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The Guide to Education Marketing in 2022

An Interview with Jessica Luna

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Jessica Luna, Education-Marketing head at Centrico Digital, and Co-founder at MyUniGuru

With education marketing on boom, Jessica Luna shares her thoughts and insights about what it takes to build successful education marketing in 2022.

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

An admissions page should really have a clear differentiation between international student requirements and domestic student requirements.

Jessica Luna
Education-Marketing head at Centrico Digital,
and Co-founder at MyUniGuru
Hello everyone, today we have with us Jessica Luna, Education-Marketing head at Centrico Digital, and Co-founder at MyUniGuru. Hi, Jessica, nice to meet you.

Hi there, nice to meet you as well. Thank you for having me.

Well, thank you for taking out time. We have been waiting to do an episode where we talk about education, marketing, and you are the perfect expert to have on that topic. So before we dive deep into the questions, it would be great if you introduce yourself, what you do at Centrico Digital, and how has education marketing been a change during the pandemic?

So I’m currently the Education Marketing Head at Centricol Digital. We are a digital marketing agency. We’ve been in the industry for six years now and I lead the education department. A lot of our experience has been working with universities, so higher education institutions, mainly also with undergraduate programs. So a lot of international student targeting, specifically targeting Latin American students that desire to study abroad. So for the past six years, we’ve really been focusing on the services side of things in terms of higher education marketing. And during the past two years, when actually COVID started, we looked into changing our service model into an education technology model. And this is where M UniGuru started. So we took all of our learnings similar to what you were telling me about your experience prior to our call. We took all of our learnings from the services side of things and gave it a spin to make it an education technology platform. So MyUniGuru really is an education technology platform that allows students to find the perfect universities for them in the US and Canada, and therefore allows University recruiters and admissions directors to find the perfect students for their institutions in Latin America. So we’re basically now really on both sides of things, right. So on the services side, offering our digital marketing services to these institutions, but also providing a marketplace for both students and universities.

I think it's a much needed platform, even from a student's point of view, like, you have so many Institute's out there and when you're looking for higher education everybody is pitching their institute, but you have a perfect platform where you actually understand the right fit for you. I think it is very important even from students’ point of view.

And just going back to your questions about the main challenges universities are facing, or the main challenges in higher education is that there’s a lot of information out there, a lot of universities are scouting these high quality students in Latin America. Now, even more with the pandemic, students are really overwhelmed with all the virtual fairs out there, all the information.

So really, what MyUniGuru does is, it asks a series of questions to these students through an interactive wizard upon registering and the platform, and based on those questions and our algorithm might be able to match the students’ answers with different universities in the US and Canada. So we provide you a list of what would be the best universities for you based on your responses. And their responses are not only academic, we also look at what are their interests, what are their goals, their aspirations and try to match students that way and also provide a you know, one stop shop for universities, universities also go to, you know, big fairs, the 1000 students at these fairs and maybe you know, only a small percentage of those are actually good fits for them. And they’re sitting next to another institution and another institution. So it’s like how do we stand out? So really, it’s a one stop shop for both students and universities, what we’re trying to put out there and very tailored to Latin American students as well.

So MyUniGuru for students; would it just be like, like you said, I understand you have very, intense and, you know, like perfect algorithms based on what you match. But would it also offer one on one consultation to students? Or would it just be the intake forms and the algorithms?

Yeah, so the way we have the platform now, and I’m sure you also know from your experience, like going to services and an end to end technology and back and forth, we planned to make changes to our platform, at the moment, it’s really a university research and matching platform. But of course, we have views to have the ability to connect with recruiters right then and there, jump on calls with students, and also parents. So there’s a lot of features that we have in mind for the platform, but at the moment, it’s the matching feature and accessing information from different universities.

Coming to the university side of discussion, I understand that students when they're looking for universities, obviously, they research a lot, and a university website is something, obviously they would go to first and they would browse through a lot of areas and stuff to understand which university best suits their needs. So from a university point of view, when you are developing a website, because from your experience, what are the critical, or the main elements make the most part of the buyer journey or that influence the students more that the university should take care of?

Yeah, so I think that the main aspects, looking at international students specifically, of course, is an admissions page and an admissions page should really have a clear differentiation between international student requirements and domestic student requirements, because of course, they’re completely different. And even within the international admissions requirement, it differs by location. So for example, for a student in India, the requirements are different from a student in Latin America. So having those clear distinctions within the admissions page, I think, is key. The other thing I would say is scholarships and financial aid, again, very different for international and domestic students. And a lot of the students or families actually in Latin America, really look for financial aid and scholarships when making a purchasing decision on where they’re going to, to pursue their college studies. The other thing I would say is, of course, academics, it’s really important to know what programs majors that university offers. A lot of, especially in Latin America, there’s a lot of interest for liberal arts schools, because there’s a lot of students who are undecided or just want to do a bit of everything. So having a strong academics page with the different requirements or different majors that students can choose from, I think is also important. The other thing is student life on campus. So at the end of the day, students also want to have fun, they want to know what clubs organizations are available on campus, how they can use their hobbies, in addition to their studies. So student life on campus is, I think, is also key, especially for international students who can’t visit these colleges beforehand. They need to have, you know, like a visual view of Okay, how does the dorm look? How does the dining hall look? You know, what is there like fun to do over there. So a student life on campus page, I think is key, a Contact Us page, of course. So there’s always inquiries like this is not an easy decision to make. It usually takes students like two years to make a decision on where to go. So there always has to be a clear way to contact an admissions rep or contact the school in any way. And then there should also be a page for current students, of course, who are currently going to that university and an about page about the institution. A lot of parents really want to know what qualifications the university has, what ranking they have, you know, what qualifications do the professor’s have? So having an about page I think, is also important. So I’d say those six to seven I think pages are ranking for

Well, absolutely. I think all of them are very important. Like you said, I think virtual tour is very important when it's international students, because of course, the academies are there, everything is there. But, the place where they're going to spend time they want to understand how it looks. I mean, thank you so much and I'm sure it really helped the viewers know, talking about, like, lead gen, what is your favorite lead gen strategy for universities?

Yeah, so I think you can’t really pick one specifically, because everything changes with how to attract these Gen Z generation, like, they’re highly complex, like, right now TikTok is on the rise, which we didn’t have like when I started creating this business unit at San Diego. And so I think it’s really a mix of everything, right, so having that pay promotion fee. So either via Facebook, Instagram, you know, there’s TikTok ads now, in Latin America, TikTok ads haven’t come in yet. Hopefully, they will come soon. But we’ve been tapping into a lot of organic content on TikTok just using different personas or influencers, talking about different schools or just doing different tours of schools. But in the US, TokTok ads/apps is already up and running. But I do think it’s a mix of everything. So that you know, paid promotion in terms of lead generation, it’s a lot about nurturing. So students start to research for universities and their junior year, so that’s like, two years before they actually graduate. So we really need to make sure that we’re nurturing them from the first time they actually give us their contact information, maybe when they’re just 16, or 17. and nurture them until they’re like, making their wish list on where they want to go. And, we need to make sure that we’re there. Organic, Social, and organic traffic is also a very important key factor for lead generation. So I really think it’s really a mix of everything, I don’t think that we can actually pick one; I think we should use all of them in conjunction to start targeting these students at an early age.

I think in this, you know, niche like we said, lead nurturing is important, because the sales cycle, you know, is also very long, right? I mean, people are trying to think of colleges way before, two, three years earlier, then from there, how do you nurture the lead, and keep on making sure that all the contact points with you lead to the entire conversion. So, I'm sure like, again, it's very difficult to do it without automation. So automation must play a very huge role, particularly in this niche. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, so nurturing and automation is key in universities, and you will be surprised at the number of universities that don’t really have a CRM in place, or a marketing automation platform in place, and they’re losing a lot of leads. So they do have a lot of leads that come in, through their pipeline, but they don’t really nurture them or do anything with them. So I really do think that having a strong admissions or no, and having a strong CRM that can track their journey, where they’re clicking on, if they attended more than one event, who they’ve talked to, right, if they are engaging with your content, via social media, or ads you need to have their whole journey to see if they’re actually interested or are like an SQL, a sales qualified lead for you and for your institution. So I think that having the CRM and marketing automation piece is key to nurture the lead. And also it optimizes a lot of the university’s resources. So there’s a lot of admissions departments that are doing a lot of activities manually, tagging leads, putting them into different lists, or checking them off when they followed up with them once and then another check when they’re two times like you know, followed up with and they don’t realize that they can automate all of this process and optimize their time in a better way if they use these platforms, or CRM tools or marketing automation platforms. So I really think that it is key both ways, right for the admissions teams and the university resources. And also, of course, to capture those leads and nurture them for two or three years.

You also help universities planning virtual events. So how do you create a successful virtual event, or, if I put it in the right way, what type of events work best?

Yeah, so like I was mentioning at the beginning of recall, it’s very overwhelming for students, it was before when travel was a possibility, right. So every weekend, a new university comes with their pitch, and they try to convince you to go there. And students have a lot of information out there, and they’re like, I don’t know where to start. And now with the pandemic, they had a virtual event every other day, because it’s now just easier to just have it online. And it’s the same structure, right, the university sales pitch, the view book or the brochure, and then you just listen in, maybe talk to the recruiter for a couple of minutes, and then see if it’s actually a good option for you. So now to create a successful virtual event, I think that uniqueness is key, and how to differentiate your university from the rest of your competitors. It was an important thing before but I think that now it’s even more important. So making an event memorable will avoid that virtual event fatigue that students are experiencing right now. So for example, right now, what we’re doing with our virtual events, is we’re moving away from the university sales pitch. And we’re actually connecting students with current students of our clients, institutions and alumni. And it’s like let’s have a conversation. Like an open q&a, not the PowerPoint, of course the university recruiter is present in these virtual events, and the student can, the students can engage with the, with the admissions counselor, but it’s more about like for students, by students, just to get that one on one. So I think that making those events memorable is key, and also finding the right students, because right now, with everything being virtual, anyone can register or login for an event. And a lot of the time, university recruiters are sitting in their virtual booth, and maybe one or two students jump in right out of the 100 that might be in the event. So they don’t really see a strong ROI anymore in virtual events. And there’s not that you know, one on one connection, so acquiring the right students like the high quality leads, if we have an event with 30 students and 30 of those are in an MTL stage, great. We don’t need like 100 or 200 to be in there. I think that another aspect is involving parents in the event and the conversation. So especially in Latin America, parents are a big purchase decision maker where they send their students to college. And, they want to know that they can trust you, they can trust the recruiter you’re going to take care of their child, this is like a very important decision. So we always invite parents to our virtual events. We have an interpreter, because of course, a lot of parents might not speak English. So we have an interpreter in the event to facilitate the conversation with the Admissions Rep. And we try to limit time as well. So we try to cap our events at around an hour. And of course, following up after the event with our leads, and nurturing them into conversion,

Also, what are your thoughts on purpose driven campaigns? Because Gen Z kind of now is getting involved in a lot of initiators, and those areas as compared to where it was, let's say, 10 years back, so how much role or importance do purpose driven campaigns get, or how much should institute focus on those?

So like you said, I think that the Gen Z generation is really more focused on changing the world and making a difference, and being change makers. So I think that that type of messaging is key. And also universities who give back to different communities, or different initiatives, also have that increase in credibility that resonates with the persona of this Gen Z student.They’re like, okay, I want to be part of an institution that really gives back to this specific cause, right? Or to the environment. So I think that that sort of messaging is also key, and something that has really increased in the past year to the whole, the world situation right now, being empathetic, and having the and knowing the right things to say, as an institution, I think is key.

You also help universities planning virtual events. So how do you create a successful virtual event, or, if I put it in the right way, what type of events work best?

Yeah, so like I was mentioning at the beginning of recall, it’s very overwhelming for students, it was before when travel was a possibility, right. So every weekend, a new university comes with their pitch, and they try to convince you to go there. And students have a lot of information out there, and they’re like, I don’t know where to start. And now with the pandemic, they had a virtual event every other day, because it’s now just easier to just have it online. And it’s the same structure, right, the university sales pitch, the view book or the brochure, and then you just listen in, maybe talk to the recruiter for a couple of minutes, and then see if it’s actually a good option for you. So now to create a successful virtual event, I think that uniqueness is key, and how to differentiate your university from the rest of your competitors. It was an important thing before but I think that now it’s even more important. So making an event memorable will avoid that virtual event fatigue that students are experiencing right now. So for example, right now, what we’re doing with our virtual events, is we’re moving away from the university sales pitch. And we’re actually connecting students with current students of our clients, institutions and alumni. And it’s like let’s have a conversation. Like an open q&a, not the PowerPoint, of course the university recruiter is present in these virtual events, and the student can, the students can engage with the, with the admissions counselor, but it’s more about like for students, by students, just to get that one on one. So I think that making those events memorable is key, and also finding the right students, because right now, with everything being virtual, anyone can register or login for an event. And a lot of the time, university recruiters are sitting in their virtual booth, and maybe one or two students jump in right out of the 100 that might be in the event. So they don’t really see a strong ROI anymore in virtual events. And there’s not that you know, one on one connection, so acquiring the right students like the high quality leads, if we have an event with 30 students and 30 of those are in an MTL stage, great. We don’t need like 100 or 200 to be in there. I think that another aspect is involving parents in the event and the conversation. So especially in Latin America, parents are a big purchase decision maker where they send their students to college. And, they want to know that they can trust you, they can trust the recruiter you’re going to take care of their child, this is like a very important decision. So we always invite parents to our virtual events. We have an interpreter, because of course, a lot of parents might not speak English. So we have an interpreter in the event to facilitate the conversation with the Admissions Rep. And we try to limit time as well. So we try to cap our events at around an hour. And of course, following up after the event with our leads, and nurturing them into conversion,

So you know, when creating a digital brochure again university can have like tens and hundreds of pages and stuff like that. But again, you know, nobody has time to go through everything and stuff. So, you know, what makes the perfect brochure? I mean, like, how long, how short are like, how do you ensure, like maximum conversions when you are creating a digital brochure?

So for us specifically targeting Latin America, it is key to have a virtual viewbook or catalog in Spanish for parents. Because like I said, their strongest purchase decision maker, and they are the ones that want to have all of the information, right? For students, it’s probably, of course, cost, but it’s like program “am I going to have a good time, and I’m going to be successful after I enroll, but students want to have it”, I’m sorry, parents want to have it all. So for all of our clients, we translate the viewbook to Spanish, just so that parents have access to our view books as well. And we always recommend our clients to make it as concise as possible. Just because every university has a view book, you know, it could be overwhelming for our target audience. And the way that we use it for lead generation, we have a CTA, and an RF in all of our landing pages to download the ebook in either language. And we also share the catalog in our nurturing efforts. So in all of our touch points, we tried to add in a valuable asset for the student or the parent just to give them more information about the university. So we try to leverage our view books and our catalogs there. I think that the catalog is a key aspect for our buyer’s journey, especially for parents.

Absolutely. Also, how effective Do you find chatbots?

Yeah, so we actually did a market research survey to understand the Latin American students or the Gen Z Latin American students in a better way. And in what we found out, I’d be happy to share the market research report with you, is that they want answers right away. So they want you to know, it’s fine, I will fill out the form and wait for you to contact me, but I want to get my answer now. So, two things that we saw was, you know, DMS or direct communications when this case chatbots is key for them, and also WhatsApp in Latin America. So we found in our research that WhatsApp was on the top communication platform that they use, and they prefer to be contacted via a recruiter to their phone to their WhatsApp number. So having that high response rate is pretty students, especially with all of the competition that’s out there from other universities.

I understand. Well, Jessica, before you go, any special advice that you would like to give our viewers that, you know, they can use and benefit from?

So I think that one of the important things here I think would be for universities is to try to find that uniqueness in your offerings, in your events, especially during these virtual times. And continue to provide that personalized experience, especially in Latin America. So, the Latin American family wants to trust you, they will invite you to your home, you need to promise them that your child will be safe and having that trust aspect online is hard. So universities have to find a way to be available to answer every question and provide that trust aspect in order to capture these students. I think that uniqueness, providing that trust aspect, specifically for Latin America and for other regions, I would say having market representation is key. So our clients have us here in Latin America; we understand the market, we were students, all of my team has studied abroad were Latin Americans who studied abroad. So we understand the pain points that these families to students are going through that sometimes, you know, a US recruiter or a Canadian recruiter doesn’t really understand how to approach the market. So having in market for presentations I think is also key.

Well, Jessica, thank you so much for your time. It was lovely to have you and hopefully, you know, we'll catch you soon for, you know, our next season.

Yeah, thank you. It was wonderful to talk to you and meet you.

Same here. Same here. Looking forward to meeting you again.

Awesome. Thank you.

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