Tracking Mystery Leads

And now, a story of international intrigue and of missed connections, as overheard in a Carnegie Communications meeting . . .

One sunny afternoon, an international student came to visit the Dean of International Admission at a small-ish college in the Northeast. She looked down at the Dean’s desk and spied a copy of American Colleges & Universities, the magazine component of Carnegie’s international recruitment service, sent to 175 countries each year. The student chirped, “That’s where I first discovered you guys!” Curious, the Dean decided to review the student’s lead file. American Colleges & Universities wasn’t listed as the source—it wasn’t listed anywhere. “If we didn’t know this student came from AC&U, how many others are there?” the Dean thought to herself. From that day forward, participating in AC&U was a “no-brainer” marketing decision for that school. And everyone was happy. The end.

It’s an anecdote one of our Regional Directors likes to share (with good reason!), and he first regaled our magazine production department with the story not too long ago. I have to admit, as one of the people directly involved with producing the physical magazine, it was incredibly gratifying to hear. Those pages we poured our hearts into made a real, tangible impact on a student! Mission accomplished!

But what also struck me was the disconnect on the admission side. I know it’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to track the origin of student leads, particularly in this digital day and age. I also know that despite that difficulty, Carnegie is still attributed as a primary source of leads and enrollments for an astonishing number of schools—directly responsible for as much as 12.89% a school’s incoming class. But what’s even crazier is that we reached, in some way or another, up to 73% of that same class! (Yup, this is me being shamelessly, gratuitously boastful. But I can’t help it. I’m incredibly proud of those numbers, and everyone else writing for our blog is so modest!)

It’s both wonderful to know that we can have such an impact (73%!) and somewhat disheartening when you realize so many impressions go unrecognized (12.89%—not too shabby, but still!), like the aforementioned international student. That 40% gap is simply a product of the media-saturated world we live in. But just because it’s hard to track doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

So that begs the question: how do you track those leads? How do you determine the real origin source, so you know where to focus your marketing efforts? How do you figure out the “top of the funnel” when that funnel top spans all of your print campaigns and the whole of the Internet?!

As always, it comes down to the data (I know, I know—not a surprise!). You need to thoroughly measure every marketing initiative you undertake and fully understand what those measurements mean. You also need to measure those initiatives from every angle, from unique angles. Then—and this is the really important part—you must compare your findings.

As our EVP of Operations Meghan Dalesandro points out: if you’re only looking at your display campaign’s clicks, you’re missing your view-through traffic. If your direct marketing campaign custom link saw X number of hits, but you didn’t check your analytics to see the impact on site traffic when the mailing dropped, you’re missing the bigger picture. Adjusting your marketing strategy as you go, reacting to all of your data and results as they happen, could mean the difference between filling your class and falling short. Each move you make should tie together with your entire campaign. And you should be willing to shift your plans if they aren’t working after full-circle analysis.

That’s how you figure out where these students are actually coming from, how you determine what’s working and what isn’t, and how you decide where to focus your future efforts, energy, and expenses. You might be surprised by what you uncover—and if you find yourself with a good story, you know we’d love to hear it.

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief for Carnegie Communications. You can follow her on Twitter @JessicaTomer or on Google Plus as Jessica Tomer.

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