University Open Enrollment Campaign: How to Increase Registrations

How can a university increase registrations in an 8-week, open-enrollment course? Rogue Marketing consulted with a prominent DFW-area university to solve their revenue challenge.

Warning: We’re going to speak in generalities to protect our client’s identity. Hope you don’t mind.

Let’s dive in:

A prominent DFW-area university hosts open-enrollment courses across many specialties, including finance, entrepreneurship, economics, American history, entrepreneurship, and many more. In order for these programs to stay open, they had to be self-sufficient, and drive the funds required to maintain them.

The entrepreneurship course was held three times a year at a cost per attendee of $800. Classes were held once a week in 3-hour sessions where business leaders like Chris Cook, the founder of Sleep Experts, and Mike Muhney, founder of ACT software, would teach key business practices which led to their success.

How It Started, How It's Going

So in 2016, the program directors approached Rogue with a problem: the course was facing dwindling enrollment, despite them not having altered their marketing tactics. What had once been a thriving class with 60+ individuals in attendance for each cohort, had gradually shrank over the course of several years to 20-30 people registered per cohort.

They had help, too. In fact, a major ad agency based in Dallas was responsible for paid media and creative direction for the course’s ads; even so, they were driving less and less ROI each year.

If the program directors could not increase registrations, then they would have to shut down the course. They set an ambitious goal of returning the course to its former enrollment.

Of course, there were complications: The only funds they could direct to a different agency was the ad spend that the major agency had. The program’s budget was locked into the department’s overall retainer with the larger agency. So if the program leaders were going to do anything, they’d have to go rogue with nothing more than the paid media budget earmarked for the major agency to use on their specific program.

Here’s what happened after they went Rogue.

How They Were Driving Leads Before

The program directors had developed relationships with a veterans group to provide the course at a 35% discount. The veterans group would consistently send 8-10 participants. While the discount was noble, it also dramatically reduced the margins the program needed in order to remain open.

Apart from the veterans group, the program had a list of approximately 300 individuals to whom they sent a cadence of 4 emails within two weeks of the $800 course beginning. Each cohort, they welcomed fewer and fewer individuals from that mailing list.

The program had a Facebook page, but not one that had been regularly updated or maintained. It consisted mostly of group shots of each cohort and the occasional post about a new cohort about to begin.

How Rogue Uses Deductive Reasoning to Refine Marketing Processes

Rogue knew they had to start at the end: How do we get the enrollment back up to 60 individuals? There are 2 options for every step of the conversion process:

  1. Increase the conversion rate – convert more of the people who enter the process
  2. Increase the volume – if the conversion rate cannot be increased, then increase the volume going to that step

At every step, Rogue either consulted with current data or provides recommendations to begin tracking key data points that will provide answers to each question. Then through a backwards-mapping exercise, Rogue started to identify possibilities, and eliminate those areas where we could not directly influence the outcome:

Conversion:

Conversion Rate Optimization

  • Goal: 60 people enrolled 
    • Prior Step: How does the course finalize the transaction?

       

  • Payment Method: Online Checkout
    • Hypothesis: There are people who enter the payment processor who do not complete the payment process. Increase enrollment by reducing cart abandonment.
    • Method: Simplify/optimize the checkout process
    • Tactics: 
      • Run registrations through EventBrite, Square, or other vetted and successful payment processors
  1.  
  • Obstacles: 
    • The payment processor was part of a university contract and could not be easily changed
    • Legalities blocked us from circumventing the payment process by going elsewhere (EventBrite, Square, etc.)
    • The payment processor was not customizable, and could not accept recommendations or changes
  • Conclusion 1: Cannot optimize the payment method
  • Conclusion 2: If we cannot optimize the payment method to increase conversions, then we need to increase the volume entering the payment method
    • Prior Step: Click to begin the enrollment process
  • Call to Action: How do we help more people choose to enter the payment method?
    • Hypothesis: The button or form is misplaced in the customer journey psychology, or it is not an action that fits the audience’s customer journey stage
    • Method: Alter CTA copy; place the button or form in a place and in a context where the audience is ready to click it; improve design
      1. Tactics: All other channels and CTAs direct users to the course landing page; no one enrolls without passing through that page. Make alterations to the web page.

         

      2. Obstacles: 
        1. Accessing web tracking data for that page
        2. Working with university IT to install trackers, CNAME redirect javascript, etc.
        3. Working with the department team to request changes to the university webpage

           

      3. Conclusion 1: All teams involved were cumbersome but willing to work with Rogue; making onsite changes were possible.

         

      4. Conclusion 2: If we wanted to perform conversion rate testing, Rogue would need the ability to do A/B testing; Rogue would also set up a separate landing page, with a sub-URL, and test on a page that we controlled.

         

      5. Prior Step: How were people getting to the webpage?
  • Call to Action 2: What other actions could people take who are interested in the class, but not yet ready to buy?

     

    • Hypothesis 1: Many people are interested in entrepreneurship, but they need some convincing that this class is going to give them $800 worth of material that they couldn’t otherwise search on the internet.

       

    • Hypothesis 2: If the program directors are relying on an email list, they need to continually renew the list

       

    • Method: Set up an informational mailing list, and invite people to receive emails with key information about each course.

       

    • Tactics: 
      1. Create a secondary CTA on the landing page
      2. Set up an email client to manage incoming form fills and outgoing automation
      3. Create a series of emails that provide information about the course
      4. Create a series of emails to run after the enrollment period closes that describes what they missed in class by not having enrolled

         

    • Obstacles: 
      1. Two calls to action is often antithetical to conversion rate optimization; Rogue would have to keep a close eye on the data to make sure the second call to action was not slowing activity on the primary CTA
      2. The university had its own email client; Rogue would have to set up its own
      3. None of the content existed; Rogue would have to create it from scratch 
      4. The program directors still wanted to send their 4 emails that they had relied on for years, so the emails could not conflict in timing or message

         

  • Conclusion 1: Test a secondary call to action

     

  • Conclusion 2: Growing the list would refresh it with people who will convert later if not today

     

  • Prior Step: How were people getting to the webpage? Channels.

Channels

Email – When someone chooses to receive communications from the university, especially regarding the entrepreneurship course, what are they expecting to see?

  • Hypothesis 1: The contacts on their current lists have seen the same emails for years. New content to old contacts could go a long way to help them convert.
  • Method 1: Write a series describing what they can expect from the course, including a list of speakers (which changes per cohort), where to park, where the class is held, what topics they will tackle, video testimonials of former attendees, etc.
  • Hypothesis 2: People are more likely to choose to pay $800 for the course if they have a better idea what is happening in the course.
  • Method 2: Attend class and write up a brief summary of what happened. Because the value of the course is in the coursework and being able to interact with the speakers (themselves highly successful entrepreneurs), an emailed summary will not “give away” the content.

Paid Channels – How can we target the right audience and draw in people waiting to take action?

  • Hypothesis: People who are most interested in the course material don’t know to look for the course.
  • Method: Target interests, keywords, and behaviors that indicate intent to start a business
  • Tactics:
    • Paid social media
    • Paid search
    • Retargeting
    • Search engine optimization
  • Obstacles:
    • Budget – Because the program could only pay Rogue from their paid media budget allotted to another agency contracted with the department, Rogue had slim funds left to allocate toward its own paid media efforts
    • External events – Working with platforms puts everyone at the mercy of that platform. For example, after 2 years of running the campaign, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal (2018) hit and changed the results Rogue was able to drive.
    • Investment (SEO) – The long term investment of SEO put the work out of reach for Rogue; there simply was not enough budget to dedicate to the work.
  • Conclusion:
    • Paid social media - Run
    • Paid search - Run
    • SEO - Not run

Content

VideoHow can a person come to believe as quickly as possible that the course will be $800 well spent?

  • Hypothesis: In the era of fast, easily digestible content, people need to see their peers who have taken the course and describe the value that they have derived from its content.
    • Method: Video interviews with class attendees; video shots of the classroom and the course material
    1.  
    • Tactics:
        1.  Engage a video production company
        2. Distribute the videos on the landing page and in emails
    • Obstacles:
      1. Budget – As a one-time expense, it’s not easy to fit into the budget, but it’s more possible to request additional budget for one expense than for ongoing work like SEO.
      2. Measurable impact – Since no one can make a payment on a video, the direct impact is difficult to measure. But the overall impact on the campaign
  • Conclusion: Video will have greater impact on a person’s emotional decision to join the class

Results

Long story short, the course went from 27 students in February 2016 to 55 in June 2016 during Rogue’s first shot at the campaign. Then the course went to 81 in October of 2016, and maintained a steady 60-70 for years afterward.

There was plenty more we wanted to tackle. Resources were a major limiting factor. In fact, they always are. Rogue has never worked with a client with limited resources; so if you had the thought, “Well why didn’t you do THIS too/instead?” then that’s a great thought! Something’s always gotta give, and Rogue works with the client to determine what they can handle, and what they can’t.

What’s Your Next Step?

ideas value rogue marketing quotableYou can go through this exercise yourself. No one doubts that for a second. In fact, so could the program directors at the university we just discussed here. But you already have a full-time job; so does everyone on your team. And no one is wasting time. So how do you switch gears when you’re so busy keeping up with everything you’re already doing?

You get an agency. 

You get an agency because you need perspective; you need expertise; you need people who can formulate a vision, and turn it into a strategy; you need people who can take a strategy, and then pick up the pencil and do the work. 

If you need to try something a little different...a little off the beaten path...a little rogue, we’re ready and waiting to hear from you.