West Texas A&M University: Online MBA Interactive Marketing Plan

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1 West Texas A&M University: Online MBA Interactive Marketing Plan 1.0 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) is seeking to grow university enrollment, reposition itself and promote its online MBA program. To promote the online MBA program, WTAMU will engage in a multi-phase Interactive Marketing campaign aimed at increasing brand awareness and direct response through the use of pull and push marketing initiatives. 2.0 BACKGROUND INFORMATION West Texas A&M University, located in Canyon, TX, is the northernmost higher education institution in Texas and dates back to The university is part of the Texas A&M University System and offers approximately 7,300 students 61 undergraduate degree programs, 43 masters programs and 1 doctoral program. The College of Business at WTAMU offers one of the top regionally accredited online MBA programs. The online MBA program parallels the in-class MBA. This allows students to take classes exclusively in-class, exclusively online or use a mix of both online and in-class. The online MBA program consists of credit hours and can be completed in as little as one year or up to six years. 3.0 SITUATION ANALYSIS WTAMU seeks to grow, reposition and promote its online MBA from the best kept secret category to a position more compatible with the quality of the WTAMU online MBA education. This Interactive Marketing plan will address how WTAMU can leverage the online channel to accomplish these goals. This plan aims to enhance the WTAMU brand, reach potential online MBA students and convert these potential students into qualified leads. 3.1 Overview of Industry/Industry Trends Nationwide higher education E-learning and online MBA programs have experienced rapid growth in a very short time. Consider the following facts: Online higher education enrollment jumped from 1.98 million in 2003 to 2.35 million in % of universities offering face-to-face graduate courses also offer courses online 1 The average number of students enrolled in MBA distance learning programs rose from 45 in 2001 to 81 in Corporate America and companies like General Motors and United Technologies have embraced online MBA programs 2.

2 While this growth is phenomenal it is tempered by the still widely held perception that online MBA programs are considered an incomplete education by many 3. The common criticism is that exclusively online MBA programs lack the face-to face experience gained in the classroom. As a result more and more universities are combining the online and offline experience to create a blended MBA approach. The blended approach allows students the best of both worlds connecting face-toface with classmates and professors and the freedom to also take courses in the online environment. Another trend that s just emerging is the creation of customized MBA programs. B-schools like Auburn University s College of Business and the University of Maryland s Smith College of Business are serving a profitable and growing niche by preparing customized MBAs 4. Instead of the standard stock of classes, participants in a customized MBA have the advantage of fine tuning the course offerings to better focus on individual needs. At the corporate level, companies like LG and Pratt & Whitney are using customized MBA programs to enhance executive education. 3.2 SWOT Analysis Strengths WTAMU has strength in its history, small classes, opportunities and studentoriented faculty. TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY SYSTEM. WTAMU is part of the Texas A&M University System. The A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation. Nine universities educate more that 101,000 students. RECOGNITION. WTAMU s online MBA program has been recognized as: Selling Power Magazine one of the Top Online MBA Program in 2003 GetEducated.com Top 25 Best Buy for regionally accredited programs PROGRAM FLEXIBILITY. The College of Business offers the online MBA program exclusively online and in a blended approach of online and face-to-face participation. The online MBA program offers flexibility and allows for completion of the MBA degree in as little as one year or as long as 6 years. CONCENTRATIONS. The College of Business provides MBA concentration options including: Agriculture, Computer Information, Systems, Management, Marketing and Healthcare Management. VALUE. The online MBA option is very competitively priced. Texas residents can expect tuition cost for the full MBA program to amount to $7,020. Border state students can expect tuition to cost $8,100. Non-residents and non-border state students can expect tuition to cost $16,812. 2

3 3.2.2 Weaknesses LACK OF BRAND. WTAMU is well known in the Panhandle; however, the most significant weakness is the lack of brand recognition throughout the state of Texas and the region at large. The WTAMU brand is also largely undefined. If known at all, WTAMU is merely regarded as a regional school in the Panhandle. When you think of Harvard you think of academic excellence. When you think of Vanderbilt you the think of a great medical school. WTAMU does not invoke a brand association. ACCREDITATION. To many in our target markets, the School of Business most significant weakness is its lack of AACSB accreditation. Without this highest level of accreditation, WTMU may be handicapped in the competition for higher caliber students and students outside of the Panhandle Opportunities BRAND. WTAMU s greatest weakness is also one of its greatest opportunities. The fact that WTAMU does not have a well defined or well known brand presents the opportunity for WTAMU to create this brand, define it and expose a larger audience to WTAMU. REACH. The population growth in Texas allows WTAMU the opportunity to expand our reach beyond the Panhandle and appeal to second tier students throughout the state of Texas. Additionally, a properly positioned and well marketed WTAMU online MBA can appeal to border state and national students seeking strong educational value. WTAMU also has an opportunity to appeal to international students seeking the prestige of an American MBA. INCREASED DEMAND. Several factors lead us to believe there will be greater demand for online MBA programs as we move forward. From a sheer number of potential students, one only needs to look at the fact that the largest high school graduating class in U.S. history is expected to be in In future years, prospective students will have grown up with the internet. They will feel comfortable with the internet. Additionally, the apprehension towards internet based learning is decreasing with big name universities including Duke and the University of Florida now offering online MBA programs. Also, competitive pressures in the workforce will lead a growing number of employees and their companies to invest in the additional education offered through the flexibility of online MBA programs. GREATER EFFICIENCY. WTAMU has the opportunity to continuously refine the full cycle of its MBA program. From marketing to the initial student acquisition and the technology platforms to course content, WTAMU is in a position to add significant value to our MBA program and greater appeal for prospective students. 3

4 3.2.4 Threats GROWTH. Organic growth is a positive goal for WTAMU; however, growth also presents a threat. How WTAMU and the Business school manage growth will have a vital impact on the overall success of the online MBA program. KEEPING UP. The very nature of the internet that allows us to provide a quality online MBA is also a threat. The dynamic realities of technology require a keen attention to best practices such that WTAMU s online MBA remains competitive in the market place. 3.3 Competition Competition to WTAMU s online MBA comes in several forms. REGIONAL COMPETITION. WTAMU s regional competitors include universities in Texas and the border states offering both face-to-face and online MBA program. For instance, in the state of Colorado there is competition from face-to-face MBA programs at the University of Colorado, Colorado State, Mesa State, Denver University, etc. Additionally, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs are competing online MBA programs. NATIONAL COMPETITION. WTAMU s faces competition from national competitors. These competitors include both traditional universities like a Penn State and for profit institutions like The University of Phoenix. THIRD PARTY PURE PLAYS. WTAMU faces competition online from third party pure play private firms promoting other universities and online MBA programs. 4.0 INTERACTIVE MARKETING WTAMU will engage target markets through the interactive marketing channel. 4.1 Target Markets REGIONAL. WTAMU seeks to attract regional students to the online MBA program. The online MBA program offers regional students the opportunity to take courses in person and online. This flexibility gives regional students a cost effective blended approach to their MBA studies. BORDER STATES. WTAMU seeks to attract border state students to the online MBA program. Border state students can enjoy the blended approach (in person and online courses) or an exclusively online experience. Border state students also enjoy a very cost effective approach to their MBA studies. NATIONAL. WTAMU seeks to build national name recognition and appeal. The national market will have to be cultivated and developed through push initiatives. 4

5 INTERNATIONAL. WTAMU seeks to capitalize on strong international demand for the prestige of an American MBA delivered in an online format. 4.2 Interactive Marketing Strategy WTAMU s Interactive Marketing strategy needs to be a phased approach and one where we: a) push the WTMAU message, and b) more effectively pull in prospective students with preexisting interest. Phase One: The first and one of the most important elements of WTAMU s marketing strategy is the creation of a solid microsite and redesign of the College of Business subdomain and the Prospective Students section on the existing web site. Analytics tracking will integrated. See case study at the end of this plan for a solid microsite creative example. MICROSITE. The microsite will be created to serve as landing pages for ad initiated inbound web traffic. The goal of the microsite is to increase prospective student lead conversions. To accomplish this goal we will: Isolate visitor options Focus on providing optimal information Focus on prompting the visitor to make one of our desired actions (lead or newsletter subscriber) COLLEGE OF BUSINESS. The College of Business subdomain will also be redesigned to meet the goal of increasing the conversion of website visitors to prospective student leads. Currently, the College of Business obscures Dr. Neil Terry and Dr. Darlene Pulliam s contact information at the bottom of each page. Prominently placed lead forms and clear contact information will be incorporated into the design on every page. The College of Business will provide web visitors a second actionable event - incentive in the form of a newsletter signup as to self populate an in-house list. Additionally, content and design layout will be reviewed and tested. PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS PAGE. The Prospective Students page on the main WTAMU web site reads more like a site map than a page of value to a prospective student. Our goals on this page are to provide optimal information and prompt the visitor to make one of our desire actions. ANALYTICS: WTAMU will integrate analytics tracking to provide insightful data to help make informed business decisions about the performance of the WTAMU web site and WTAMU s interactive marketing initiatives. 5

6 Phase Two: The second phase of WTAMU s marketing strategy will be to implement our pull marketing initiatives. SEARCH ENGINE ADVERTISING. Search engine advertising consists of purchasing text ad spots that appear in search engine result pages (SERPs). The benefit of advertising on SERPs is that advertisements are unique to the search term used and search engine users pre-qualify their interest in your products or services on multiply occasions - the point of query, the point of reviewing listings on the SERPs and the point where the user actually chooses a listing and clicks through. Search engine advertising will allow WTAMU to: Own the WTAMU Name. Several prospective students search the WTAMU name. WTAMU.edu ranks near the top in the organic natural search results. However, paid search engine advertisements supersede these results. Competing web sites are taking WTAMU s rightful traffic. In the example below, west texas am university was searched on Yahoo. WTAMU.edu was indeed on the SERP; however, WTAMU.edu was obscured at the bottom with an irrelevant pdf file. Southwest University, AIU and Kennedy Western University are all taking WTAMU s rightful branded search traffic. WTAMU will use paid search advertising to protect its brand name. Example Branded Terms Monthly Search Count on Yahoo Volume Search Term 1347 west texas a m university 276 west texas university 48 west texas am university 6

7 Compete on Regional Terms. WTAMU will want to compete on regional search terms. For instance, WTAMU will want to position its web site in front of those persons that search for university in texas. Example Regional Terms Monthly Search Count on Yahoo Volume Search Term texas college 8738 texas university 2518 university in texas Product Terms. Generic product terms are less specific and less important to WTAMU; however, WTAMU will want to test the effectiveness of such terms. Example Product Terms Monthly Search Count on Yahoo Volume Search Term mba online distance learning mba International Terms. WTAMU will want to target English speaking international students through English language search engines. Example International Niche Market Terms Monthly Search Count on Yahoo Volume Search Term 4114 international student 1818 university in usa WTAMU s search engine advertising initiative will focus on Yahoo Search Marketing, Google s Adwords, MSN s Adcenter, Ingenio s Pay Per Call and secondary paid search engines. Phase Three: The third phase of WTAMU s marketing strategy will be to implement our push marketing initiatives. MARKETING. marketing consists of using to communicate a message to subscribers comprising an in-house list, list rental and the placement of advertisements in third party newsletters. WTAMU will leverage our in-house list and adverting in targeted newsletters. IN-HOUSE LIST: As part of WTAMU s microsite creation and redesign of the College of Business subdomain, WTAMU will integrate a newsletter signup. On a monthly basis, WTAMU will provide subscribers rich media newsletters with pertinent information, a call to action and an easy to use embedded lead 7

8 form. The in-house list and monthly newsletter allows WTAMU to keep the WTAMU name and option in front of prospective students on a regular basis. ADVERTISMENTS IN THRID PARTY NEWSLETTERS: WTAMU will seek relevant third party newsletters to expose the WTAMU brand to a larger audience. For example, WTAMU could seek placement in the Business Week: MBA Insider Newsletter. MBA Insider provides the latest information on MBA programs, executive education and career guidance every other week. MBA Insider has 155,428 subscribers. AFFILIATE MARKETING. WTAMU will leverage pay for performance affiliate marketing networks. Affiliate networks match merchant sites and affiliate sites. Affiliate sites promote the merchants products or services and a commission is paid when a predetermined action occurs (a lead, a completed application, etc.). WTAMU could use LinkShare, Commission Junction and/or Performics. To provide an example, on Commission Junction the University of Phoenix is buying leads from affiliates at $11/ lead and $17 per qualified application. Almeda University is buying leads at $20/lead. Corinthian College is buying leads at $19/lead. BANNER ADVERTISMENTS. WTAMU will run targeted banner ad campaigns in an effort expose the WTAMU online MBA to target markets. Regional and national ads may be utilized. For instance, WTAMU could target Business Week s B-school Channel. An example banner ad from the University of Phoenix is displayed to the right. 8

9 5.0 CASE STUDY: University of Phoenix Campus Campaign Background: The University of Phoenix, an Apollo Group brand, became the first accredited for-profit university in the United States with the sole mission of identifying and meeting the educational needs of working adult students. Beginning with a class of eight working adults in 1976, University of Phoenix currently enrolls 152,378 degree seeking adult students at 43 campuses and 83 learning centers. The University of Phoenix is one of the four largest regionally accredited private universities in the United States Objective: Direct response search advertising campaign for up to all 43 ground campuses throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. As one of four approved agencies, we were charged with local search marketing Solution: To capitalize on location specific and local search, the University of Phoenix campaign targeted over 5,000 locally qualified search terms via the collective group of paid search engines. Traffic from such terms was directed to a University of Phoenix microsite designed to serve geographically oriented content to visitors from each distinct market as to maximize traffic conversion. Prospective students became leads when they fully completed the web based form. Prospective students were required to reside in zip codes within driving distance of each campus. 9

10 Furthermore, to track the effectiveness of keyword buys, advanced web analytical tools were implemented to measure conversion tracking based upon each specific search engine and each keyword utilized Results: This single local search campaign generated 12,913 fully qualified leads within driving distance to each campus. Date Range Number of Clicks Click Cost Average CPC Number of Leads Microsite Conversion Cost per Lead Campaign Totals: $132, $ % $10.29 October $7, $ % $37.63 September $7, $ % $23.33 August $7, $ % $15.80 July $8, $ % $14.68 June $10, $ % $15.37 May $14, $ % $17.14 April $8, $ % $10.19 March $6, $ % $6.91 February $6, $ % $8.81 January $6, $ % $6.93 December $6, $ % $10.05 November $6, $ % $10.03 October $6, $ % $9.06 September $4, $ % $7.03 August $4, $ % $6.73 July $4, $ % $6.22 June $4, $ % $5.89 May $6, $ % $8.19 April $6, $ % $8.57 Feb/ March $4, $ % $7.34 References 1 Romano, Louis. "More Students Pursue Degrees Online." DetroitNews.Com. 22 June Washington Post. 22 June 2006 <http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?aid=/ /schools/ /1026>. 2 Schneider, Mica. "Distance Learning Closes the Gap." BusinessWeek.Com. 22 June 2006 <http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/aug2004/bs _8201_bs001.htm>. 3 Alsop, Ronals. "The Online M.B.A.: a Blended Approach." CollegeJournal.Com. The Wall Street Journal Guide to the Top Business Schools, June 2006 <http://www.collegejournal.com/mbacenter/newstrends/ alsop.html>. 4 Miller, Kerry. "Made-to-Order MBAs." BusinessWeek.Com. 21 June June 2006 <http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/jun2006/bs _3737_bs001.htm>. 10

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