationships with their students because they know that if, if we do this, if we nail this acquiring the next class, the next cohort is going to be significantly easier and significantly better.
[00:30:27] So again, it's more of a long. Play, but I don't think anyone gets into higher ed or gets into launching a new program thinking this is only gonna be around for a couple years. Right. The intention of launching a program, first of all, it just takes a ton of time. Once it's launched, your hope is that it's around for a while, which means your approach to student.
[00:30:45] Interactions to student engagement, which ultimately, you know, circles back to, to the recruitment of the next class. That should also, you should also have sort of a long-term approach when setting those things up properly. Yeah, no, I,
[00:30:57] Ray Martinez: I think that's, I think that's great. I, I mean, it, it. [00:31:00] Like anecdotally, like when I tell a younger family member right about college, you know, I tell 'em, I'm like, you know, don't just look at, okay, yes, there's the curriculum, which is very important.
[00:31:10] Learning, you know, different subjects that are gonna help, you know, make, make up a holistic degree, you know, degree for you. Those are, that's important, but your network, the people you're gonna be around. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:31:23] Zach Busekrus: The people you, you're
[00:31:23] Ray Martinez: gonna be able to access to after you've graduated The level of support and care for alumni, I, those are all things that, you know, I think, you know, I recommend my own family members to look at when they're looking at a, you know, a higher education institution, because those are gonna, those are the things that you know, Adds that value to that piece of paper
[00:31:44] Zach Busekrus: hanging on your wall.
[00:31:45] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:31:46] Nici Sandberg: The, almost the connection piece, which I think people do want, and Zach, I think what you were saying makes a lot of sense there because it's, you are putting a lot of yourself and your time and your money [00:32:00] and everything into. A college program as a student and you don't wanna be forgotten or just handed off like you were saying, to advancement at the end of the experience.
[00:32:12] Right? Like there is a, a sense of closure with a graduation or a completion of the program, but you still wanna be connected to that alumni network. You still want that. I think a lot of people do, and you as the marketers hate it sounds. Aggressive but capitalize on this, right? Yeah. You want the same things.
[00:32:32] The, the student wants the connection. The institution wants that connection as well because it helps support, to your point, the advancement piece, but also the network, the
[00:32:43] Zach Busekrus: brand. I wonder what it would be like to find a way to, you know, have faculty spend. 10 to 20% of their time nurturing relationships with former students like alumni.
[00:32:52] Like what would it look like to set up, and this is really hard to do and faculty can be difficult to work with, but find a few all stars [00:33:00] and what does it look like to even like work into and may, maybe it's actually easiest to do this with like adjunct right to start with, but like work it into their contract.
[00:33:07] Like, Hey, we want 10 to 15% of your time to be spent nurturing relationships with. People that have graduated from the program already, what would that look like in, in terms of like, you know, fostering a culture where there is this, like there is ongoing brand affinity being accumulated between people that have left right.
[00:33:26] Your, your program and, and the program itself. And I know that there are instances where some of this, some, sometimes this happens already, but like, From a contractual standpoint, like what would it look like to be able to do something that aggressive? And again, it helps with recruitment and like these things are so interconnected and yet we have historically thought of them as as siloed efforts.
[00:33:45] I think increasingly people are aware that they're all interconnected, but what does it look like to be beyond being aware that they're interconnected, actually take steps to actualize real progress across these strategic divisions.
[00:33:59] Nici Sandberg: That [00:34:00] is very interesting and very innovative. Yes, you would have to be at a school that was looking to do something very different.
[00:34:07] But there is sort of some precedent for this, which is in publishing and at my previous company I worked with several academics and I know that they had a certain amount of publishing or research that was required. For them as a tenured faculty member. As a faculty member, adjuncts have slightly different, you know, requirements.
[00:34:30] Right. But if you have already in some of your requirements, yeah, you could make some of that student outreach or alumni network building. There's certainly some ways you could do that, and I think that's a really interesting idea that would potentially give. Institutions that are maybe a little smaller or more nimble and maybe not as hung up on traditional or, I hate to say antiquated.
[00:34:58] Yeah. But more [00:35:00] traditional ways of doing things that are looking to be a little bit different. If you're say in a university that I know of one that we're talking with that's thinking about going to all online, you mentioned Purdue and they have a very strong online brand. If you are. Willing to be a little different and to try something different.
[00:35:18] I think you could look at that. As an option. Yeah. To maybe take a little bit of that publishing or research piece off of your faculty and say, we're shifting to meet the needs of today's student. They might be more interested in that commu sense of community and networking than they are about published research.
[00:35:37] There's still a place for that. I don't wanna talk about research.
[00:35:39] Zach Busekrus: No. Evaluat. No, I I think you are absolutely onto something, Nikki. And I really do think there are many, there's more than a couple institutions who need. To test this playbook because if they don't like the old playbook is they know where that leads.
[00:35:53] I mean, we're seeing mergers and closures like nobody's business. Yeah. And we're gonna keep seeing that. So like, unless [00:36:00] again, you are a name brand institution, of course you don't have to do these things. Right. But most people, again, most of our listeners are not working in contexts where that is necessarily true.
[00:36:11] Even at the regional level, they might be second or third tier. Right. So, I, I, if that is you, right. What does you sort of have to be aggressive and innovative in taking different approaches to marketing and, and, and quite frankly, student engagement, because that has to become your unique value offer. I'd, I'd like to hop in here because I think
[00:36:28] Ray Martinez: to, right, because in my mind I want to yell out hot take,
[00:36:32] Zach Busekrus: right?
[00:36:32] Like Right. You know. Full disclosure,
[00:36:37] Ray Martinez: like I, I understand the role of an adjunct, right? And I think part of it is, you know, looking through the lens of an as an adjunct, because I am an adjunct lecturer myself, right? Ah, look at that. So I think, you know, the challenges and the resources allotted for adjuncts makes it a bit difficult, but right.
[00:36:56] I don't think there's a need to really contractualize it. I think [00:37:00] what that's indicative of to me is that we're not doing it right already. Because there is definitely one faculty member
[00:37:07] Zach Busekrus: that does this so well that
[00:37:10] Ray Martinez: has gets birthday cards from students every
[00:37:13] Zach Busekrus: year. Yeah. And we
[00:37:16] Ray Martinez: haven't asked them the questions on how they build those connections, why they build those connections.
[00:37:20] Yeah. What are the methods and that they use to keep
[00:37:23] Zach Busekrus: in contact. You know,
[00:37:27] Ray Martinez: are they appearing at like alumni gatherings? You know, a group of them invited me out to a, and we do that once a right. I think those types of questions need to be answered first, and I. Internalized training. Right. And making that a central mission of your team to train all, all your faculty members, I think would go a lot further.
[00:37:47] Zach Busekrus: Yeah. In that case. 'cause then it's like, here's the
[00:37:49] Ray Martinez: resources to make you a great faculty member. You know, I, I've always found it, it's like a pit, right? Like, it's like, okay, you want to get a good, you want to get a good rating as a [00:38:00] professor, right? You're like, I want people to like me. Yeah. Right. The school wants to get a good rating, but you're only gonna get as good of a rating.
[00:38:09] As the, the, you know, resources the school provides you, right? Like, yeah. You know, I,
[00:38:14] Zach Busekrus: I work in a situation where it's like I have good
[00:38:17] Ray Martinez: resources, so I'm like, okay, great. If you're an adjunct faculty member, you don't have those resources, right? Like, I don't know how you make connections and effect change.
[00:38:26] Because there's a lot of turnover. Yeah. You know? Yeah. Especially in this day, age, the answer to me, in my mind is, is centralize that training. Yeah. And make it part of your culture and, and
[00:38:35] Zach Busekrus: people will adopt it. Yeah. And, and I think that it, this could be a both end, not necessarily an either or, of course.
[00:38:41] From a, from a cultural standpoint, if these things aren't already set up and these expectations aren't set and there aren't great examples of folks living this out, that's, that's problematic. Right. But, Maybe there's room to do that. Absolutely right. And that that has to be the precursor to anything else that, that might be more official, but [00:39:00] maybe, maybe there is a way to kind of like leverage.
[00:39:02] Folks time in a, in a different way to, to help with recruitment. And again, I think ultimately this is just about if the pain is great enough, right? Like what, what will you do right? To mitigate that pain and that, you know, everyone's got a different method for addressing this. But while, while this is somewhat of a tangent, I do think this is like a super interesting, like, uh, uh, component right.
[00:39:22] Of, of sort of this conversation for sure. But just the grander conversation around, Hey, what, what do you think, how do you think about marketing and positioning and recruiting? For an online grad program after you're a few years into it. 'cause I, I do think that that's when these questions start to surface.
[00:39:37] Surface, right? Like who is. Continuing the, uh, who, who is primarily responsible for engagement with our alumni post post, uh, you know, graduation. Who is it that's going to take the brunt of the work in understanding from them from a product standpoint, Hey, how do we improve the, the core product, which is the program in addition to talking to them about their story that we can use for marketing purposes?
[00:39:59] [00:40:00] Right? And so, Nikki, I wanna ask you a, a question just a little bit about, When you think about like longer term growth strategies, a grad for an online grad program, right? And you think about sort of like all the things that we've been talking about already, but just over the next three to four years, like if somebody were to come to you and say, Hey, Nikki, we're three or four years in.
[00:40:19] We're doing all right, uh, but we wanna take this to the next level, right? Like, what are, what are some of the questions that they should ask themselves? Or how, how should they go about setting up a, a sort of strategic marketing plan over the next few years? That accounts for things like, you know, where their time should be spent, where their resources should be spent, et cetera.
[00:40:37] What are, what are, what are some, I guess, questions you would encourage them to ask themselves and or advice that you would give at this juncture?
[00:40:43] Nici Sandberg: Yeah, I've said this a little bit, but what does, what does the data say? Like what has worked so far and how can you. Use that and be thinking about what to do next.
[00:40:55] So if you've seen that, maybe your creative is starting to [00:41:00] get a little bit dated. Yeah. It's time to do a creative refresh, right? That's something you'll wanna do every couple of years. So if you're in year three, it's probably time to be looking at that, at maybe reassessing and considering your audiences.
[00:41:14] We talked about that a little bit in terms of. Are there pockets of opportunity that you haven't really been or, uh, types of audiences you haven't really been speaking to as much? How can we start to talk to them? Are there other channels that we haven't tried that we want to, to test? Making sure that you have an always on approach and understand that their seasonality, some of the programs like we'll work with might have five different start dates.
[00:41:45] A year. Yeah. We're gonna see some, some ups and downs and there's gonna be some seasonality there. There's still gonna be one or two a year that are gonna be bigger and working toward those, but always having something in market I think is important too. Yeah. [00:42:00] You can't just say, okay, we put some creative out, we have some ads, we have a campaign.
[00:42:07] Let's just roll with this for a little while. Yeah. I'm sure Ray would say the same. He can talk to this too, but sort of the optimizing and just making sure that you are making those adjustments really in all facets of what you're doing. You're creative, your content, your website, your Ss e o, your planning, your campaigns.
[00:42:27] Are they speaking to your audience? If you're looking to reach a new audience, how can you do that with your creative, with your content, et cetera? Another thing I would throw out is maybe not. As related, but I think the occasional photo shoot and having an image library that is up to date and kind of reflects your current students is important.
[00:42:49] One of the things I come across in the creative side a lot is, well, we're using stock photos for some things and my team makes them look amazing, I will say, but not everyone [00:43:00] wants to use stock photos. Yeah. But then you have to have imagery that you can use of your students. And who are those students and what do they look like?
[00:43:07] What is this your fifth reference for faculty student alumni profiles? When I was really building out a lot of these, one of the things I would do is send a freelance photographer to that student or alumni we were featuring, and then they get photos of themselves, professional quality photos. We could use them with the stories, and then we have photos of our students.
[00:43:30] Yeah, so I think that having a good image library is part of that too. I know that's a little bit of a side piece that I think it's important to talk about. Ray wants to jump in. Yeah, please.
[00:43:39] Zach Busekrus: Yeah, Nikki got me
[00:43:40] Ray Martinez: excited. Now she brought up something that I, I think is really important, right? Like assets are super important, especially when you think about it from a local approach, right?
[00:43:48] You having pictures of your campus, you having pictures of the local community around you, your students in that community, you are making connections between entities. Yeah. You're connecting your university to the, [00:44:00] to a place which will then have Google better serve your university. And especially when we think about different program related keywords, those search engine results pages are becoming much and much more personalized to focus on localized results.
[00:44:16] Yeah. Making those connections are gonna become that much more crucial.
[00:44:21] Zach Busekrus: I, I love this. The last thing I'll say too on it is, you know, there's nothing worse than seeing an ad with like a campus in, you know, spring. When it's the fall. Right. Or like vice versa. And it's like, there are obviously sort of like these, these quintessential like, oh, like campus in the fall and on the quad it's like a, you know, it's a beautiful like feeling that we all get, but the reality is like your creative should be aligned with where we're at seasonally.
[00:44:48] Like when people are re if they're looking at your a program offering or an event right now, like we shouldn't be seeing. You know, autumn leaves, right? When it's, when it's July. And I, I think like these are [00:45:00] things that are really important to consider is, is regularly cycling through creative. Like may, and maybe it's maybe sort of a tangible takeaway here is what does, what does it look like to just have at, at a bare minimum, a quarterly shoot, like work that into your budget, work that into your team's time is like every quarter we are taking new creative.
[00:45:16] We're just adding to our library. It doesn't mean like we can't ever use, you know, a photo that we took two years ago. No, absolutely. You can still use that for, for your creative, but always having fresh content. We just live in a world that is, you know, we're, we're all taking like hundreds of photos on our phones in a given week.
[00:45:33] Right. And, and a lot of us post those as well. Just the life of a photo is not, is no longer a year. Life of a photo. Could be a minute, you know, may, maybe a day. So I love, I I'm glad that we brought this up. Well, guys, this has been wonderful. I, I really appreciate your, your time here. I, I hope that our listeners have got a good sense of some of the things that you should be thinking through as you.
[00:45:55] Think more about scaling your online grad program. You've learned a lot. I think to just quickly recap, [00:46:00] really, really, really obsessing over the data. Making sure that you have good, good, structurals, good structures around your data so that you can rely on it to begin with. Thinking through how you might experiment, right?
[00:46:10] What have you learned? What, what do you need to keep doing? What do you need to stop doing? What, what, what might you, you know, wanna start doing for the first time? What does it look like? Like to test new creative, to test new content? And then I, I love what you said, Nikki, about sort of like an always on approach, right?
[00:46:24] And thinking about when it comes to marketing, when it come comes to recruitment. You can't control when somebody's gonna do research about your program. It, it might happen at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday night from their iPhone, right? And you, you need to be ready. You need, you need to have content that serves them where they're at, with what they need at that particular moment in time.
[00:46:42] And so Mar gone are the days when marketing was seasonal. Gone are the days when advertising was seasonal, right? It really isn't always on approach, which doesn't necessarily mean that you have to spend gobs of money all the time. It just means that you need to be sure that you, you need to have something going, uh, all, all the time.
[00:46:57] So, Nikki Ray, this has been a, [00:47:00] a true pleasure. Thank you both so much for your time. And for our listeners, again, this is episode four of a special series that we're producing with our friends over at Archer. You can stream episodes one through three in the show notes below. Thanks again so much for your time, guys.
[00:47:13] It's been a, it's been a real honor. Thank you. Thank you, Zach.
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About the Episode
The what's what...
Welcome to “How to Market an Online Graduate Program” a special 4-part podcast series brought to you by Enrollify and our friends at Archer Education.
Over the course of this series we’ll unpack everything you need to know to properly design a go-to-market strategy for your new online grad program and what the first few years of marketing and growing your program should look like.
We’ll dive deep into where, when, and how to use paid search and paid social effectively, how you should think through appropriately balancing paid and organic efforts in Years 1 and 2 vs Years 3 and 4 post-launch, what positioning strategies you should test, how to properly leverage the personal brands of faculty and staff members, and so much more.
This series is made possible thanks to our friends at Archer — Archer is an education technology company dedicated to personalizing student recruitment.
If you want to learn more about how Archer might be able to help your institution get more bang for your marketing and admission buck, head on over to ArcherEdu.com and tell them that your friends at Enrollify sent you their way.
Ray, Nici and I discuss:
- How schools can ensure continuous program improvement and innovation beyond the initial three-year marketing period
- How schools should evaluate their marketing strategy in relation to current market trends and competition
- How can schools leverage the data accumulated over the last three years to inform other program growth strategies
- Hot takes on leveraging faculty for alumni engagement and student recruitment
- And loads more
Check out the rest of this 4-part series!
About the Podcast
Zach is the Founder of Enrollify. He thoroughly enjoys building new brands, developing and executing content marketing strategies, and hosting podcasts. When he's not working on Enrollify, he enjoys discussing life's quandaries over coffee (or a good bourbon) with friends, building Sponstayneous (his travel brand side hustle), trying out new HIIT workouts, and adventuring across the globe with his wife!
Ray Martinez is the Director of SEO at Archer Education. Ray leads a team of senior-level analysts, specialists, and project managers to develop, execute, monitor, and report on SEO campaigns for some of the world's most prominent higher education institutions. He has over 9 years of experience working in search engine optimization across multiple higher education verticals. He has led many successful projects for clients such as California Western School of Law, Louisiana State University Online, Tulane University, University of San Diego, and other university partners. Ray was raised in Queens, NY by a family that valued hard work and determination. He graduated from The City College of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Public Relations, as well as a Master of Science degree in Media Management from The New School. Ray is an avid traveler and composes music during his free time Ray strategizes and implements technical SEO best practices on a wide variety of sites. He has developed SEO strategies, created detailed backlink profiles, optimized on-page elements, project managed web development resources, and performed technical audits across multiple verticals. He also strategized and executed multichannel digital marketing campaigns with a focus on inbound leads. His varied projects and campaigns have increased engagement, revenue, qualified traffic, and lead generation. Ray excels at amplifying content, reaching audiences, and generating leads.
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Archer Education is a leader in the higher education enrollment marketing, management, and technology space. Our mission is simple: help colleges and universities recruit, enroll, and retain the right students for their programs. We believe collaboratively partnering with schools, telling compelling stories, and employing cutting-edge engagement technology are the keys to inspiring action throughout the entire student journey.learn more
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