Making the Digital Transition: Trends in the Education Market
— Friday, April 20, 2012
Of all the forces impacting the education market, none is as fast moving or far-reaching as the transition to digital, both in marketing technology and education product development.
For five years, MDR has conducted annual research reports focused on Email Trends in the Education Market. For 2012, the digital revolution demands a broader view of the impact on educators and education marketers, and MDR quantifies this impact in its first report on Digital Marketing Trends in the Education Market.
This is a dynamic time for educators and for the companies that provide the products and services that support teaching and learning, but keeping up with the rapid-fire changes in an evolving market can be daunting. To help marketers capitalize on the opportunities these changes provide, we will share key research findings and takeaway tips from the 2012 Digital Marketing Trends report.
Expanded Access Keeps Email in the Lead
The biggest story in email marketing to educators is the expansion of devices used to access information and content. More than four out of ten teachers are able to access their email on a wireless mobile device—a fivefold increase in just four years, with even higher percentages for district administrators and college professors. Marketers are responding to this increase by continuing to focus on email as a critical marketing channel.
Email marketing is employed by more than nine out of ten marketers (94%). There were over 9,000 prospecting email campaigns deployed by MDR on behalf of clients during the 2010-2011 school year—with a rapid rise in self-deployment to lists provided by MDR—resulting in a staggering 67% overall increase in email volume. Even with the dramatic increase in email volume year on year, the educator opt-out rate remains low, which indicates that marketers are keeping their messages relevant to educators.
Open and click-through rates were slightly lower last year, showing that while educators continue to take action on marketing emails, this is a trend to watch. Marketers are creating relevance by utilizing personalization and dynamic content insertion. Personalization, on average, lifts the response rate, while personalizing both the “From” and “To” lines can have a dramatic impact on response rates.
There are distinct differences in email marketing frequency and response across constituencies. More than half of teachers made a purchase as a result of an email solicitation, spending more money in 2012 compared with the prior year. For administrators, the number of email advertisements received and purchases made from emails remained stable from prior years. Yet, despite the increased volume of email campaigns, 45% of college faculty received two or fewer education-related email offers on a daily basis.
As email marketing to educators reaches full maturation as a channel, it becomes more and more critical for marketers to use tools like relevancy and personalization to help a message stand out in the crowd.
Search and Web Advertising Grow
Many of the same reasons marketers gave for their allegiance to email marketing are echoed in the reasons for increasing search engine spending—good ROI, low cost, effectiveness, and “best broad spectrum coverage for the money.” Companies see web ads as a way to create market awareness and drive potential customers to the company website. As a result, between 2009 and 2012, there has been steady growth in education marketers’ use of SEO/SEM (from 55% to 62%) and online advertising (from 52% to 60%).
Our survey results validate this approach. Most college faculty use search engines to access or research digital content and do so predominantly for teaching. Interestingly, “researching educational products that you need to purchase” comes in as the next most important reason, with “purchasing educational products you need for the courses you teach” not far behind.
Teachers and district administrators also rely heavily on search engines to research and access online digital content. Teachers in particular seek a variety of digital content—such as instructional software, online textbooks and supplemental materials from publishers, curriculum-based games, reference materials, and streaming videos.
Social Network Marketing Successful for Early Adopters
While some companies are just getting started and still testing the waters of social network marketing, all marketers share the desire to capture the opportunities it offers: engaging younger teachers, building brand awareness, and keeping up with the newest trends. Those who have taken the plunge note the good ROI and cost-effectiveness of social network marketing, and our survey reports that this is one of the areas marketers have targeted for budget increases next year.
There is good reason for marketers to explore social network marketing. Just as expanded online access has boosted use of email campaigns, marketers are seeing social networks as a valuable marketing venue where educators are already spending their time. As a new generation of teachers enters the profession, their comfort level with social media sites is reflected in the numbers: a larger percentage of teachers with fewer years’ experience are using these resources than their more experienced counterparts. Administrators are slightly more likely than teachers to use social networking sites. College faculty report using professional or education-related social media sites at least a few times a month and visiting consumer-related social media sites with the same frequency. Most of these educators cite the exchange of ideas and obtaining free resources as their primary reasons for social networking.
Marketing Content That Is Digital, Versatile, and Device Agnostic
Companies providing products and services to the education market are quickly transitioning to meet the needs of an increasingly digital marketplace. To gauge how organizations are adapting to the changing practices and expectations of educators and students alike, the survey asked what kinds of product and service enhancements they were creating. Eight out of ten marketers report that their organizations have created (or are in the process of creating) various types of digital materials in formats for websites, mobile devices, digital versions of textbooks, or curriculum and interactive whiteboards.
The survey shows that many companies are increasing budgets to develop apps for tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices to meet market demand and customer expectations, whether as an addition to the organization’s current offerings or as a strategic move from print to digital content delivery. One response seemed to capture the flavor of comments: “We think this is the next big frontier in education as more instructors and students are willing to go digital.”
The survey results indicate that schools are pushing to prepare for the use and presentation of digital content. Administrators report that digital content is currently delivered to students mostly through desktop computers, interactive whiteboards, and laptops/netbooks, but they hope to implement the use of even more devices within the next five years.
The New Multi-Channel, Automated Marketing World
The survey of education marketers sought to gather insight into both traditional direct marketing activities and innovative initiatives companies are undertaking. All three surveys confirmed that integrated or multi-channel marketing is common practice. Marketers also shared their forecasts for increased spending next year by channel, with a multi-channel mix showing steady increases year over year.
The percentage of organizations with sales lead generation programs has shown consistent increases over the past five years and is now at 56%. As marketers spread their efforts over multiple channels, the need to be able to properly attribute leads to the source is increasing the interest in such marketing automation systems.
The transition to digital is a rapidly advancing one, and industry marketers can continue to take their cues from educators to stay on top of the changing landscape. A multi-channel approach with a focus on automation is a critical marketing strategy for connecting with teachers at every digital touch point and ultimately capturing their business.