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A Unique Case for a Data Driven Culture in Higher Education

higher education and digital analytics

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If you were to consider the industries that could benefit the most from digital analytics, your list would probably include the usual suspects: eCommerce, banking, telecom and consumer packaged goods. But what about higher education? Although it most likely didn’t make your list, it should. And while it’s true that just about every company can benefit from digital analytics and a “data driven culture,” I’d like to show you why education deserves a little love. Many of the challenges we see facing higher education do not differ from those that you would see in any other industry; however, you might find some of them surprisingly unique.

Measuring the Entire Student Journey

Measuring the entire customer journey is a major challenge for most of our clients. At Cardinal Path, we think about measurement across the entire customer journey so that we can track the various life-cycle stages that occur throughout a user’s experience, and find out how to use marketing to move people through each of these stages. In the case of education, this is defined as the ‘student journey’. For a prospective student, this usually starts with one very big decision: should they invest in education at all? From that point, they will move onto applications, enrollment, seeking out financial aid/scholarships, attending classes, graduating, and then perhaps, becoming a potential alumni advocate for the school. Actually, it’s usually a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

In order for marketers to understand performance across this journey, they must first define their objectives, KPIs, and segmentation requirements across the various stages. Then, they must ensure that data collection is in place in order to execute on this information that was collected. Knowing what stage a student falls into within the process means they can be served with the right message at the right time. Furthermore, knowing which metrics are indicative of successful task completion within each stage of the journey allows for a better user experience, and more efficient spending of marketing dollars.

Integration Across Tools

Again, this is one that is seen across most industries, and one that we push our clients to think about all the time. But higher education also presents a unique case, since a prospective student’s decision-making process is often quite complex and can span across many months. This means that they will undoubtedly have multiple touch points with the university. Each one of these touch points will generate data that can help the university make the student experience better, and improve upon their own processes at the same time.

For example, by integrating your CRM and your personalization engine, you could target and remarket to very specific segments – something like “students who have not yet finished their application and are from a top 50 undergraduate program with a GMAT of 700-plus”. Okay, that’s pretty specific, but you get the idea. By tying together multiple systems, we can display the right content to the right audience at the right time.

A related topic to consider would be the passing of data from a CRM back into an analytics tool in order to allow for attribution of your digital marketing to offline conversions.  Things like applications, enrollments, graduation, etc. can all be tied to digital activities. Optimizing for metrics that actually drive the education institution forward can become very powerful for marketers.

Organization-wide and Business Unit-Specific Data Needs

A one-size-fits-all approach to data collection and reporting will almost always fail within higher education because of the complex organizational structures and different needs across colleges, degree programs, etc. In order to successfully provide data and insights to the various stakeholders across the organization, a well-defined measurement framework is an absolute must. Here the different metrics, segmentation, and other reporting requirements can be defined for each business unit, and then implemented throughout the institution’s digital ecosystem. Of course, there will always be some economies of scale, and we don’t recommend completely customizing your data collection needs for every individual stakeholder, so there’s a crucial balance that must be struck.

Governance, Governance, Governance

While governance is not the most riveting topic, it is important for success anywhere. Oftentimes, organizational structures in higher education are quite siloed, which can result in incongruous measurement practices. Building out a Digital Center of Excellence can pay dividends across the organization, as it ensures that everyone has access to the same level of data collection and analysis capabilities.

In many cases, there is one centralized resource for digital analytics who is responsible for tagging strategy, data quality, training, advanced analysis testing and more. A well-defined set of documentation and standardized practices can make this person’s life significantly easier, and allow them to focus on activities that contribute to improving the student experience, rather than chasing data.

A clearly defined data analytics strategy is beneficial not only to eCommerce, banking, consumer packaged goods, and telecom industries; higher education institutions can also benefit greatly from adopting a data driven culture. If you are interested in learning more, contact us.

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