7 Tips To Revolutionize Your Cold Email Marketing Strategies

So, you’d like to boost your sales or generate new leads, but your opt-in email marketing strategies just aren’t cutting it. Somehow, you find yourself with a list of leads, or “prospects”, that you’d like to reach out to for the first time but aren’t sure how to build the right process to get them to take an action. The following cold email tips can help drive a response while keeping the reputation of your domain safe. 

What is a Cold Email?

Cold emailing, or “email outreach” is here and it can boost your lead generation. It is the process of reaching out to an individual or organization that you haven’t interacted with before and requesting that they take an action. As long as you play by the rules, this can open up the door to a large number of targeted prospects.

An important piece of cold emailing that is often overlooked is how difficult it can be and how many technical aspects must be considered before you get the results you’re hoping for. For anyone interested in cold email outreach, here are six tips to get you started.

Cold Email Authentication and Trust

First and foremost, become familiar with CAN-SPAM laws and best practices. In short, you must always allow your prospects to unsubscribe at any time and must honor their request. But, it’s good to know that an unsubscribe link counts as a link. As we’ll discuss later on, you’ll learn how your recipient’s email servers will look for the amount of links in your emails. So, an alternative is to leave a quick note at the bottom of your email, letting know people know they can unsubscribe. Remember, you need to include your name and an address too.

Second, you need to authenticate your domain, otherwise known as whitelabeling. Your recipient’s email server has filters, like a gatekeeper whose sole purpose is to keep the user safe. So, when a server gets an email from johnnymarketing@university.com, but sees that it was sent through a different server, it will get suspicious and might potentially block you or mark you as spam. You are a stranger, after all.

This is where you need to go to your email provider’s sender authentication settings and begin the process of authenticating your domain. Your email provider will have instructions, with specific codes that you will need to enter into your website manager and go to your DNS settings. Authenticating your DKIM and CNAME is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your emails are actually going through. But just so you know, some individuals have very strict servers, and even then – you might not be able to get through.

Another helpful tip is to authenticate through one of the biggest platforms, Google Postmaster Tools. This is an extra set of steps to help Google trust your emails when you’re reaching out to their users. Once authenticated, you can also see their reporting on your spam rate, domain reputation, and more!

Cold Email List Sizes

Third, understand your needs and the differences between Shared IPs and Dedicated IPs. Shared IPs are what your email provider probably has you in, unless you’re sending over 100K emails a month. These are pools of users who circulate IPs as they send their emails. Sometimes, there might be a user in your pool who acts poorly, and damages the IP pool you’re in, affecting your deliverability. It’s very normal, and happens all the time. If you are sending in high volumes, then you might want to consider getting a dedicated IP; a private IP that only you operate out of. This route also means learning how to warm up your IP.

Building a Quality Cold Email List

Fourth, make sure you have solid lists of prospects you’re reaching out to. If your email marketing strategy is targeting unvalidated, unrelated prospects – you will not get the responses you’re looking for and maybe even fall into some account trouble. How to find relevant prospects can be an entire separate post on its own, so for now let’s assume that you already have a list of prospects that are relevant to whatever your outreach is proposing. But, the key point after you have that list is to validate. The more bounces you get back, the less credible you seem. Basically, picture the ISP as security guards who observe everything on the internet. When they see bounced emails, they connect the dots and assume that you’re sending out mass email to people you don’t know. Tools like NeverBounce and BriteVerify will help you weed out the emails that are going to bounce.

Cold Email Segmentation and Drip Campaigns

Fifth, it’s time to create a campaign. Whatever platform you use, if at all, it’s important to come up with a gameplan to your email marketing strategy. Create a timed schedule of emails; sending out X amount of emails every X minutes, to a limit of X emails per day. You can see how this is starting to sound more and more calculated. If you have a domain gmail set up, then you need to remember that if you send a bulk list of emails at once, or even near sending 2,000 emails a day – you’re going to get on their radar and might end up in Google Jail.

It’s important to make sure that your emails, even if segmented, have intervals between them. Personally, I don’t let my emails go out within 100 seconds of each other. This way, Gmail can see my time stamps and see that my emails are not going out within the same minute. No matter how close in time, the timestamps are different for each email.

It’s helpful to create a campaign that runs through about two to three weeks, with five to six follow up emails being sent until the prospect responds. Your time range might change, but the name of the game here is to intermittently follow up on your prospects to let them know you’re interested to get in touch with them, without harassing them. This might mean adjusting how far apart you sequence your follow up emails. But it’s really all about getting a response first.

Writing a Cold Email That Will Get a Response

An important note here, the ISPs keep an eye out on the volume of emails you send out, but also closely watch how many people respond. It’s a big litmus test of trust. The thinking goes, if person A knows person B, then logically, person B would respond. So, follow up emails are incredibly important. Although you must always give people the option to unsubscribe or be taken off of your mailing list – you should have a high priority on getting a response, even if that response is to no longer be contacted.

Sixth, it’s time to start writing out your email copy. This part can also be an entire separate post in of itself, so I’ll stick to the basics. Keep it short, keep it friendly. If you are going to include links, make sure your links are branded or white labeled.Try to limit your emails to no more than one link. You want to sound like a real person, having a friendly conversation. Do not sound formal, remember that you are in the most basic sense asking a stranger to do a favor.

Cold Email Testing and Tracking

Seven, remember that any kind of tracking is going to show up on your prospect’s radar. For any first touch email, I turn off all forms of tracking. Open/Click tracking often works because your email provider embeds a hidden html image in your email to track. But, images are huge red flags for servers.

Last, it’s important to monitor your emails and data. In addition to honoring your unsubscribe requests, this is a good step to see where your emails are ending up, using tools like GlockApps. Take time each week to send a few tests to analyze and monitor how your emails are performing, if you’re inboxing, and to see if you’ve ended up in any blacklists.

These 7 tips cover a not so brief guide to cold emailing! Remember that each strategy must be adjusted to your goals, what works for me might not work for you at all. But, the basics are always going to be the same: be trustworthy (authenticate everything), be to the point (quick, simple copy with to the point pitches), and be friendly (don’t harass, write conversationally, honor what they say).

Best of luck!

Charlie recently joined the Circa Interactive team and helms our email and outreach strategies. Charlie is a graduate of Biola University and spent prior years as a digital content strategist and copywriter. He is a passionate, strategy-minded marketer that develops our link-building efforts.

15 Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies for 2018

Every day, universities and colleges are coming up with exciting, innovative courses for the millions of motivated students all over the world. The higher education space is being redefined by innovation in design, delivery and employability for many degree programs. Education experts have the resources they need to craft, test and rollout cutting edge online degree programs. That’s why higher education institutions are bringing on board creative communication and marketing professionals to keep their institutions and programs visible and desirable. Here at Circa, we utilize unique higher education marketing strategies that help raise awareness of courses and programs while bringing in high quality students that enable online degree programs to flourish. 

Innovative PPC Strategies

Andrew Glasser and Farzin Espahani

The possibilities for higher ed marketing are seemingly endless when it comes to PPC. It is by and large the most immediate method for generating high-quality leads while broadcasting your brand to qualified individuals, ultimately turning clicks into prospective students. In Search, PPC is a hotbed for student acquisition, with degree-seekers constantly turning to Google and Bing to help them decide their career/academic path. Within Social, PPC offers increasingly advanced tools which we can use to hone in on subgroups of your target audience, fostering lead growth in the student acquisition cycle while simultaneously nurturing your Brand’s reach.

When it comes to paid advertising on social platforms, we notice a clear trend for universities who are marketing online graduate degree programs: All the ads are the same. The ad copy makes it clear that the program is flexible and completely online, and the visuals often convey a happy working professional looking satisfied in their new role. In 2018, it is our focus, mission, and purpose to ensure that colleges and universities make a commitment to standing out from the crowd by showcasing their true story. Students understand that they have basic needs in their degree program, but in 2018, millennials need to have a connection to something bigger. It is important for universities to look at their missions, ideals, and unique value propositions outside of online, flexible, innovative curriculum to begin conveying the information that matters to a student’s personal journey.

Mobile Optimized Search Ads

Studies continue to show that mobile devices are the go-to option for searching the internet. In fact, mobile devices are used more often for searches than desktop computers.  The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, the average time spend on a smartphone is 177 minutes per day, and amazingly, the average mobile session is 70 seconds. This means consumers are using their phones all day, every day, but in short bursts of time. By bidding higher for mobile devices in Google Adwords and Bing ads while utilizing mobile optimized ad extensions we can increase the CTR significantly.

Managed Placements And Interests

Managed placements is a good strategy when there are specific websites that you think are related to specific program or university where can be visited by a potential student. For example for an online MBA program, we want to place our display ads on education related websites and focus on pages relevant to higher education and career advancement. This will help us to make sure our ads are shown to those more likely to click on the ad to learn more.  

Facebook Retargeting Campaigns

The beauty and effectiveness of retargeting allows you to reach out to users who have already showed interest to your brand or program and to get them to re-engage with your brand. This is a slow but steady and cost effective strategy that converts more students compared to traditional targeting, since users are more likely to engage with ads from brands that they know. The best way to achieve a winner retargeting strategy is to start with a brand awareness ad to simply introduce your brand. Then running a retargeting campaign that shows new ads to those who have already engaged with your previous ad.

Fundamental SEO Strategies

Tyler Cooper

Every month, hundreds of thousands of prospective students are logging onto their computers, opening up Google, and trying to figure out where they should earn their degree. If your website’s SEO strategy is not up to par, chances are you’re missing out on the vast majority of these leads. While you can use Google AdWords to show up for these results, you’re going to be paying a premium for each click. When you rank organically, there is no cost per click. When looking at this from an ROI perspective, the value of SEO is undeniable. Having a large search presence means more organic traffic, more leads, more applicants, and more students. If SEO is not a part of your digital marketing strategy in 2018, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Link building

Link building is undoubtedly the most important aspect of your SEO strategy. In order to compete in competitive markets such as higher education, your website will need a steady stream of high-quality and relevant backlinks. There are a number of link building strategies. You can read more about those here.

On-Page SEO

In order to get the most out of your link building campaigns, it’s extremely important that your on-page SEO is in place. Make sure you all of the content on your website is properly optimized for search. This includes keyword rich title tags, relevant meta descriptions, keyword density, optimized header tags, internal linking, and much more.

Technical SEO

While this may require assistance from a web developer, it’s important that your site is technically sound so that it can be properly crawled by Google. The easier it is for Google to crawl and understand your site, the more your website’s pages will be shown in Google’s search results. On the other hand, if your website is full of technical errors, your search rankings will almost certainly suffer. Some things to look for when performing a technical SEO audit are: 404 errors, missing/broken XML sitemaps, slow page load times, duplicate content, irrelevant/thin content, and more! Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify some of these common issues.

Website Content Strategies

Frederic Lee

Creation of website content (articles, infographics, data visualization, and more) is an essential aspect of any search marketing strategy. The primary reason being that Google favors websites with fresh content. With this in mind, a strategy of continuous creation and publication of content is important for website visibility in Google’s search results. In addition to creating fresh content, here are three core strategies to get the most ROI in this content.

Traffic and Rankings Focused Content

Through careful keyword research with an emphasis on target long-tail variations of your core keywords, content can be created with the best opportunity to rank in the search results. Keyword clusters/pods can be established in order to streamline content creation and may cover many keyword opportunity areas surrounding a long-tail variation. Upon completion and distribution, this content may rank for competitive keywords and either bring in large quantities of industry traffic, or a lesser, more valuable flow of conversion-focused traffic.

Conversion Support Focused Content

Depending on your business goals, conversion support content have a goal of providing detailed information about your product/service and industry. This content is designed to speak directly to individuals in the sales funnel. Through paid and organic social distribution and careful placement on your website, these articles are designed to be a strong touchpoint in the sales process.

Social Signal Focused Content

A portion of the Google algorithm involves having positive social signals pointing towards your website and content. Articles and graphics can be created with this exact goal in mind. A detailed analysis of your target audience and how they interact on social network is a key first step. This content must give them a reason to share and engage. Upon publication, strategic social sharing and promotion can help kick start this content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant networks to your industry.

Creative Digital PR Strategies

George Bradley and Joseph Lapin

In the higher education industry, digital public relations is an important approach for any SEO strategy. Here at Circa, we believe that the faculty are one of a university’s greatest assets, yet in general, many higher ed marketing companies are not utilizing these key stakeholders. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also allows us to create high level media opportunities for our professors in publications such as the Washington Post, The Hill and HuffPost. Not only are the professors being placed here, but we are obtaining backlinks to our program pages. This directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing, and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website.

Relationship Building

Professors and reporters/editors are the two key relationships that should be built as part of a higher education digital marketing strategy. By building trusting relationships with faculty, you are able to gain an understanding of their research and passions and also create opportunities that are specifically focused on their expertise. Relationships with reporters can also prove to be greatly beneficial. When you have a reporter who trusts you, they are far more likely to respond to your pitch and come to you for a quote from one of your faculty members.

Creative Pitch Writing

Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the faculty expertise to write pitches that relate to current trending topics in the news. There are often four key components to a pitch, and these are the lead, call to action, unique value proposition, and conclusion. You can find more information on how to write these pitches here.

Stay on Top of the News

Having access to and critically understanding the latest news is imperative because you want to stay ahead of the curve. There are various ways to understand what is happening throughout the world, and you should consider each method to be as important as the next. Understanding stories in the newspaper and tying in our professors is the perfect way to begin the pitching process. All of this comes back to understanding your professors and the people working on relevant stories within the media.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Audrey Wills

In 2018, social media is an imperative part to any digital marketing strategy –– especially for higher education. To put the importance of social media marketing into context, take a look at the graph below. When the Pew Research Center began tracking social media usage in 2005, less than 8% of 18-49 year olds in America used at least one social platform. Today, over 75% of 18-49 year olds are active on at least one social media site, meaning social media is the optimal medium for reaching higher education’s target audience.

While the growth in social media usage is a good thing in the world of higher education digital marketing, this increased usage leads to users being inundated with ads and content marketing. So much so that at the beginning of 2018, Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize content from user’s inner circles. Thus, making it even more difficult to get content in front of your target audience –– organically at least. So what tactics can you use to ensure you continue to reach your audience and boost enrollment? Let’s take a look.

Know Your Platform

As mentioned before, Facebook changed their algorithm in the beginning of 2018 to prioritize content from a user’s family and friends. This means that whenever you post content, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you need to post content that best suits that platform.

Facebook’s algorithm favors content that people want to engage with. Think: would I share this with my friends? Content that is made for Twitter should be concise, yet informational. Let your followers know what you’re sharing and why. Do some research and identify the most active hashtags for your industry and use them throughout your tweets to help increase your reach. When creating content for Instagram, think visuals first, and make sure you have an eye-catching graphic that will grab your follower’s attention and get them to stop scrolling.

Keep up-to-date on social media marketing by attending a conference: http://circaedu.com/hemj/13-higher-education-marketing-conferences-in-2018/  

Live Video

One tactic that all social media algorithm’s love is Live Video. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enable you to leverage live video to interact with prospective students. My favorite tactic for utilizing live video is hosting live Q&A info sessions to address general program FAQs and provide prospective students the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers in real-time. Hosting a series of Q&A info sessions that address different areas of your program. To give students a better feel for your program, have different team members host each session. Anyone from an alumni, a current student, a faculty member, or even dean are perfect candidates to provide their own perspective and create a connection with the prospective students.

Chatbots At Your Service

Social media has changed the way we all communicate, and chatbots are taking our new forms of communication one step further. Chatbots provide a modern way for students to get questions answered instantaneously. Implementing chatbots into your recruitment strategy can help your admissions team speed up the enrollment process by weeding out unqualified candidates, answering questions in seconds, not hours, and even following up with potential students to ensure they finish their applications before the enrollment deadline.

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2011, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 degree programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness,and generate more students. To find out how our services could help your institution, please email clayton@circaedu.com. 

 

Generation Z: 5 Tips for Engaging The Next Generation of Consumers

Just when brands feel that they’ve finally mastered the art of advertising to Millennials, up comes the next generation of consumers: Generation Z.

Although sharing some similarities to the elder Millennials, Generation Z is far more savvy to brand intentions, meaning digital marketers will find themselves embarrassed if they try to implement Millennial advertising strategies for this younger generation.

So what is it that makes Generation Z different? And how can digital marketers successfully engage with this next wave of consumers?

Introducing Generation Z

The first thing to understand about Generation Z is that they’ve grown up with the internet. With the oldest of this generation being born in the mid-to-late 1990s, Generation Z have spent their lives heavily relying on smartphones and social media to not only connect with their peers, but also brands, businesses and organizations.

Understanding this generation’s heavy reliance on social media is crucial for marketing, as a few wrong moves on social media can prove detrimental to brands and businesses.

How detrimental? Consider that Kylie Jenner, one of the most popular and powerful Gen Z celebrities, cut $1.3 billion from Snapchat’s stock all from a simple tweet.


What this shows is that with this upcoming generation, brands don’t even necessarily need to make mistakes on social media; all it takes is negative publicity to sway the public opinion of Generation Z.

How Much Should You Care About Generation Z?

Being the next group of consumers, brands, businesses and marketers are clearly interested in advertising to this young generation, yet Generation Z should be more of a priority than it already is.

Why?

For one, individuals that classify as Generation Z already make up a quarter of America’s population. This number is growing, with projections stating that Generation Z will make up 40% of all consumers by 2020. Any target audience that makes up almost half of all consumers is definitely worth taking into further consideration.

Secondly, advertisers have yet to establish a solid understanding of this progressive generation. Lazily, some assume that they are a lot like millennials, except even more addicted to screens and phones.

While this might be true in some cases, the reality is far more professional and sophisticated: Gen Z aren’t screen-prisoners, they are screen-operators. Society at large functions within the digital realm, and Gen Z leverage their skills and networks to become full-time managers of their personal and professional brands.

This generation deeply understands digital branding – they leverage it for their personal benefit all the time – and are exceptional at seeing through poor or even tacky advertising, so businesses looking to connect with Generation Z will need to put forth equal effort in understanding who they are and what they are interested in.

Tips for Engaging Generation Z

If you’re looking to engage with the next wave of consumers, here are 5 tips for engaging Generation Z:

1.Use Easily Consumable Content

If you really want to connect with Generation Z, creating easily consumable content is essential.

Studies have shown that Gen Z have an 8 second attention span – compared to the 12 second attention span of Millennials – meaning that brands need to make sure that their message can be consumed fast.

Videos and GIFs have proven to be very effective in making a quick point. Clever messaging is successful as well. KFC’s recent public apology for running out of chicken is a great example:KFCSource: http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/23/news/kfc-apology-ad-shortage

In a situation that could have resulted in major brand damage, KFC were able to save face and generate acclaim from Generation Z and worldwide media outlets thanks to its quick, eye-catching message

2.Provide Value

Advertisers shouldn’t assume that they can trick Generation Z. Being brand ambassadress themselves, this group is smart and tech savvy. They can quickly identify when they’re being advertised to, so don’t try to fool them or waste their time.

If you’re looking to engage with this generation, make sure that your advertisement provides some kind of value, such as offering free items or discounts for taking surveys.

Brands that are able to create a mutually beneficial situation will prove most successful with Generation Z.

3. Pass The Eye Test

As mentioned, Generation Z have short attention spans, so before even considering your message Gen Z will judge your advertisement based on its appearance. If your advertisement doesn’t pass the eye test, expect this generation to swipe right past.

What can you do to help make your messages pass the eye test? Much of it depends on the message you’re trying to send.

That said, don’t be afraid to take chances and create edgy content (see KFC advertisement above) or advertisements that feature a bit of bright color here or there.

If you’re worried and unsure, it maybe a good idea to get some direct feedback from Generation Z. Asking for feedback right from your target audience can help sharpen your content creation skills.

4. How Can You Help Them?

For far too long, advertisers have viewed consumers from the selfish perspective of “How can we get our audience to purchase and need our products or services?”

While taking this approach may have worked in the past, Generation Z is too sharp. Any brand that attempts this approach can expect to be embarrassed and humiliated across multiple social networks.

You don’t want that kind of shame.

Great news: there are alternative perspectives.

If you’re really looking to build trust with Generation Z, you’re entire message should be developed with the approach of “How can we help them?”

Again, Generation Z are savvy. Don’t go through the motions with this. They’ll see right through it.

Instead, take a moment to seriously consider your product, service and message to better understand how your company and its resources can help make your consumers’ lives better.

Thinking with this perspective might be difficult for traditional marketers, but it’ll have a significant impact in the long-term.

5. Expand Your Efforts

On average, Generation Z tend to operate 5 screens at a time. For marketers, this means that your brand and message have to be at multiple places at once.

Brands with big budgets will be able to dominate more traditional advertising mediums, yet that shouldn’t discourage small brands from expanding their efforts to the best of their ability.

Generation Z are all about grassroots resources. Many brands have found success with a very limited budget simply by expanding and enhancing their social efforts.

In fact, sometime  traditional advertising can do more harm than good due to the appearance of trying too hard.

At the end of the day, the more that this generation comes positively interpret your brand and message, the more trustworthy that you’ll seem. And there is no better way to appear trustworthy than to authentically approach Generation Z on their terms from the beginning. So don’t wait until Generation Z grow a bit older. Start making adjustments to your marketing strategies today so your brand and message can better engage with Generation Z and hopefully establish a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.

Interested in learning more insights that could help with effectively engaging the next wave of college students? Check out these articles to get started:

 

Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

 

 

How to Use Digital PR to Influence Organic Rankings

Public relations has always played an integral role in helping businesses and nonprofits to achieve their goals. But in today’s search-engine-reliant world, digital PR know-how has the potential to explode organizations’ visibility before the eyes of prospective customers. Unfortunately, too few PR pros understand how backlinking and search-engine optimization (SEO) work, and their importance in achieving their clients’ aims. By way of providing an introduction to this complex and rapidly evolving aspect of PR, I’m going to offer some insight into how we’ve helped enhance the visibility (and improved the bottom lines) of our clients.

Why Should PR Experts also be SEO Experts?

At Circa, our clients are institutions of higher learning, and much of our work involves elevating our clients’ professors and teachers as thought leaders. We do this, in part, by using traditional PR skills and tools to reach out to publications to arrange interviews with these professors and publish their content. Not only does this achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness, but it also accomplishes an increasingly critical goal for any successful business in the digital age: improved search engine visibility and rankings.

Our clients share a straightforward goal: to enroll more students into their university programs. In order to achieve this goal, they need to increase their brand awareness, and increasing awareness requires accomplishing two very specific tasks: showcasing the university’s value and also boosting its digital presence. By following our specific link-building strategy, we not only establish more credibility among our target audience, but we also rank higher in relevant keyword searches conducted by prospective students. Our strategy is one that could apply to any business that relies on PR to increase its overall brand awareness.

How to Leverage Digital PR to Gain More Digital Visibility

In the digital world, links are critical. Links help to boost a webpage’s rankings and ensure that search engines like Google recognize the page as genuine and credible. In the past, it was possible to buy or acquire links of little relevance from low quality websites in order to achieve a high search-engine ranking. That’s no longer possible. These days, web pages need to feature a select amount of natural keywords and links from other viable and relevant sites from high quality sources. The focus is quality of links. Acquiring these types of links can be challenging, especially since it requires establishing relationships between various content sources. However, this is a task that PR professionals are naturally equipped to tackle.

Using traditional tactics, PR professionals can actually generate significant digital results for their clients. For instance, a PR pro can pitch a reputable publication or website—one that’s relevant to the client’s specific interests—with the hopes of landing interviews or media placements. Once the PR professional is able to successfully land an interview or place a client-written byline in a publication, then it’s up to the PR professional to also achieve the crucial end-goal of acquiring the link to the desired webpage within the media placement.

Obtaining a link back to a desired page can be challenging depending on the publication, but it is certainly possible in many instances. Oftentimes, the best way to gain a link is through commonsense approaches. For example, a PR professional can ask a publication to link back to a specific site as a means of attribution. Additionally, the link shouldn’t be overtly self-serving—it shouldn’t take a viewer to a landing page, for instance, that pushes them to purchase something. Instead, the link should feature valuable, useful and relevant content.

If the client is a college, for example, and a PR professional is able to arrange an interview with one of the college’s professors to appear in a publication, then the link placed on the interview page should take the viewer back to the program’s homepage, giving the viewer a chance to learn more about the institution and potentially sign up for more information. This type of link placement strategy is fairly effective: the client receives a form of attribution and a natural link, but the publication won’t feel that it’s promoting the institution in an obvious or attention-grabbing way. When it comes to placing links, it’s all about common sense: PR professionals should use their networking and communication skills to ensure that their clients are properly attributed within the specific content.

The Data

In our experience, using expert commentary and byline opportunities coupled with keyword-based search campaigns and SEO-optimized webpage content efforts has helped to generate impressive results for our clients. For instance, our expert commentary efforts in publications like the Huffington Post resulted in over 2,000 social shares and 10 backlinks for one client, and the University of Wisconsin saw program inquiries jump by 33 percent because of our use of SEO-optimized content efforts .

In short, PR professionals can use their tried-and-true PR tools to not only boost their clients’ brand, but also influence search engine rankings. As long as PR professionals are willing to remain flexible and adapt to the demands of the digital world, they will be able to leverage their valuable communication skills to generate their desired results.

joeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

5 Tips for Effective Client Communication

In the marketing industry, understanding how to deliver desired results for your clients is crucial to a successful business relationship, but a study shows that 46 percent of employees regularly leave meetings not understanding the next steps. Below are a few helpful communication tips that will ensure that both parties always leave a conversation knowing how to proceed, making discussions with clients more productive and effective.

Ask the right questions

In any communication setting, the person asking the questions is the one that steers the direction of the conversation and ultimately has control. The trick here is making sure that you are asking the questions that give you a better understanding of what your clients are feeling and what they want. Questions that prompt yes or no answers will not further a conversation, but rather put the client in a corner where they cannot fully explain what they are feeling. Deploy ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that require a more elaborate response than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, “how can we improve the illustration?” will get you much further than “do you like the illustration?”, because it requires a more detailed explanation of why the client satisfied or unsatisfied. Knowing how to frame your questions will also help resolve any problems or conflicts between you and your client. You can gain a better understanding of how your client feels about the work and how you can improve and grow in the future. Here are some other great ways to stage questions that will help you get to the root of a problem: https://wavelength.asana.com/develop-effective-communication/

Set the tone from the start

Make sure your style of communication is professional, yet personable. You want to show your client that accomplishing their goals is paramount, while simultaneously establishing an air of trust among both parties. Additionally, don’t be afraid to use informal conversation as a way to build the relationship. Make it known that the relationship is conducive to constructive criticism and feedback and that both parties are free to openly share their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Setting this tone will make collaboration easy and will keep the clients happy.

Be empathetic

 Show your client that you understand their concerns and recognize that they are human. If a client is upset about something, or seems like they are having a bad day and are taking it out on your work, refer to tip number one and start asking questions tailored to their concerns. Make it known that you are here to listen to their concerns and that you want to help them solve problems. You can also use “it seems” phrases to show the client what you’re understanding from their communication. By doing this, you are relaying your understanding of their problem, while also allowing the client to hear the tone that they are emitting. For example, if a client gets upset and says, “I cannot quite work out this illustration” and provides no other feedback, you can say “it seems like you want changes to be made to the illustration. How can we change the design to better suit your goals?”.

Do your homework

Preliminary research is not only useful for current clients, but also potential clients that you may be trying to court. Go into a weekly client meeting with new, potentially useful resources and a knowledge base of what your client has wanted in the past. Following the same idea, step into a potential client presentation with solid knowledge of their business and a strong idea of what their past work looks like. Be as prepared as possible. This shows the client that you truly care about their goals and are ready to help accomplish these. As a higher education marketing company, our public relations team leverages professors within our client’s degree programs in order to land media opportunities. We interview the professors before doing outreach on their behalf in order to get a better understanding of their passions and expertise, but before the interviews, we research the professor and tailor our interview questions to their individual work and interests. This establishes a rapport with them from the start, and they appreciate that we do not waste their time by going into the interview blind. Doing your homework upfront is a time-saver for everyone involved and shows the client that they are important to you.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone

In the digital age, much of the communication that occurs in a business setting happens via email or through some other digital medium. While this is convenient and generally effective, studies show that face-to-face communication is much more productive in terms of accomplishing one’s goals. While face-to-face communication with clients is not always possible in a digital company like ours, a phone call is the next best thing. Having a spoken conversation can solve problems and demonstrate a sense of urgency on your part to resolve an issue. Additionally, It is much faster and a more direct way to get to the root of a problem or miscommunication, leaving less room for things to get misinterpreted in the midst of a client crisis. Good old-fashioned speaking often gets the job done better than an instant message ever could.

 

Shannon black and white 2 Shannon has been contributing to the growth of the Circa team for nearly two years and recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in Communication Studies. Shannon’s creativity and passion for public relations and content marketing has contributed to Circa Interactive’s digital marketing value. 

6 Ways to Leverage Student Testimonials in Marketing

Today’s college search consists of visiting hundreds of college websites to find the perfect match. After researching several institutions, prospective students then compile a list of colleges and universities to apply to, but what are the deciding factors that lead them to applying? Is it hearing from faculty members, attending open house events, a google search, or chatting with recruiters? For me, it was how the university utilized testimonials in their marketing.

After graduating from American University with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in integrated marketing communications at Georgetown University. Before making this decision, I was a prospective student searching for an online graduate program that had everything I desired and more. Throughout the several months of searching, I experienced various universities retargeting me around the web, sending emails with application deadlines and receiving recruitment schedules to make appointments. Again, it wasn’t the consistent emails, speaking with recruiters or the ads circling the internet that led me to my final decision. It was reading and hearing faculty, alumni and student testimonials.

As a marketer, and twice a prospective student, I want to share with you six key strategies that will help your college or university boost leads and engage prospective students by implementing student testimonials in marketing campaigns.

1. Create a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages

Including a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages provides current students, alumni, faculty and even parents the opportunity to share their success stories. In this section you have the chance to sell your university or college to its full potential by incorporating quotes, videos and blog posts. Make sure to also highlight topics that matter to your target audience, including internship opportunities, graduation rates, employment rates, campus safety, extracurricular activities, as well as students and professors interactions. This will give prospective students a feel for the student body culture and will enable them to apply and make an enrollment decision.

University testimonial example: Berkeley City College created an International Student tab page to help market its testimonials. Prospective students that navigate to this page will hopefully find a relatable experience that will get them engaged and excited about their possible opportunities at the college or university. *Pro Tip: Incorporating photos of your students leads to better results.

 

2. Revamp paid search landing pages to incorporate testimonials in marketing

Paid search landing pages give you, the marketer, an opportunity to sell your university or college with an incentive or social validation. This can be easily done by incorporating short video clips or quotes from students or recent graduates that may pique your prospective students’ interest. It’s also important that you provide trustworthy information along with providing social validation (video or quote) or an incentive, such as a brochure, to further explain your program.

The content you create must meet your prospective students’ initial motive and provide them with a solution. Make sure your content only gives your prospects two options, either to add their information or exit out of the landing page. Keep in my mind that no one sells your brand better than a joyous and lively student or alumni.

University Testimonials Examples from Unbounce

Source: Unbounce

University landing page example: This particular template is from Unbounce. On this landing page it gives prospective students the option to provide their contact information. However, before submitting their information they will see a testimonial quote from a graduating student that may spark their interest even further. 

A second example is from the University of Illinois at Chicago landing page where they’ve attracted new students by marketing testimonial videos. Using video and adding a small description takes the content further in making it personable and relatable.

3. Post video testimonials on social media accounts

When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I’m often attracted to videos. Whether I’m laying in my bed, walking down the street or taking a lunch break, I’m more prone to click on a video than an ad with a graphic. Honestly, I would rather listen to someone speak than sit and analyze an image. In fact, by 2017, video content will represent 74 percent of all internet traffic, according to KCPB. As a result, video testimonials are a great way to build trust and provide prospective students with additional information so they have a chance to learn more about the program you’re advertising.

As a marketer, whether you choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to advertise your university’s videos, make sure you’re targeting a very specific audience and that you’re using the right social media platform. For example, Facebook attracts an older crowd. According to a BI Intelligence study, Facebook users aged 45-54 represent 21 percent of the total time spent on the platform, which is the most time spent compared to any other age group. Therefore, if I’m promoting graduate school opportunities, I would use Facebook ads to pitch to an older demographic. However, as a marketer, if I’m looking to attract high school juniors and seniors that are researching institutional programs, I would consider advertising testimonial videos on Snapchat. This is a great way to incorporate alumni and current students into recruitment methods to increase brand awareness.

American University social media marketing example

             

University Facebook page example: This example shows American University (AU) utilizing Facebook to engage prospective students and newly enrolled students. In this video, President Burwell starts off by explaining her testimony as a previous college student and later explaining the experience of current AU students and professors. Although, this is not a current student or an alumni directly explaining their experience, as a leader at the University, she is telling her story incorporating professors and current students into the storyline.

4. Specific statistics and photos perceive tangible results and trust

When marketing testimonials, keep in mind that prospective students always need assurance to make sure they’re making the right decision. Research shows adding a face to the name, along with a testimonial text, can increase empathy towards people, even when never meeting them. This will automatically allow prospective students to feel more connected and provides them with the assurance they need.

In addition, if you are sharing a faculty member’s testimonial and they happen to share a statistic, don’t be afraid to also share that with your audience. Statistics help illustrate that your institution is about producing results and lifting boundaries for your students by highlighting the curriculum and opportunities you provide for your students and graduates.

For example, before attending American University, I would attend numerous open house events, speak to recruiters and speak with current students and alumni. Although attending events and speaking with students convinced me enough to attend American University, there was always one statistic that stuck with me, because I would see the same statistic posted on billboards all around Washington, D.C. and the university campus. The statistic read, “92 percent of our graduates are working, in graduate school or both.”

By reading this statistic, I was easily convinced that American University would give me the proper resources and education I needed to succeed. Reading alumni testimonials was great and speaking with current students gave me an in-depth perspective of university. However, reading and keeping that statistic in mind helped me make my final enrollment decision.  

American University student testimonial statistic

Source: American University

University photo and statistic example: In the first example from American University, the statistic automatically sparks a student’s interest. It makes an individual think they too will find success and become apart of that statistic when it’s time to graduate. 

A second example is from Washburn University using alumni to explain what they’ve gained through their education. Again,  marketing testimonials along with photographs will encourage prospective students to start thinking about the long-term impact an institution can have on their careers.

 

5. Improve email marketing strategies and tactics

If you’ve ever submitted a contact form on a university’s website, I’m sure you’ve received thousands of emails reminding you about application deadlines, open houses, scholarship opportunities and upcoming webinars. Looking at all the emails filling up your inbox, how many of them do you see marketing testimonials to share alumni and student experiences? Not many!

One of the best ways to convince a prospective student to attend a university is by making the emails relatable and personable. Instead of sending a generic email explaining the application deadlines, add a video testimonial with a student or alumni explaining why they chose the institution. Make sure the videos showcase internship opportunities, extracurriculars, curriculum and campus culture.

Another strategy for marketing testimonials is to leverage scholarship deadlines and add a written testimonial, with a photo of the student, that explains the situation they were in before receiving the scholarship and how it has helped them to succeed.

Testimonials can also be utilized when advertising webinars. Make sure to implement testimonials from a student that will be speaking during the webinar throughout the whole email marketing campaign. Feel free to also add an incentive when marketing the student’s testimonial by offering a one-on-one opportunity with that student. For example, before choosing Georgetown University for graduate school, I also researched Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing. I actually enjoyed reading the program emails because they always incorporated an opportunity to speak with an alumni or current student about the online program. While attending one of the school’s webinars, an alumni and current student shared their experiences with me and the opportunities the university offered them. Testimonials are your friend when it comes to selling your brand. Don’t run from them. Utilize them to their fullest potential.

University Email Marketing Campaign Example Using Testimonials in Marketing

Source: Northwestern University

“A recent IMC Online graduate, Erin Price, Senior Director of Strategic Planning at Sargento Foods, will be on hand to describe her experiences in the program.” – Northwestern University, Medill Program, Megan Castle

University email marketing tactic: This example from Northwestern University shows the institution marketing their online webinar and telling their prospective students an alumni will be present. Prospective students will be more inclined to attend the webinar because they’re interested in hearing a previous student’s opinion about the program.  

 

6. Use public speaking engagements to collect and market testimonials

During my junior and senior year at American University, my state recruiter would always ask if I could speak at accepted student events located in New York and New Jersey. After giving my speech, I remember taking a deep breath before seeing a number of students rush to me and ask questions regarding my experience, the professors, extracurriculars and student body culture.

I enjoyed connecting with prospective students and helping them make an important decision that will impact the rest of their lives. It was simply the way I leveraged my testimony that impacted their final decisions. As you can see, word of mouth goes a long way. If someone reads or listens to a story they will automatically feel more connected compared to someone just reading facts. When marketing a live testimonial, students may feel more inclined to make a quicker decision.

Here’s another tip – at the end of each event hand out evaluations. As a higher education marketer, this gives you an opportunity to see what you’ve done right and what areas to improve when conducting future events. At the end of the evaluations, feel free to also ask prospective students a question similar to this:

“After attending this event for accepted/prospective students to learn more about the (School Name) experience, how likely are you to enroll at our university or college? (1 – 10)

Also please feel free to leave a comment regarding your experience at the event and your name, so that we can post it on our website and social media accounts.”

Hosting similar events for your prospective students gives them social and tangible proof that everything your institution markets and advertises online is exactly what they will see during face-to-face interactions.

Takeaways:

  • In all testimonials, showcase a problem and provide students with a solution.
  • Student testimonials are a university’s success stories.
  • Always leverage the power of social proof and validation.

“Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” – P.T. Barnum

 

User generated testimonials are just one piece of Circa Interactive’s conversion optimization services. Convert the traffic you are paying for. Learn how Circa’s established methodologies, with new approaches, will help increase your university’s interest and ROI by visiting our conversion rate optimization services page.

Farah Green

Farah Green is a marketing and public relations specialist for Circa Interactive. She has background experience in both the broadcast media and digital marketing industries. While working at Circa, she has gained experience in higher ed content marketing while also improving her creative skills. Farah’s passion and continual education in marketing helps to enhance Circa’s team.

What is Project Management? Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

Managing a project is no simple task. Generally, most business projects don’t attain goals they were initially set out to achieve. That’s because most companies are still guilty of outlining project plans and objectives that are not backed up with correct practices. Project management is something you can’t learn straight out of college–it’s a competency that can be acquired only through years of experience and practical knowledge. Typical project management courses are offered to students who already have experience managing projects and require prior hands-on experience. In the current global economy, it’s necessary to understand and continually explore project software that can lend itself to bringing resources together. Organizing remote resources efficiently not only makes management easier, it helps to decrease project timelines lower overall project costs.

What is Project Management?

Project management refers to the ritual of planning, organizing, safeguarding, leading, managing and handling resources to achieve particular objectives.

Projects are temporary endeavors that have a marked beginning and end. They are basically undertaken to add value or effect beneficial change. Managing a project can be quite challenging in the real world. Achieving all project goals while honoring pre-determined constraints – such as time, scope, budget and quality – can be difficult. This is why a lot of effort and planning should be put in before actually beginning real project work.

Get a Project Going and Keep it on Track

1. Defining the Project

Some project teams dive right into the work without clearly defining project goals and requirements. The time properly spent on project planning would lead to decreased duration and cost and enhanced quality over the course of the project. A project definition encompasses the planning work and elucidates all attributes of a project.

2. Planning the Work

Once a project has been defined, you must create a work plan, which entails the instructions to produce project deliverables. If you need some inspiration, ideal to use resources available to you and seek out any prior work plans from similar projects that may be available. The work plan should throw sufficient light on assigning resources and work estimation, taking as many uncertainties into consideration. For each uncertainty or risk, you must determine the likely effect on the project. Certain activities cannot be clearly defined right at the onset. You should therefore revisit your work plan time and again to alter certain aspects as you make progress.

3. Start Executing

Once you have planned the project sufficiently, you may start executing it. Remember, almost no project would proceed completely as per estimation and plans. To ensure things are kept on track through project management fundamentals:

  • Review your work plan regularly
  • Check on your progress in terms of budget and schedule frequently
  • Update your work plan with completed activities
  • Share agile project management updates and provide a fair estimation of whether the project would be completed within the original cost, duration and effort.

4. Resolve Issues

When managing a business project, problems are likely to surface. Make sure you confront the issues and do not let them hibernate and metamorphose into a larger one. Even the smallest of problems should be solved diligently if they warrant your attention.

Basic Project Management Software and Tools

Email and communication tools are great ways to interact with team members, but additional tools help to organize people and team tasks. Dedicated project management software can assist in the fundamentals of project management. These tools help to track ideas, plot deadlines, share documents, and overall deliver more. Some of the more popular tools are free and can greatly increase a team’s overall efficientcy

Wrike

Wrike ScreenshotWrike is one the easiest to use project management tools for large groups repeating the same task or project frequently. It is a web-based program that can automate and organize your tasks and projects, enhance your firm’s productivity and increase efficiency. It lets you share data with your team quickly and collaborate on both tasks and project levels. Wrike’s email collaboration feature helps centralize management. The tool can be used for free or pay to upgrade based on your requirements. If your team has no more than five members, Wrike’s free plan should effectively meet your requirements.

Wrike.com

Asana

Asana ScreenshotAsana is another management tool where teams are provided workspaces made of individual projects. These projects are broken down into tasks that could be presented with comments, tags and notes. Basically, Asana breaks down the work into granular components in an easy to use Kanban board. The program works easily on both web browsers and mobile devices. The tool’s flexibility, short learning curve and simplicity makes it ideal for small businesses and freelancers.

Asana.com

Zoho Projects

Zoho ProjectsZoho Projects is a great choice if you’re already into Google apps for business (such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar) and require bug-tracking and timesheets built-in. It’s powerful and efficient and easily covers task lists, file sharing, project schedules, reporting and communication, etc. On-platform communication is quite potent with the option to chat with all team members at a time, individually or create subgroups.

Zoho.com/projects

Synergist

SynergistSynergist gets the job done by providing you tremendous visibility and control of tasks, resourcing, financials and schedules, in addition to all project communications and files. It’s a full-fledged project costing and management tool for big teams. Initially developed to serve digital and creative agencies, Synergist is now also used by several project-based companies.

Synergist.co.uk

Slack

Slack ScreenshotSlack is a group communication tool that is perfect for siloed businesses. With some organization, it can be used by larger teams to assist in meeting deliverables and moving tasks quickly. Slack integrates seamlessly with third-party applications that makes it easy to transport information from different platforms to Slack. The third-party apps include Twitter, MailChimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. With Trello or Asana integration, you can create to-do lists that can be shared among team members.

Slack.com


Successfully Managing Your Remote Teams

How can I use any of this to my benefit? As a manager handling and coordinating remote projects, it’s essential to consider work hour differences, time zone differences, and likely language barriers make using tools frequently with open lines of communication a highly important component. Regular check-ins, status updates, conference calls, etc. make up the drill. It’s important that remote workers are kept busy so that they don’t lose momentum and don’t look for work elsewhere.

Ensure Accessibility to Necessary Technology and Tools

There are several tools that help manage projects remotely such as Asana, JIRA Agile, OpenProject, Basecamp, etc. Basecamp is essentially a chat room space. The chat room daily connects people living in different time zones so that they could catch up on interactions that took place when they weren’t around. OpenProject features project-tracking, wikis, cost reporting and code management, and provides a robust, open-source option for project management.

Having the essential software tools and technology to all project team members makes sure the project stays on budget and schedule. It is easy for a project to derail if the team members are unable to access the information they require on time. Organizations and projects could also be impacted negatively by security violations that could put the company’s or a client’s sensitive data at risk.

Maintain Contact with Your Virtual Employees

Managing remote employees is not just about inundating them with work whenever possible. It’s also equally important to keep them in the loop about company affairs, recent performance, fresh hires, etc. You may accomplish this by sending remote workers recurring emails like a newsletter. Sending photos of a redone conference room, office setups, project teams, etc. can make things a bit more engaging. Video-calling can help reinstate remote employees’ faith in your company or project.

Have all necessary contact information about your remote workers handy. The contact details should comprise more than a phone number and work email address. You should have their emergency and backup phone numbers, personal or backup email addresses. It’s also important to stay updated on things happening in the remote employee’s region. For instance, if there’s a rough weather alert and power lines are expected go down in the area, you then know why the particular employee is being unresponsive.

Seek Remote Employees with an Entrepreneurial Outlook

Try to create virtual project teams whose members are not just technically proficient but also have an entrepreneurial approach and outlook to their work. Such people are naturally inclined to be passionate about things they do, are resourceful, results-oriented, independent, dedicated, highly adaptable and innovative.

The tools and resources are only meant to assist you in your project endeavors. Remember, they are not supposed to replace effort and time that you have to invest to start and lead a successful project. If you are clear about your role as a project manager, you are almost certain to derive tremendous value from these software programs.

 

Bill TimpeBill Timpe, PMP is a digital project management and resource management specialist. With over 10 years of project management experience, a background in development, and history, Bill brings a unique understanding of project lifecycles. Working for both large corporations and small companies, he has developed top of the class resource process strategies.

Education Market Research Tips for Programs in Higher Ed and K-12

What is Program Market Research?

The goal of program market research is to understand the competition, demand, and trends for specific programs or courses within a university or K-12 environment. Program market research can also provide insight into how a program or course should be designed based on current and future demand, in addition to how it should be positioned from a creative standpoint within the larger education market. This type of analysis can provide much more confidence to an organization that a program will be successful once launched.

Why is Higher Education Market Research and Program Feasibility Important?

The world of education has only gotten more competitive over the last ten years. With the rise of for-profit education, in addition to the adoption of online learning and MOOC’s, education has become both more accessible and more competitive. Prior to launching a new degree program or course, schools must complete a stringent market research analysis in order to ensure success.

Why is K-12 Market Research Important?

Completing market research for K-12 environments is important as it can shine light onto not only what is in demand from a course perspective, but also how it should be delivered. Classrooms continue to advance in regards to what medium subjects are delivered to students in, and keeping up with trends around how information is consumed by adolescents can be demanding. Market research for K-12 can ensure that the right programs and courses are created, which will in turn deliver education in a mode that is successful.

What is the Market Research Process?

The market research process can generally be broken down into three core sections, with each focusing on the three core principles of competition, demand, and trends.

1. Primary Research

Through a combination of qualitative strategies (focus groups and stakeholder interviews) and quantitative research, information is gathered around education drivers as well as large data sets upon which to formulate and execute plans. We follow a research trajectory that begins with qualitative findings that, in turn, inform cogent, useful surveys. We partner with an Ivy League university’s Survey Research Center to manage data-gathering efforts from hundreds or thousands of stakeholders to provide quick, efficient, and illuminating data with which to make decisions about online programs. Primary research tools include:

  • Surveys
  • Focus Groups
  • On ground program data

2. Competitive Analysis

Understanding the competition is an extremely important step in determining program viability. While understanding program demand is important, many times the barriers to entry and the cost to compete are too high to warrant an investment. Benchmarks are generally used to determine how a program or course stacks up compared to others, and can be a good way to determine ROI. Competitive research tools include:

  • Google trends data
  • Google keyword planner data
  • Keyword Spy (analyze competitors paid advertising strategies

3. Secondary Research

Looking to outside resources for insights into program demand can help ensure success. Compiling and analyzing data from existing resources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, local/state/regional agencies, IPEDS, job search web sites, and accrediting bodies can determine benchmarks and requirements, as well as short and long term labor market demands.

What Are the Best Market Research Tools?

There are a wide array of free and low-cost tools that are available to individuals looking to complete market research around a program. The following are just a handful of what is available:

  1. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/ – Insight into consumers via surveys, trends over time in search queries, and benchmarks for display related efforts.
  2. https://adwords.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner/ – Understand the cost-per-click and search volume around core keywords that your potential audience might be searching.
  3. http://fedstats.sites.usa.gov/ – Centralized location for federal government data including insights into career and education data.
  4. https://www.surveymonkey.com/ – Complete surveys of core stakeholders and faculty.
  5. http://www.pewresearch.org/download-datasets/ – Large data sets to help provide insight into potential program target markets.

How Can Market Research Inform What to Introduce?

The insights acquired from program market research can shine light onto what programs to introduce based on demand and current competition. Insights from BLS data and other job related data can help to determine what types of degree programs are going to be, or are currently, in demand based on career data. Google trends and keyword data can inform how saturated a market is and can also illustrate how much it will cost from a marketing perspective to enroll a student.

How Can Market Research Be Used to Define Marketing Strategy?

The competitive analysis that is performed during program market research will also focus on the brands of the competition. With education continuing to get more competitive, having a brand that is unique in the market can help to attract students and lead to more organic PR. Insights from this analysis and internal stakeholder interviews will provide insight into what the creative messaging should be for the programs in addition to  what markets to enter and which demographics to target.

By completing a thorough program market research initiative, universities and schools will enter the program creation process more informed about what should be introduced and how it should be positioned within the market. This type of information will help to ensure program success and will also provide upfront insight into costs and metrics, which can prove to be instrumental during the planning and budgeting phase of a new launch.

 

Robert LeeRobert offers a decade of demonstrated digital marketing expertise, and he has provided results to clients both within and outside of higher education while working as an analyst, team lead, and director. He has planned and implemented digital marketing campaigns for a number of large universities throughout the United States, and he leads Circa on all aspects of client strategy. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert led digital marketing teams at the higher education organization Embanet.

Three of the Best Books to Transform Your Digital Marketing Company

Over the last few years, our team has been looking for ways to transform our company, push our creative abilities, and ensure that we are constantly evolving to provide better results for our higher education clients. So, our leadership team asked a tough question: How do we ensure that we’re not getting stagnant? Well, the solution was pretty simple. We needed to learn from other professionals, inside and outside of digital marketing. We’re not in the higher education space simply because we believe there is an opportunity in the industry to provide better marketing efforts; we’re in higher education because we believe in the power of higher education. Therefore, we personally challenge ourselves and all of our employees to never stop learning, and I have read a few books that I think are important to help transform any digital marketing company.

1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

deep-work-cal-newport

Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, asks a simple question in his new book, Deep Work: How can an invidual focus on the tasks that matter most? This is a question I have been pondering for a while. In the digital world, there are so many distractions, and our clients’ goals are big (rank #1 for computer science online), and they take sustained effort and creativity.

But when you break down the types of work that digital marketers have, it comes down to deep and shallow tasks. Shallow work consists of all the emails, the admin, the busy work that is necessary but doesn’t require a lot of brain power, and Deep Work consists of the big tasks that can move a company forward. For example, filing a report for your client on how many links you built in Q3 is a necessary task, but it’s somewhat superficial work. However, creating a strategy overview that will help that same client rank number one for a relevant student-generating keyword can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

Cal Naughton examines how to build a working life where there is more focus on the deep work. Some of the biggest takeaways from his book are as follows:

  • Social media is a distraction: Yes, I know this sounds like blasphemy. Even though digital marketers need to have a social presence and maintain the knowledge of trends, the constant chirps of tweets and notifications from Facebook and other platforms will distract you from deep, focused work. Turn off your notifications—or completely remove yourself from social media when you’re under a deadline or working on a big project.
  • Slack and other workplace communication platforms can be great, but they can also kill your productivity. If you’re on Slack, then you are probably aware of how many times you’re interrupted by a notification or a message. This constant form of communication helps teams stay connected, but it also distracts individuals. Turn off the Slack function or hit the snooze button and allow your mind to stay immersed in the bigger projects.
  • It’s important to think about focus as a muscle. It’s something you can train. The more you focus on deep work, the more your mind develops. You’re literally developing your neural circuitry. If you can focus on a task, you’re not just being more productive, you’re working on the very structure of your mind to perform at a higher level. Time productivity sessions and follow the Pomodoro technique.
  • While there is a lot of focus on being productive and efficient in the workplace, it’s important to take the same lessons for deep work in the office and apply them to your personal life. For example, Cal Naughton mentions that your mind isn’t like your bicep, which tires after exercise. Your mind never stops, but what it needs is different forms of activity. So, while you might have an important deadline to meet with your client, it’s important to take the time away from your work and focus deeply on relaxing or another activity. Give your mind a break and schedule “free” time for your mind to wander.

2. The Undoing Project: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS.

9780393254594_198Michael Lewis is, of course, famous for many books, including Money Ball, but what Lewis didn’t know when he wrote Money Ball was that he was going to miss something critical to the history and logic of his most famous book. In the beginning of the book, readers learn that Lewis owed many of the lessons in Money Ball to two Nobel Prize winners and Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Basically, the book is about how Kahneman and Tversky created a Nobel Prize-winning theory and how that theory altered our perception of reality. It sounds complicated but there is a key lesson that digital marketers can take from the book: Humans are inherently emotional, not logical. What Kahneman and Tversky were able to show through their studies was that people were making poor judgments in uncertain situations, and they relied on their gut rather than data and logic.

So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? It comes down to a key lesson in communication that can help digital marketers talk to their clients and co-workers. Since individuals make decisions based on emotion, it’s important to recognize how issues are framed. Kahneman and Tversky’s studies showed that people changed the way they responded to situations depending on how it was framed. This is an important lesson for digital marketers. If we can think about how to frame strategies, ads, content, etc., to our clients or to the marketplace, then we may be able to push initiatives that are risky yet rewarding and help educate our clients on the benefits of a digitally focused strategy in the world of higher education.

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity_incOut of all the books, Creativity, Inc. might have been the most enjoyable. It’s not just because it’s an unbelievable treasure trove of advice on how to build a creative organization, but it also goes into great detail about how Pixar was created as well as behind-the-scenes insight into their movies.

Storytelling is the root of great digital marketing campaigns, and Pixar and Disney are the best storytellers in our world. What is key about the book is that in order to build an organization that is focused on quality storytelling in their messaging, it’s essential to build candor and positive feedback into their organization. If a company does not share the ability to be candid with each other because of hierarchies that stranglehold opinions, then the organization will never grow.

Everyone in the Pixar building, according to Ed Catmull, from the janitor to the director, has the ability to create an idea that will move a project forward. (Think about Ratatouille and the expression: “Anyone can cook.”)

In our organization, we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the structure that breeds candid and constructive feedback. One suggestion in the book is to hold “Notes Meetings.” It’s a simple concept. Individuals in the company submit questions to a leadership team on things they are struggling with. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific department, and the leadership picks the questions and sends them to the team. Then they have a meeting where everyone freely tries to problem solve the issue. This is an opportunity to improve the way feedback is delivered and develop candor. Great ideas can not become great unless they are challenged by people who care about mutual success.

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Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.