Collecting the data of prospective students is a necessity in the 21st century. However, asking for too much can dissuade prospective non-traditional students from finishing their application.
Non-traditional students seek value for their time, as well as respect for their privacy. By reducing the amount of hurdles, those potential students that began at the top of the marketing funnel come closer to conversion.
However, the difference between too much data collection and just enough is a thin line, which is why Katie Booth, director of admissions at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, wants to help navigate the pitfalls and benefits of student data collection.
Christoph Trappe: Hello, everyone. And thanks for joining us. This is Christoph Trappe with another episode of our Adult Student Marketing Conference Podcast Series. And today, I’m joined by Katie Booth. She is the director of admissions at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
Katie, thanks for joining us.
Katie Booth: Thank you for having me.
Trappe: And today’s topic is really near and dear to my heart. We will talk about the fine line between collecting data and then, of course, what people are expecting for their privacy out there when it comes to—digital for most part. Are we talking about digital? Or everything?
Booth: Yeah, mostly thinking about digital advertising, what we’re asking for students, especially to initiate the process.
Trappe: Great. So, let’s talk about what is the issue at hand, what will you be talking about, why this is such an important topic.
Marketing and Collecting Data – A Two-sided Coin
Booth: Sure. Well, in my role at MVNU, I’ve been in non-traditional admissions for a little … about three-and-a-half years at this point. And my role has often included both the marketing side of what we’re doing as well as recruitment and data collection reporting and that sort of thing.
And so, I’ve been able to kind of be in this spot where I’m on both sides of that. And what I’ve found is we’ve had to have several conversations about kind of the difference in needs, whether we’re talking about something from a marketing strategy perspective or whether we’re talking about something from a recruitment or data collections standpoint.
And so we’ve had several conversations on our campus that I just felt like would be beneficial for other people to hear as well. Simple things—one of the ones that we’ll cover in this session is talking when we think about an inquiry form and someone’s first contact with the university, specifically at the non-traditional level. What is it that we actually need from students to get that conversation started? And what to the student will look like too much information or be a barrier to them completing a form.
Again, because I’ve been on both sides of that conversation, I literally have heard both sides say, you know, someone saying, “Hey, you need to make sure that you include birthdate on the inquiry form, so that you can make sure that you can deal with the duplicates in your CRM on the backend without having to put extra manpower toward it.”
On the other side of things, I’ve been in marketing conferences where I’ve sat in sessions and people have said, “Don’t ask for birthdate on the inquiry form because that’s just more information that the student will have to provide at that point that they may not be ready to share with you.”
So, really just trying to find that balance between the two.
Trappe: And it is an interesting discussion because I would not give you my birthdate from the get-go, quite honestly. And one of my pet peeves is when I’m signing up for a newsletter or something like that and they ask me for my mailing address, right? Are they going to mail me the newsletter? Of course, as a marketer, I can see both sides, right? Because the more information I have, I can—as you mentioned—I can take out the duplicates. I can combine people and all those different things.
So, how do you—what’s your advice for marketers? How do you find that line?
Booth: Sure. Yeah. I think that there’s definitely value in having more information. And so, I think we just need to be careful about what we decide to ask or not ask.
One of the examples that I have is looking at our own internal inquiry forms. Our non-traditional inquiry form is very different than the traditional. I would say that traditional high school students coming into a four-year college experience often expect to give more information than an adult student who may be looking at going back to school for a graduate degree or finishing a bachelor’s and is really just shopping in that sense at that point and not as committed.
What Data is Most Important?
Our traditional inquiry form has a lot more data points on it than our non-traditional does. And, like you said, as a marketer, you can look at that and say, “They have a lot more opportunity to reach out to that student in different ways and to segment their audiences and to vary content based on the students’ responses.”
But when it comes to kind of the thinking of non-traditional and the idea that we really just want to start that conversation at any point and really just get someone’s information and the way to be able to reach out to them and answer their questions and help them talk through what they’re interested in, and I’m really paring that back, to me, seems like the better option in the non-traditional space.
In terms of tools and ways to do that, one of the things that I’ve put together is kind of a list of questions that you can ask when you’re saying about a specific data point on an inquiry form or even on an application, really digging into why you’re asking for that piece. What’s your goal? Is it something that’s necessary? Will it be considered a barrier by the student when they’re filling it out? Is it something that would make them stop and move on to a different site and click off and do something different?
So, it’s really just a list of things that we could go through to really analyze each piece that we’re asking and decide if it’s something that is worth it or something that you’re going to lose functionality if it’s not included. Or maybe it’s something that you could say, “We can do without this for now. We can collect that at a later point.”
And for now, it’s really just about making the customer experience the best that it can be and trying to get actual communication started with the student sooner.
Trappe: And what is the bare minimum of what you would recommend that people have to fill out? Is it an email? Is it a phone–do people want to get emails? Or do they want to get called or texted? Or what’s the preference?
Booth: Sure. For us, we let people tell us, between those two, which one they’d like by offering a space for both. For us, bare minimum is we would like your name and email and phone number. And usually, those last two are both on there as available spaces to be filled in. But they’re optional. One of them needs to be filled in or the other.
So, if they want to give us a phone number but not an email, we’ll assume that they want called. If they want to give us an email, but not a phone number, then we’ll communicate by email. If they provide both, then we will use both to try to get ahold of them.
A lot of times for us, too, the inquiry form information gathering also includes their program of interest. A lot of times that just comes through—and tracking that to know, okay. They clicked on an ad for our MBA, for instance. So, we fill in that space in our CRM for them. So we’re not even asking them to help identify their program at that point. Really just asking for their name and someone on our team can get ahold of them.
Birth Date on Inquiry Forms
Trappe: And so, when you give your phone number or your email, is that often enough to actually combine your data and make sure you don’t have duplicates? I’m just thinking of my own email. I’ve probably had (it) for 20 years, maybe not quite that long, 18, for sure. And my current phone number, I’ve (had) at least for 15 years. So, I mean is that usually enough to kind of take care of that problem we discussed earlier with the date of birth?
Booth: Yeah. For us, our CRM is usually looking at email. It looks at first and last name, email, and what it would love to see is date of birth. That would be kind of the kicker to say, “I know if I can line up first and last name, email, and date of birth, that I can identify a duplicate and get it out of the system for you.”
What we really lose, or I guess the functionality that we don’t have as much for not asking for birthdate on our inquiry form is, we have to manage that a little bit more on the internal side. We have people who are looking through lists of potential duplicates and getting them merged. Because basically, the system can’t, for us, our system can’t do it on its own without those definitive pieces—a matching email, a very closely matched name, and a matching birthdate.
So, for us, when it came to functionality, it’s not that we can’t get rid of duplicates in our system. It was just a decision of whether or not we were willing to do a little more work on our end so that we weren’t asking our students to do something that they may or may not be comfortable to provide at the point of inquiry.
Data Collection: Create an Account Functionality
Trappe: Yeah. Very interesting. What are some other data collection best practices that you can share with the listeners?
Booth: Sure. One of the other things that we’ll talk about at the conference is the idea of analyzing an application “create account” feature, whether or not you have your prospects create an account before they’re able to complete your application. That’s something that’s relatively new for us.
To be honest, we’re actually in the process right now of moving to an application with no “create account.” Basically, just the idea that people are on the internet all the time now, and they’re on a lot of sites that ask them for a lot of information, and a lot of sites to interact with that site, they’re asked to create an account for that space.
And people oftentimes are not as willing now because you end up with accounts for everything across the internet, every different site having a different requirement. And so people have kind of an aversion to doing that. So, if we can take away another barrier to say, will we increase our applications if we instead of having people create an account, they can just fill out the application in some sensible web form or something.
The flipside of that question that comes up from a marketing side, we’re thinking that’s a great option for the student. The flip side of that question then comes down (to) where we say, what functionality is lost? What additional work are we creating for ourselves if we’re not going to use, for instance, the application that’s built into our CRM that requires a “created account”? Is there a way to find some kind of bridge between these two spaces?
Are we willing to import applications from a web form that come in every day and manage those that way instead of kind of that seamless, more fluid process that may be available through the CRM with that “create account” feature?
And, again, these are all things that I think—I don’t even know that are answers one way or the other for everyone, kind of blanket “You should do this, you should do this.” I think it’s something that you weigh out with your institution, based on resources that you have, and what you’re willing or not willing to do.
But ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re all interested in making the process as simple as possible for the student, making the student experience through the funnel easy and seamless. And so, you’re weighing out those options to give them that great customer experience.
Trappe: Yeah. It’s very interesting. And of course, it also depends on what people are willing to do, right? So, if everybody signs up for the account, why would you change it? But if you have 90-some percent of your people who make it to that step drop off, (it) might be something worth considering not to do.
Account Creation on the Back End
Booth: Yes. Yeah. And there’s definitely things you can look at in Google Analytics on your apply page. Do they go any further or do they drop off at that point? I mean the other thing is it is definitely work on the front end to go into it and do this kind of a change. But our goal is we’re about to launch our application with no log-in, so I should have information on this by the time we get to the conference in February.
But really just looking for, “Hey, let’s launch this application with no log-in.” We’ve actually found a way to do it within our CRM where we’re actually not going to lose a lot of functionality and are able to use a lot of the same features that are built in that way.
But we’re going to launch it and just look at application numbers and say, “Are our application numbers increased because of removing that barrier?”
Trappe: So you’re moving from an account system to (where) you can apply without having an account, correct? That’s how I understood that.
Booth: Correct, yeah. To the student, it will definitely look that way. It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes—we can set up a form that will essentially create an account for the student for us in our CRM without the student actually having to create an account. So they’ll end up getting an account, but our CRM will send them the log-in information for it. But to the student, they’re just filling out a form, a web form, that doesn’t feel like they had to invest in that way.
Communicating Across Departments
Trappe: Yeah. Very interesting. So, I know you will talk about how to collaborate and communicate with other departments. As we know, everything is now cross-department, right? You have to talk. You have many, many different stakeholders in a lot of different projects. What are some of the tips on how to communicate some of these issues with other departments? And what departments are typically top of the list to even think about here?
Booth: Sure. Last year, at the Stamats’ conference, I shared a session about reporting in non-traditional admissions and the challenges that come with that. And some of the questions that came out of that presentation really—when I got some feedback from people, it was useful to identify in how to collect that data and report on these things. But then the next question was, “Okay. Now, how do we communicate that to people outside of our own office?”
So, within our own non-traditional admissions offices, we understand the kind of data that we’re collecting. And a lot of times, we have department-specific lingo. We have different acronyms to use or abbreviations, or KPIs that we’re familiar with, even just as much as saying “conversion rates” or “funnel” or things like that, that when we get outside of our department and outside of our world where we’re speaking those things every day, those can become confusing to other folks.
But yet, we’re also (unintelligible) with communicating what we’re doing and communicating our success and communicating what’s happening within our department with folks outside. And so, really this is a focus on how do you break that down to be able to share that information, that content with others in a way that’s meaningful for them?
For us, that’s often (unintelligible) or a board of trustees. Those are kind of two audiences who are not in our world every day, and so when we start talking about things, we want to be able to make sure that we’re communicating in a way that makes sense to them and is useful and not just spinning up tons of data for the sake of data. But making sure that it can be understood so that it’s useful to them.
Trappe: Very interesting information, Katie. I’m sure it’s going to be even more interactive in San Diego at the conference, the Adult Student Marketing Conference. Is there anything else that’s worth sharing at this point?
Booth: Yeah. Just kind of to speak to that piece a little bit more, we’re going to talk about how to communicate some of those things. One of the things I think is important in communicating data and communicating those pieces that may not be as familiar to folks outside of your department is being able to tell a story about what does that data point actually look like?
So, what does it take for us to—if we just keep talking conversion rates, that doesn’t make as much sense to someone outside of our world as if we say, “Let me talk you through the life cycle of the student and where they would fall into each of these different things and how each individual person that makes up a piece of the report for the data that I’m presenting to you.”
So, really using what I consider story-based calculations and breaking it down to an individual and what makes up that number on a spreadsheet to make it useful.
Prospective Student Conversion
Trappe: So then you’re in charge of the CRM and basically the conversion, right? And how the user experience is there. How about getting people to that state? Is that also part of what you focus on? Or do you work with a marketing team? Or how does that part of the funnel look?
Booth: Sure. So, my role as director of admissions, I oversee all marketing, so I’m overseeing kind of our frontline efforts in terms of digital campaigns, everything we’re doing to get leads, to have folks that inquire and then to be able to follow up with them, as well as kind of our general branding, radio campaigns, billboards, that sort of thing.
I also oversee our CRM, so I have a hand—I’m the main manager in there, so I’ve got a hand in our data system and making sure that that’s kept clean. And then I also oversee our recruitment team as well, so our team of enrollment specialists who are following up with those inquiries and moving them through the funnel. So it’s really kind of an all-encompassing role at this point. I’ve got a lot of great folks who help support me and make all of this happen.
But we really kind of have that holistic view at this point, where I am looking from beginning to end and trying to make sure the process from someone seeing an ad or searching for a program and us showing up in people’s search results, or whatever—really making sure that what we’re doing with them from that point, all the way through their application experience, through getting accepted, and then moving onto getting confirmed for a starting schedule and that sort of thing, all the way through to enrolling in a program—really that we just have kind of (unintelligible) all we can all the way through that.
Trappe: Great. So, that’s great to hear that everything is integrated because, of course, you will be talking—we’ve talked mostly about what do we do with people when they come to our site. What do we need to actually collect—what’s the data that we need? But, of course, you also have to get them there. Right? So, if nobody shows up, it’s kind of irrelevant.
So, that’s fantastic to hear how integrated it is. I still see that quite often where one department does one piece, the other department does another, and when it doesn’t work, they point fingers at each other. So, that integration is great to hear.
Well, great. I hope we will see everyone in San Diego in February. You can certainly register at Stamats.com. If you’re reading the transcript of the podcast, there should be a link right near here to do that as well.
Katie, thank you so much for joining us. And very, very interesting. And thanks for sharing all your knowledge.