Ask the CMO: Q&A with UNC Kenan-Flagler CMO, Michael Schinelli

November 11, 2016

Education Connect 2016

Consistently ranked as one of the best business schools in the world, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has also been at the forefront of digital innovation in higher education marketing for years.

In 2011, they pioneered the MBA@UNC online program, which now enrolls 765 students in 46 states and 15 countries and has been ranked the #1 online MBA by Princeton Review for the past 2 years. In 2013, they launched The MBA App, which provides useful information to prospective MBA students on the go.  And just last year they expanded their mobile presence by launching the Leadership app. Since launching their app strategy, the school has seen a 92% increase in mobile traffic.

After LinkedIn’s Education Connect 2016, we sat down with Michael Schinelli, CMO of UNC Kenan-Flagler, to discuss the changing landscape of higher ed marketing, what these changes mean for marketers today, and how content marketing and the rise of mobile play a critical role in marketing for UNC.

1. How has the landscape of higher education marketing changed overall?  

Not too long ago in higher education, marketing was typically an extension of admissions. Today, there are many more channels and touch points and many of those bypass admissions until an application is started. So universities need to develop specialized expertise in digital marketing, social media, data analytics, personalization, media buying and other skill areas to engage prospects where they are, on their terms. Education is still the context, but the marketing roles need to be much more like agency or corporate roles.

2. What do you see on the horizon for the higher education industry and how universities market themselves?  

Overall, I think personalization, flexibility and experiential learning are going to become central expectations for academic programs -- particularly graduate programs. Our marketing needs to reflect and anticipate those shifts so we can position our offerings accordingly. 

Similarly, we need to integrate mobile delivery into learning. When you look at the mobile web it’s all about connection and experience.  So there’s a great deal of convergence between digital marketing and emerging trends in education itself.

3. What are some of the long-term challenges you see in the industry, particularly as it relates to Marketing & Communications?

Nearly two thirds of Millennials use ad blockers according to eMarketer. The average attention span is now under 8 seconds. Prospects are doing 3-4 things at once. And here we are trying to flag them down to talk about ourselves. The strategies and conversations need to change and brands that don’t get that will lose market share.

4. What are key metrics for success and how do you track quality in your marketing efforts?  

Many marketers, especially those new to digital, tend to put too much stock in CPL and CPA.  Yes, it's great that we can track behaviors and link them to budget, but the real KPIs (key performance indicators) are further down the funnel, the admissions KPI’s. - inquiries, app starts, completes and enrollment.  

The better we connect the upper and lower funnel, the more effective and efficient marketing will become.  

With more sophisticated admissions CRMs emerging we’re able to link marketing data with admissions data in real time, and that's exciting.

5. What are your views on mobile devices and formats as it relates to communicating your organization’s value proposition? 

Mobile is, simply put, where our audience lives. We made a decision 4 years ago to shift to a mobile-first approach. We have 5 dedicated apps that feature our school community, research, programs and as of last week, a student led virtual tour. Each of these tap into the user interactivity and highly visual content that mobile and touch deliver so well. As the web catches up with mobile, I think we’ll see seamless experiences between the two.

6. What are some of the “big bets” you are making in the 2016/2017 school years as it relates to your marketing?  

We are continuing to focus on programmatic ad buying, content marketing and data-driven insights. We’re doing 3 times as much video as we did a year or two ago and we’re partnering with our current students as brand ambassadors for that peer to peer perspective.

7. What is your view on the role of content marketing within your marketing mix?

Content marketing is the marketing of attraction.  It allows us to reflect the aspirations and pain points of our prospects, and by doing so, better resonate with them all along the funnel.  With content marketing we can develop trust and gain permission for deeper engagement. 

Equally as important, with ad blocking, viewability issues and banner blindness, content marketing is the most sustainable and cost effective strategy for brands today - for conversions as well as brand building.

8. What advice can you share around your LinkedIn strategy / partnership?

For us,

LinkedIn sits at the intersection of 3 important strategies:  targeted marketing, alumni engagement and brand building through content and thought leadership.

So, more than any other social media platform we work in today, LinkedIn is the sweet spot for reaching our goals in these areas.

9. How will you market & advertise the programs provided by your university in the future?  

The proliferation of channels and platforms as well as all the data that comes along with them has changed the way we market. Mobile is a key consideration. More granular segmentation capabilities and progressive profiling allow us to reach and engage with qualified leads better than ever before. And programmatic has given us vast scale and reach - even with conservative budgets.  Social is emerging as a dominant channel for content marketing. And yet we know this is all still evolving as we speak.  So it’s a moving target. We have to be nimble and find the right team members and partners that will allow us to become better every day.

Thanks Michael. For more insightful discussion on the rapidly changing world of higher education marketing, view the videos and presentations on our Education Connect 2016 highlights site