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Recruiting Intelligence

Zero to Intense Doesn't Work


Been at the gym and seen people working out for what is clearly the first time in a very long time? Have you seen them put the machine on some ridiculously high setting right out of the gate? Disaster waiting to happen, right?

Our regular blog subscribers have heard us talk about testing your digital marketing to international student markets before setting the dial to “intense.” I thought I’d take a moment to explain the rationale and the approach.

Bottom Line: Small marketing tests—that look at the combination of distribution channel, timing, message, content and design—are going to lead you to large scale success if you take the time to do it. To do this well, you need an innovation budget to allow for failure. Yes, failure. Why? Because you learn from failing and when you fail fast and cheap, you achieve success with confidence. With digital, this is the way of things.

What you really want to know: How many clicks? And importantly: How many conversions (applications and enrollments)?

Read on...

One of the beautiful advantages of digital marketing is the ability to run many small tests at relatively low dollar amounts. Because these tests are digital, that means measurable. 

You really do need the ability to test because the field of digital marketing is changing so rapidly. There are so many options…email marketing tied to social media and banner advertising with micro-targeting of your audience segments…it’s enough to make your head spin. Please don't be daunted. Small, incremental tests over time will work and really are within your team's abilities.

When you are taking your international student recruiting into the world of digital marketing, start small with just one international market. Over time you will learn what works well for your institution to attract Chinese students is not going to be the best approach to attract Brazilian or even Vietnamese students. Testing can help you know the difference.

The Approach

Assign someone the job of consistently paying attention to the results. This is critical. Analyzing and comparing the data over time is what it is all about.

Impress upon your staff that testing is only useful if you read the results and make future marketing decisions based on those results. Don't get bogged down in the analysis. Find the lesson. Record it. Communicate it to everyone involved. Move forward with what you've learned.

What to Test

Testing marketing options goes beyond evaluating one message or design against another. You are trying to determine which source(s) of leads are most valuable to your institution. Over time it is valuable to evaluate the dissemination channels (email marketing vs. social media channels vs. leads from international student fairs, etc.). You might consider:

  • Do you find more conversions when you do cross-channel campaigns that go out over many social media channels?

  • Is it worth the time and effort to use multiple channels or stick with just one channel?

  • Does a particular channel get more shares thereby expanding your reach more effectively?

  • Do certain content offers and images draw more views, more clicks, and importantly, more conversions (applicants)?

  • Do leads generated by one source (a fair, a landing page, a referral source) convert at a higher rate than other options?


Here's the consistent challenge: tracking actual conversions. When a lead comes in through one campaign or another, many CRMs and student information systems have trouble tracking the prospect all the way through to enrollment. Without that end to end tracking you are only learning about click rates and perhaps applications received. Not to be crass, but what really matters is how many students show up for class and pay their tuition bills.

This tracking process takes time, expertise, perseverance, and an innovation budget.

Innovation Budget

Spending $2,000 on this little test and $5,000 on that little test can add up, for sure. And the investment is justified because it will ultimately give you the data you need to move your game to “intense.” Your results are exactly the thing that will allow you to stand in front of your colleagues and explain, with the confidence that only data can provide, how you plan to spend next year’s marketing budget in a big way.

When you make that presentation, you will show conversion rates on the test campaign that were high enough to justify a larger expense. You will have confidence that the larger investment is going to pay off. 

Here’s the Thing

When you are learning about anything new or anything that has a tremendous amount of change going on, you often make mistakes. Many of us then over correct…leading to a set of different mistakes.

But little “mistakes,” managed well, are in fact incremental steps forward. Or you can go from zero to intense immediately and explain to your colleagues how that marketing budget went so wrong, so fast. No one wants that disaster.

What To Do Next

Real success, the type you wistfully see at other institutions, was built over many years of incremental steps forward. So make your case for an innovation budget that will allow you to test digital marketing and build to a large-scale marketing plan based on hard data. Because zero to intense doesn’t work.