Today’s post features the second conversation in a series on digital enrollment marketing between Tom Cakuls, senior director of Strategic Research at EAB | Royall & Company, and Emily Bauer, managing director of Program Marketing at Royall & Company.
Emily heads a research team whose sole focus is vetting new and emerging student recruitment practices for potential inclusion in Royall programs—work that includes field testing various marketing channels. Today, she shares how to find the optimal combination of these channels for your school.
Tom Cakuls: Last time we talked, you mentioned that it’s important to consider digital channels in a larger context—an approach that’s often called “multichannel.” We’ve seen a lot of interest from our readers in this question lately, so I wanted to ask what other advice you might have for them.
Emily Bauer: For starters, it’s helpful to be clear on what we mean by multichannel. Basically, it refers to using a mix of media in order to maximize audience capture. Communication preferences vary across demographics, individuals, purpose of communication, and so on. Using multiple channels boosts the odds of reaching your audience by covering a broader spectrum of those preferences and behaviors.
TC: It also implies a certain approach to deciding which channels to use, right?
EB: Yes, but also what combination to use. You want to look at how individual channels reinforce each other (or not) and how effectively, taken together, they’re engaging your audience. If you add Facebook advertisements to a recruitment approach that also includes SMS, push emails, and paper mailings, you want to know how those individual pieces interact. Is the impact additive? Is one channel impeding another? Or are you getting an overall result that’s greater than the sum of its parts?
TC: So multichannel is about specific combinations?
EB: That’s right. And well-designed recruitment marketing has always taken this perspective, by the way. The difference now is that, with digital options evolving at such a fast clip, the stakes are higher and the related decision making is more complicated. A multichannel approach is more important but also more challenging than ever.
TC: Challenging how, exactly?
EB: Simply staying abreast of emerging digital options is daunting. For example, many enrollment leaders know that there are geographically targeted digital marketing options available to them. Fewer know the difference between geofencing and geoframing. And very few could explain the role that each might play in a multichannel campaign. I can, but that’s only because I have researchers on my team who study these things full time.
TC: And, to your earlier point, there’s also the challenge of figuring out how all these different channels influence each other.
EB: Yes, exactly. And that’s another important thing my team is focused on. The only way to know for sure is by testing and measurement, which is how we approach it. A great example is email versus display ad response. We’ve seen that email produces predictable spikes in certain parts of the enrollment season, whereas display ads generate steadier activity across time. Knowing this, you can deploy them in targeted combinations, depending on what’s required by your recruitment campaign at any given point in time.
TC: Do you think about it as an optimization problem?
EB: I do. You want to figure out which combination of channels will produce the biggest response for the least expense. That’s why we spend so much time thinking about how different channels work at different stages of the enrollment funnel and which combinations result in a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
TC: To sum up for our readers: Is it possible to generalize about your team’s findings on digital and multichannel?
EB: There are definitely right answers here, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve seen, for example, that display ads boost application rates versus not using them, in campaigns that also include paper and email outreach. But there are also situations where two or three different channel combinations might serve equally well. In these cases, a school’s specific aims, native capabilities, and constraints become important considerations, and customization can drive a lot of additional benefit.