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Navigating a Marketing World with Too Much Data

Written by Molly Forman on Jun 4, 2017

Related content: Features, Marketing, Data Science, Op Edu, Diversity And Inclusion, Leadership, Strategic Partnerships

Data-driven marketers are tasked with the job of getting out the right message to the right audience at the right time in order to attract the right consumers for a desired outcome. The job isn’t easy. Data-driven marketing requires a rational process and approach that includes reducing decision bias, improving predictability, increasing impact, iterative planning, a process and approach. It requires a reliance on data — capturing, synthesizing and acting on numbers from digital channels, platforms and tools to drive business forward.

While data can be a powerful tool for making the right business decisions, the deluge of numbers and information can create paralysis. “Worse even, the onslaught of data forces some marketers to feel like they need to create even more numbers in the form of proxy metrics that are abstracted and removed from the business outcome, but easy to measure and report,” says Michael Kurbjeweit, SVP of Marketing Strategy at 2U. “There is too much data, too many metrics, too many KPIs lulling marketers into a false sense of confidence.”

Responsible for improving the effectiveness and returns of marketing efforts at 2U, Kurbjeweit knows all too well how complicated working with data can be, but there are tried and true ways to navigate your way through the noise and find the metrics that drive business. At 2U, we focus on the leading indicators that are correlated and causal to business outcomes and how we can directly impact those indicators, including finding relevant audiences and testing creative that resonates for each brand and program. We tie everything together from a click today to the expected outcome of a graduated student two years from now.

Measure End to End

What most marketers miss out on is that if your KPIs are not tied to your economic outcomes, then they are meaningless. Five years ago we were obsessed with generating prospective students. They were the only metric we measured. More prospects meant more students in our mind. What we ignored was the quality of the prospect and how they impacted the number of students for our partner programs. We needed to tie every marketing dollar to the number of prospects we got for our partner programs, but also ultimately, and more importantly, to the conversion rate of prospects and graduation outcomes for students, which benefits our bottom line and brings in revenue. Changing our approach to the data meant moving from measuring only the cost to acquire prospects to measuring projected student enrollment instead.

Find Your Niche

Fixating on the few metrics that drive the business is vital to our success because our product is appealing to a very small niche. If there are roughly 325 million people in the U.S., 117 million households and about three million people in a year will enroll in postbaccalaureate programs, the audience we’re going after is incredibly small. Of those interested in graduate programs, there’s a smaller proportion of those who want to go online and then an even smaller proportion of those who want to get into the programs we offer. For many marketing shops, their notion of data is to understand ROI of investment and how to avoid wasting marketing dollars. For us, it’s to find our niche and how to best reach that select audience.

Know Your Consumers

Data is also crucial for understanding and moving students through graduation. By learning how prospects and students interact with any 2U system, we are able to better predict student and prospect behavior. In the case of marketing, this means better online targeting in paid search, or improved prioritization of outreach in sales. With respect to outcomes, we are able to facilitate more accurate attrition models so that we can understand which students are having trouble in class and we can reach out to help them more quickly.

As perplexing as it can be, data itself is neither good nor bad, powerful or weak, right or wrong. Data is a tool for making either the right business decisions or the wrong ones. You start by trying to ask the right questions, removing bias from the data and presenting information objectively, and then eventually you may begin to unlock doors and provide tangible insight into questions that had previously only ever been abstract. For us, that has meant being able to help students succeed in class or improving the quality of coursework. At 2U, our focus is on how to use data effectively to strengthen our partner relationships and to improve the learning outcomes for students.