Ci Engage

Lead Attribution: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

As a society we use social channels for both communication and accessing content. More so, the target audiences for both undergraduate and graduate programs, Gen Z and Millennials, use social channels and associated mobile apps for peer communication. A majority of Gen-Z teens (52 percent) say they spend three or more hours per day on messaging apps — but texting doesn’t rank in their top three mobile activities at all, according to a new report from Think With Google. In fact, over 80 percent of all mobile time is estimated to be spent in apps across the board. But the move away from texting and toward “messaging” — does represent a significant shift in the way younger generations prefer to communicate. (

These modern communication channels have become the primary “gateway” for college bound students to access content. Whether it’s news, music, or information about products, social channels rule. Today’s younger generations are simply not communicating or searching for products and information in the same way as prior generations. With all of the modern channels of communication, higher ed marketers and enrollment professionals not only need to implement new tactics, they also need to adjust their concept of lead attribution.

The marketing channel explosion and the impact on lead attribution

The digital shift has created new and real challenges for higher education. Not only in how to access and reach prospective candidates, but also in how to analyze best practices, prioritize marketing spend, and measure the ROI from the plethora of channels available.

Today’s students self-educate, access content, and communicate using many channels. The ability to attribute a successful outcome to one specific marketing channel or activity has become next to impossible. They research and explore options for a longer time. And they don’t always come in from the same channel that your brand is brought to them. They often sign up for a visit or apply in a way that is not attributable to the place they originally learned about your school. Rarely are students clicking through on a link the first time they see something presented to them.  The quality of the interaction, the frequency, and the personalization all come into play and all have an impact on the outcome.

Consider the 8-10 touch rule that is commonly used in consumer marketing. It takes a significant number of touches before someone will engage with a brand, and students are no different.

As a result, the traditional “original lead source” concept that many still hold dear must be abandoned in higher ed student recruiting. With so many channels designed to attract students including web searches, mobile apps, online and print ads, email, direct mail, college fairs, etc., a potential student can learn about your brand in many ways. And they certainly won’t be influenced by only one channel or touch. Instead, enrollment pros need to focus on multi-touch marketing that tracks the series of engagement points that lead a student to the application process and drive them to the ultimate goal of enrollment.

Attribution tracking across multiple channels

With any multi-channel marketing effort some level of attribution can and should be associated with each channel. It does however become blurry when attempting to put an exact ROI on each channel.

Let’s say you spend $7,000 per month to prominently display your brand and special tuition plan for out of state students on a billboard that is on a major highway in a major city. If you do nothing else at all to promote this opportunity for out of state students, and you see a lift in out of state applications, then you could surmise that it was a result of this promotion.

However very few recruitment activities are limited to one channel. They are multi-pronged and leverage several channels. Student lists are purchased, emails are deployed, and brochures may be mailed. Maybe you purchase website placements for banner advertising with a trackable link. To truly measure success, you need to look at your programs holistically. A combination of highly trackable methods should be used along with the old fashioned “many eyeballs” methods.  And remember that it’s the totality of a student’s exposure that ultimately influences their decision to engage, stay engaged, and take further action – such as visiting, applying or enrolling.

Mixing old with new marketing channels for enrollment success

TV, Radio, Billboards, print ads, direct mail and even college fairs are high level branding opportunities. But are very difficult to measure ROI against. Marketers relied on these channels predominantly for decades until digital channels (email, banner ads, tracking links) came onto the scene. We then had a very simple way to track success; the “click”.  Despite this, we still spend budget on these traditional channels even when difficult or impossible to track the source or measure ROI. Why? Because we believe in high level brand marketing.

The good news is that social and mobile app solutions like College Interactive (Ci) give enrollment pros the best of both worlds:

  • High level brand marketing, lots of eyeballs/impressions, repetitive, brand building. It’s measurable by the size of the undergrad and student audiences the message is presented in front of. But can it track the source when a student engages? Yes and No. If a student takes direct action and clicks on a post, then yes. But what if they make a mental note and continue their research at a later time? Maybe even weeks or months later. Or what if they prefer to navigate to the website on their own through another browser window?

For those of you who are highly data driven, you may want the ability to track traffic through interactions. We have good news!

  • With CiEngage you can measure eyeballs and how students are interacting with your content. You can also identify interested candidates, ask them to contribute more insight on themselves, access their already “opted-in” personal data, and engage in a meaningful relationship building journey.

This is the entire premise of the CiEngage solution. It’s very simple, don’t focus on the source of the name. Instead, focus on a way to build your brand and create repeated engagement through highly relevant and timely content. And communicate with and nurture candidates where they are most comfortable – on their smartphones. CiEngage allows you to do all of this at scale, very affordably.

Make the mobile shift today

Learn how colleges and universities like yours have achieved higher engagement, ROI and enrollment success with the CiEngage platform. Read our success stories.