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How To Drive Real-Time Engagement With Every Learner

By February 2, 2023

Editor’s note: This article is part of our ongoing series that explores how automation, intelligence, and real-time engagement can help nonprofit organizations and educational institutions become more efficient and productive while better serving their stakeholders, constituents and customers.

I’ve been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. I’ve seen seismic changes in that time — from the increase in social media as a marketing and paid media platform in the mid-to-late 2000s to the adoption of analytics to make data-informed decisions for marketing campaigns in the last decade. But it’s possible that the global COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest changes of all — especially for the education sector, which has so many unique challenges.

In March of 2020, when schools and universities abruptly shut down, it became abundantly clear that most weren’t equipped to engage with students or their families at scale. Marketing automation tools that most enterprise businesses take for granted weren’t generally used to drive real-time engagement and messaging in educational settings. But as the pandemic progressed across the sector, it became clear that marketing automation tools are the best way to deliver highly personalized messages in real-time.
That’s easier said than done when the underlying data needed to deploy those tools is hard to navigate. Most institutions have a surplus of data, but have trouble accessing it easily across departments and administrative functions. To drive real-time engagement with every constituent, from prospective students through to alumni and donors, higher education needs to embrace change and start looking to the future. This blog will unpack how to drive real-time engagement with every learner.

The Right Experience at the Right Time for the Right Person

Higher education institutions collect and store a large amount of data, but it’s often very siloed among various departments. One of the biggest challenges is making sure everyone across the institution can access all that data to drive real-time engagement. And it’s not just demographic data they’re collecting, but also behavioral data: the websites people visit, which emails they open, which ads they click on. Deployed properly, all that data can drive a better customer experience. 

Using Marketing Automation To Drive Real-time Engagement

Real-time engagement requires an institution’s system of record or customer relationship management (CRM) solution to be integrated with their engagement channels, typically via a marketing automation platform. I see more organizations using those platforms to drive productivity because by connecting those resources, they can build multi-step, multi-channel journeys that don’t require staff to keep tabs on a campaign, manually send out follow-up emails, etc. That means staff can run multiple campaigns at once and analyze their performance to quickly figure out what’s working and what’s not. 

How Real-time Creates Cost Savings for Higher Education Marketers

All that time saved creates efficiencies and cost savings in terms of staff time, but there are two other ways real-time engagement is saving institutions money on marketing. First, the institution can consolidate its use of marketing technology platforms at the enterprise level, instead of having 30 or 40 instances of Mailchimp, for example — each of which might only cost $5,000 a year, but that adds up fast. 

Second, real-time engagement reduces unnecessary ad spending. For example, if a university is trying to get a group of people to take an action, they might target them with display ads on Google, Facebook, or Instagram. If they’re not operating in real-time, there will be a lag between the decision to buy ads, the actual spending, and the audience seeing the ads. If their marketing automation system is communicating with the ad platform, both systems will know if 10 new people need to be added to the segment and five removed because they took the action—ensuring those ad dollars are not wasted.

Building Personalized Digital Experiences

Bigger changes are on the horizon for the higher ed sector. We’re seeing a trend toward continuing education in the form of micro-credentialing and certifications — and much of that learning will be done virtually, so institutions need to become even more real-time and personalized, because they can’t rely on their campus experience to attract students. Institutions need to determine how to drive the kind of deep personalization that creates positive outcomes with individual constituents. 

The answer is good technology, used effectively and at scale across the enterprise. Institutions need a standard platform where they can share assets but allow various schools or departments the flexibility and freedom to do what they need to do. 

A great example of this is the University of Southern California. Their advancement department set an incredibly ambitious fundraising goal of $6 billion. Thanks to their creation of a custom toolset built around Sales Cloud, Customer Community, and Marketing Cloud that provides them with real-time data, they blew past that goal and have continued to see amazing progress. Having that real-time data at their fingertips meant they no longer had to rely on educated guesses about donor behavior, and using a single solution to automate their campaigns and workflows and sync legacy systems with one another has been invaluable.’

Check out our Guide to Higher Education Marketing to learn more about creating a connected experience for students, constituents, staff, and supporters.