By William Bullard
There is a perception in many schools that using data to inform your marketing and communications programs means you’ve lost the human touch. Or overlooked what’s worked in the past. Or perhaps worst of all, removed the nuance and art while following only the “science” of marketing.
Could that happen? Yes. Is it a foregone conclusion? Absolutely not. The answer depends on your school’s interpretation of data-driven marketing and how you choose to integrate data into your strategies and tactics.
Here is the definition of data-driven marketing I prefer for schools: “using data from ongoing communications and advertising to understand what topics, techniques, and channels are most interesting, engaging, and fitting for your specific groups of constituents.” This covers everything from which topics garner the most clicks in parent emails and likes on Facebook to which marketing channels drive the most prospective families to submit applications to what segmentation strategy in your fundraising letters creates the best net return. How you decide what to measure and to what depth is up to you, though I will offer several suggestions.
This still leaves a critical question: how do you USE this data in your marketing and communications? Let’s follow the new Director of Advancement of a selective California boarding school, Marty Luther, as he works with the Director of Communications to understand her thinking about communications overall and specifically for admissions, development, and alumni. Marty recognizes that his school has a traditional approach to communications, and the various members of his new team could be overwhelmed by requests for heavy analytics at the start.
In his first meeting with the Director of Communications, Abigail Rogers, Marty asks what communications programs she tracks for results. Abigail says she looks at the opens and click-throughs of the parent and development emails she sends, and reviews the web site visits monthly. She notes how many Likes the Facebook page has. When possible, she gets data from online publications that she uses for Admissions open houses, and asks her department contact if he noticed any interest based on their postcards. The latter told her that they do try and learn how attendees heard about the event, but most people don’t respond.
Abigail anticipated some questions from Marty. His reputation coming into school was as a detail-oriented manager who could justify his budgets to his boss, in this case the business officer. She asked if he wanted her to collect more information. In a helpful tone, he responded by asking, “Why do you track the data you do now?” Abigail replied that she thought it was important to see how the emails and website performed, and she liked to compare the results to previous periods of time. “Is that a good way to do it?”
Marty paused for a moment. “That is a good start. I like to think of using data to understand more about the people and groups we are addressing with a particular piece. In addition to the total email clicks, what topics are parents reading about? When do they like to receive the emails? Do they like seeing videos? On the website, what are the top pages, and how long do people spend on them? On social media, beyond the total likes or retweets, how many comments do individual posts get, and do they share any common features, such as having a picture or referencing a member of the community? Does that make sense?” Abigail said that it did, so Marty took a deep breath and continued. “I feel all of that is very important and is basically the easy part. The other big piece that affects our budget and contributions to the school is how much we spend on our publications and ads, and how much they help us achieve our goals.” Abigail hesitated and then asked, “OK if I get a cup of coffee?”
In part II of this post, coming next week, I will offer specific examples of the media that can provide valuable data for you, and suggestions on if and how your school can use it, either as a very broad guideline or for specific decisions about, say, whether to do a campaign with electronic, print, or both vehicles.
William Bullard is a strategic marketer who spent most of his career in the business world before moving into education. He has been the director of communications at two independent schools in greater Boston as well as a social media consultant for a leading literacy training company. He is especially interested in applying lessons from his early-stage work in direct marketing, the Internet, and digital marketing to schools. As the VP of Internet Marketing for the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association, he is a frequent blogger. William is a strategic partner for Kalix Communications, focusing on digital and data-driven marketing