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Measuring Your ROI

Bob Brock

The beginning of the fiscal year was July 1 for many colleges and universities around the world. Many in marketing circles know that now – before the semester starts – is a good time to lock into place the mechanisms and processes you’ll need to measure the impact of your marketing investment next June.

We asked our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter followers how they measure the return on their higher ed marketing investment. We got many useful opinions from a variety of higher ed and non-profit marketing fields. Thoughts on assessing ROI in terms of overall marketing, social media, and web perspectives were most prevalent.

Here are some of the responses – some amazingly detailed, others still in the formative stage. But the discussion is not over. Please add your thoughts and ideas to the discussion in any of the social networks above. We also added our thoughts, at the end, on how to measure your marketing ROI.

Jeff Dodd, Manager of Social Media and Communications at Columbus State University in Georgia

I work for University Relations at my institution. Beginning this fiscal year (beginning July 1) we are being scored on the following “dashboard metrics” (can’t wait for that term to die):

  • Total number of new student applications (freshmen and graduates)
  • Total number of student applications from the nearby major city
  • Awareness of the institution in said major city
  • Website hits on our main web page
  • Work orders handled
  • Legislative contacts made
  • Peer assessment by US News raters
  • Visitors and followers on Facebook
  • Number of stories about the university carried by local media
  • Mentions of the institution in media outside the local area

Davina Gould, Director of Publications and Online Communications at Stetson University College of Law in Florida
Great list by Jeff. Outputs are fairly easy to measure (# of clicks, visitors, likes, media hits, etc.), but bottom-line outcomes are so much more complex. Admissions numbers influenced by so many factors beyond marketing campaigns (e.g., scholarships/fee waivers given, one-on-one admissions counselor communications), but we can compare general correlations between specific advertising efforts or marketing tactics with # of inquiries and other trends. Fundraising side is a bit easier (using marked envelopes or tracked URLs in response to direct mail or online appeals).

Bob Molnar, Web Production Coordinator for Public Affairs & Government Relations at Indiana University
Funnel reports in Google Analytics. Custom URLs for campaigns.

Mike Petroff, Web Manager, Enrollment Management at Emerson College in Massachusetts
Some quick tips and advice that I try to follow: Always use tracking URLs on your marketing campaigns to measure source success (ads, email campaigns, referring sites, etc) — Measure month-to-month or year-to-year comparison stats (you have to start with a base, then attempt to set and achieve goals) — Track “first contact type” with your recruits and follow them through the funnel – it’ll give you a better idea on ROI from campaigns they entered through — SURVEY your prospects/accepts – we often overlook customer satisfaction in calculating ROI.

Deborah Blanchard, Director, College Communications and Marketing at Lynchburg College in Virginia
One way… unique url in ads and on social media, track clicks with analytics.

Christina Sponselli, Director of Social Media at University of California, Berkeley
Depends on platform, but generally our goal is to build and maintain relationships with our constituents and share news and events.

Jason McCormick, Former Director of Marketing at the Greeley Philharmonic in Colorado (looking for employment around New York City)
I think social marketing has really changed how we look at customer interaction and how an institution may be able to measure effectiveness of a given campaign. Effective social media marketing has to be a continual process of building context around your brand and your points of customer interaction. You can’t always measure that through bottom-line numbers or through the number of “likes” and size of following (especially since many campus leaders won’t care how many Facebook friends the university has).

Because of this, I think measuring brand awareness and customer expectations of interaction is important through online, internal, and general audience focus group testing. Just as social marketing provides an emotional context to the purchase decisions of a customer, these tests can provide a context to the bottom-line numbers of the overall campaign. Then again, I could be way off. Any thoughts?

Marcos Facó, Superintendente de Marketing at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Here at FGV we prefer to measure the cost per conversion. It’s very difficult to have a real ROI, due to the nuances of Higher Education!!

Chris Price, Chief Information and Marketing Officer at PFL Group International Ltd/Director – PFL North America
I’d agree with the end of the day for universities and colleges ROI is about the best quality (highest educationally achieving for that institution) bum(s) on seat(s). As a marketing person I also measure the cost per acquisition from time to time…

Sara Kerr, Director of Marketing at Good Ground Press and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at St. Catherine University in Minnesota
Ultimately, the bottom line (people not dollars), but then I’m a marketer who uses social media as one of many tools.

Robin Luymes, Executive Director of Communications at Davenport University in Michigan
Our primary measure for marketing is leads that come in via web and phone. Also, accurate awareness in the marketplace.

These are all good tips for measuring marketing impact. While some are quite specific, others could benefit from a little more specificity. Here are EMG’s tips for measuring ROI:

In the strict sense, “return on investment,” (ROI) refers a performance measure used to evaluate the effectiveness of an investment of resources. To calculate your ROI, you would divide the total income your organization realizes as a result of marketing by the total cost of the marketing investment. The result is expressed as a percentage or a ratio.

That can be a complex and sophisticated calculation requiring in-depth spreadsheet formulas. While it can be useful every few years to actually calculate ROI (ask us for help when you’re ready), most of the time, approximations of ROI are what’s called for.

And our experience with more than 150 educational organizations suggests that if your goal is to demonstrate the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, quantifying outputs (what you produce, ie: the number of media placements, ads, publications, etc) won’t be compelling to your CEO. Instead, think in terms of outcomes. The closer you get to the bottom line, the better.

Measuring incremental improvement in top-of-mind awareness is a great piece of information to have, but it requires regular awareness-and-perceptions surveys. These surveys accurately quantify your general and top-of-mind awareness and perceptions of quality in specific geographic areas and specific demographic groups. Because these surveys are expensive to conduct, we recommend doing them every 3-5 years (call us when you’re ready!). But you’ll need interim measures when the budget doesn’t allow annual surveys.

With online marketing efforts, tracking outcomes is easy. Several of the professionals above noted that they’re using analytics tools and landing page activities to measure how many click-throughs and actions their online ads are producing. Perfect! This data simply needs to be summarized to be effective in the online environment.

But the holy grail for marketers is quantifying bottom-line outcomes: increases in enrollment, campaign donations, or research grants, depending on your goals. This requires working with admissions and advancement colleagues to identify the baseline and putting into place the right tracking mechanisms to quantify incremental improvements.

The baseline is usually your performance last year. But adding geographic and/or demographic data will really make your ROI data sing. Consider the following real-world example, taken from a recent post-buy report for a client for whom we had implemented a multi-platform statewide integrated campaign involving advertising, direct marketing, social media marketing, and events marketing:

During the three-year period 2007-10, areas of the state that did not receive advertising showed a cumulative 15% decrease in accepted students, while areas that had received targeted advertising, including this institution’s three highest-priority DMA’s, experienced hefty increases in qualified applications and accepts, which demonstrated significant impact and ROI for this institution’s marketing efforts:
Inquiries-to-accepted students ROI example

Now this is real ROI impact! Bottom-line data like this is hard to argue with. It shows both incremental change over three years along with the high-impact results that were achieved among targeted populations versus a “control” group that did not receive marketing attention. This kind of comparison has the power to convince leadership, quickly and powerfully, that marketing is doing the job and deserves all the funding it gets. (We also produced year-to-year comparisons of marketing impact.)

Such comparisons require tracking inquiries, applications, accepts, and enrolls by targeted DMA, and tracking your marketing expenditures by DMA, as well. Once these tracking mechanisms are in place, the process is straightforward.

Again, the discussion isn’t over. Add your ideas and tactics to the discussions on our LinkedIn group, Facebook page, and on Twitter.

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