We all know there are plenty of adults in our communities looking to continue their educations, but how do you find them? On this episode of the Community College Marketing Master Class Podcast, Interact CEO Dr. Pam Cox-Otto is joined by CollegeAPP CEO Jack MacKenzie and Kate Kirkpatick, Director of Marketing and Communications at Truckee Meadows Community College. Jack and Kate break down how they used the CollegeAPP database to discover their audiences and better inform their marketing plan.
Pam: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Interact’s Podcast. And today I have two of my favorite people and I’m not even kidding about that. I’m going to let them introduce themselves first from Truckee Meadows. Take it away, Kate.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Hi everyone. This is Kate Kirkpatrick. I’m the Director of Marketing and Communications at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.
Pam: And also joining us from, I don’t know, the moon? From someplace special, is-
Jack MacKenzie: It’s close to the moon, Southern California, Jack MacKenzie, the President of CollegeAPP.
Pam: And for those of you who don’t know what College APP is, come on, give us a synopsis, Jack?
Jack MacKenzie: APP stands for adult prospect pipeline and we are in the business of helping colleges and universities find the elusive adults in their service areas for education and enrollment.
Pam: Or as I like to call them, the unicorn. The magical unicorn of adult person out there in the wild, who we don’t know who they are, where they live-
Jack MacKenzie: But we do now.
Pam: Oh wait, we do? That’s crazy.
Jack MacKenzie: Well ,we have a high probability of knowing.
Pam: Actually that’s the whole point of using databases. So one of the things you should know is that Interact and I are lucky because we get to work with Kate and Jack all the time. Jack is a partner of ours. We do work together on the community college market. And Kate, we work with you and Truckee Meadows as an agency of record.
Kate Kirkpatric…: That’s right. We’ve been really lucky. This is our fourth year working with Interact. And we’re really grateful.
Pam: Wow. I love it when people like us, it makes me happy. So one of the things that we did was we brought Kate together with Jack because knowing that they’re in a market, Reno is a pretty dynamic area. You might think that it’s simply part of Nevada and Nevada does a lot of gambling and all of those things, but it’s been really a growth area. Tell us a little bit about what makes the Reno area a little tricky for marketers.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Well Reno, it has really come into its own. And as far as workforce development goes, we’ve had just a crazy boom of business for the past 10 years, maybe even a little bit longer, with the proliferation of manufacturing and robotics. We have a huge Tesla Gigafactory that’s located a 15 minute drive from our campus, Panasonic, a lot of Apple and Amazon warehouses, and just so many different, huge businesses coming to town and needing skilled labor. Not to mention the other half of what Truckee Meadows Community College does which of course is send people to transfer to four year institutions. And so we have really tried to grow our services to fit both of those goals, like many community colleges have. And we’re really lucky that we’re great partners with so many of those businesses coming to town and we can really skill up those workers.
Pam: So one of the things that that means is because they’re so dynamic, a lot of people are moving into the area. There’s no historical knowledge of the college. A lot of colleges out there, they depend on the fact that they’ve been in existence for a long time. Everybody knows who they are. Spare me from the best kept secret. But a lot of times in a way they are a secret because everybody knows they’re there but they don’t know what they could go there for. But in the case of Truckee Meadows, because you’re pretty dynamic and you’ve got a lot of people moving in, a lot of new folks, you have a population that is not knowledgeable about what you offer and yet a growing population that you need to reach. True?
Kate Kirkpatric…: Absolutely. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Oh, I didn’t know you did that,” we wouldn’t even be here because I would know exactly what to do and I’d have all the money I would need. We also compete with a well known four year institution that is literally down the hill from us. That’s the big story in town. And, and so TMCC is not nearly as well known and yet offers all the same first and second year transfer courses and everything. We… I lost my train of thought. They’re going to have to edit that out. Sorry.
Pam: That’s okay. So you’re in competition with the University of Nevada at Reno and you’ve got a lot of competition.
Kate Kirkpatric…: We certainly do. And this is our 50th year at TMCC. We’ve been going gangbusters, trying to share that celebration with our community and with our region and use it to kind of refresh the alumni success stories that we’ve been painting and bring more attention to TMCC. But in this crazy market that we’re in right now, finding that audience is even harder than it has been before.
Pam: Oh, you said the magic words, finding the audience. And that’s when we brought Jack together with you at Truckee Meadows. Jack, take it away. How did CollegeAPP leap to help Truckee Meadows solve their problem?
Jack MacKenzie: Well, listening to Kate talk about the community is, I will have to say, a sweet spot for us on a couple different levels. One, the dynamic population changes, right? People coming to town, having some ability and some access to the data that actually shows that they’re in town. Someone has moved here. And so our database, which is updated quarterly, is about as accurate as you’re going to get and allows you actually to focus on people who have moved to a community in the last year or the last 18 months where you know your first challenge is awareness. So we can help them create audiences that say here’s people who have high intent and who are new to the community. So let’s focus some messaging on them.
The second part of that is the dynamic nature of the Reno Washoe County economy. Kate listed all those businesses, the warehouses and the factories and the manufacturing and the auto. So as those businesses come on board, if you will, it changes the dynamic of the work force needs. And the workforce needs tend to then go downstream to changing the dynamics of the educational needs. So being able to be responsive and having current data and actually future looking data about what someone’s future intent is and matching that up with these new industries and the new industry opportunities is a perfect match. So if we were to pick a county in America to say, “Where would CollegeAPP work?” We’d say Washoe County, Nevada is the perfect place.
Pam: Well, one of the pieces… And that’s part of the reason we brought the two of you together, but the thing that I love about your CollegeAPP approach is it’s built a massive database that’s used for political campaigns. And political campaigns, you know, I know, there’s a lot of money in that, which means there’s a lot of money making sure that we get the most recent voting records and who lives where. Right?
Jack MacKenzie: Yep.
Pam: Not that we care how they vote, but we care where they live and any kind of other information that may be in that database, because what that allows us to do is to have recent information, as you said Jack, about who lives there. So it’s based on political database. More importantly is you add a special sauce. You talk, about intent. Tell us a little more about how we know people have an intent to go to school.
Jack MacKenzie: Yeah. So the short answer is it’s math. And for those of us who are around the education space, we ought to believe in math. And we certainly do at CollegeAPP. We do surveys state by state. Washoe County is unique. Nevada is unique. It’s different from even the part of California which is just across the border. Certainly it’s different from Idaho and Utah. And so we regularly survey the people of Nevada to say, “Do you intend to go to college in the next couple years? Is it that a plan of yours?” Now, you can’t survey all three and a half million residents of Nevada, although it’d be great if you could. But we can’t do that. But we can survey enough of them that the mathematicians can take that data, plug it into the database that has hundreds and hundreds of publicly available and commercially available data points on people, individual people at individual addresses, and model the probability of how they would answer that question if we could have asked them.
So there’s a probability score in someone, “Do you intend to enroll in education or training in the next two years?” And if you have a 70, then we would say to Kate, “You should reach out to the person with a 70. I can’t guarantee you they’re going to enroll, but there’s a good chance that they’re the right person to send an ad to and get them thinking about and understanding your offerings.” So it’s playing the math. It’s very much a Nevada thing to do, play the probabilities. And over time the house will win. And we’re finding our houses are winning and that’s a good thing.
Pam: So we brought the two of you together. We set up some parameters for who we’re looking for to reach. And what were your parameters, Kate? What were you looking for in broad terms? And it’s okay if you miss one or two, just tell us what were the parameters you told Jack you were looking for?
Kate Kirkpatric…: Right. So the magic… What happens for us ages 18 to 54. That covers both fresh out of high school and some of their parents really in the same group. And so that’s our sweet spot, ages 18 to 54. We were also specifically looking for a household income level of a little bit lower, perhaps someone who hasn’t had as much education. And so we asked for $55,000 or less at a household income, and then of course the high intent to attend college. So that’s the magic trifecta, what we were looking for.
Pam: So how many names was Jack able to give you?
Kate Kirkpatric…: 66,000.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Which is a huge number.
Jack MacKenzie: Although I bet it wasn’t a round number. I bet it was 66,312.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Yeah, it was. I’m rounding, you’re right. And then once we devised our plan of what we wanted to do, the first thing we decided to do was send a postcard. And of course, once we de-duped and took out the people who had moved out of town, so forth, we sent over 52,000 postcards.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Yeah. So then round two, of course, became making sure that those people were also seeing our digital ads as much as we could figure that out behind the scenes. And so we went on a digital blitz between regular digital ads and social media, and then we’re planning a big email campaign for the upcoming summer and fall registration period.
Pam: That’s great. Well and the large mailing to the homes, that’s step one. Step two is that is having all of the information that Jack was able to give you. You can match that to identities on social media so the ads can follow them around, right? So we’re doing identity matching. And so now, yeah, you’re still doing digital ads, but the digital ads are focused on finding the same people you sent the cards to so you’re getting multiple exposures to the same message, which makes your digital advertising more useful. And then the final piece, the follow up piece is to keep the message in front of them. Well, so when did you send the card/
Kate Kirkpatric…: In a perfect world, I would love to tell you it was early enough to make a difference. In actuality, it was maybe three weeks before the fall semester began. And we know that that’s cutting it very, very close for anybody to make any sort of decision for that particular year, which is why it was very important for us to continue to be in front of that audience for the whole year. It takes way more than one postcard for anybody to make such a big life changing decision. So that was just our, “Hello. Nice to meet you. You’re going to be hearing from us this year,” type of message.
Pam: You weren’t late. You were very early for next year. I think that’s excellent. You should definitely get applause for that. That’s the way I’d look at it. And most of the research we have tells us it takes nine months to a year to make that decision. So seriously you are early for the next year. That gives you a much longer ramp. Have you been able to see any impact?
Kate Kirkpatric…: It’s really to tie anything specifically to this just yet, but we have seen some great numbers from the ads. The click through rate is very well in line with industry average. And I’ll say I’m very impressed with the impressions that we’re getting, the repeat views, things like that, where we are starting to see that those are in front of folks over and over. And one of these days they’re going to click that button and they’re going to come see us.
Jack MacKenzie: Yeah. And that’s really the challenge and the opportunity and why recruiting adults is so hard. Because imagining that you’re getting a single message in front of them at that moment when they’re ready to make that life changing decision to go back to school. So what we hope and what Kate’s absolutely doing is staying in front of them so that, one, you increase awareness and you’re in their head and they start talking about it with their spouses or their kids or their people at work. But then when they get to that moment that you’re still in front of them, and so when the buying decision is made, that you’re still top of mind. And that’s why we recommend not intensive short campaigns, but non-intensive long term campaigns that just keep the message a constant drumbeat in front of these adults. And I think you’ll get students this fall in the question, I think you’ll get students in the fall of ’23 and in the spring of ’24 off this kind of work because now you’re in their mind, you’re in their psyche.
Pam: Well, and particularly when you have new people coming to town who don’t have any history with TMCC, you are creating that image that’s going to last for a lot longer. S that’s just nothing but smart in order to keep that going. The other piece, we work with clients if they don’t have the money to do a large mailing like you did, which I think was a great thing. Frequently, what they’ll do is try to find ways to narrow that group down. And instead of doing one mailing to 50,000 people, they may do five mailings to 10,000 people.
But the power of the database and having those names allow you to make some choices. So if you have a particular community that you need to reach or a new area of town that’s developing, you can make some choices that help you boil down and there’s nothing to stop you from saying, “When I look at what’s going on, we’re getting some nice click through rates from areas that we know originate in this part of town. Let’s do a second small mailing to that part of town, the new part where people are moving in and you know you have new folks.” So it’s not a one and done. Seriously, really what it is, it’s the keys to their house. So you can continue to put yourself in their mailbox, in some cases on their phone, because there are phone numbers that come with many of these records. It’s just, you have to be careful about the do not call list and-
Jack MacKenzie: We got you covered there.
Pam: See? I knew he would. I knew he’d leap in. So the do not call list, we’ve got too covered. At the same time, you have to have a good message that you’re going to go out with whether or not it’s going to be a robo-call or a personal contact from the college. There’s just a lot you can do when you actually have their names instead of just putting messaging out to the general public, hoping the right person will find you. I think that’s a powerful piece. How were people dealing with this inside the college? Do they know what you’re doing?
Kate Kirkpatric…: They do to a certain extent. We have relied in the past a lot on geo-fencing to help us find our audiences, particularly the youngest students, prospective students, and their parents. And when COVID shut down everything everywhere, there was no way for us to do that anymore. Nobody was going to the high school, nobody was going to the places they used to hang out. And so this has become a wonderful way for us to find our audience using different sources than we ever have before. And with privacy laws changing all the time it may be that that geo-fencing just will not work for us anymore and this is our future.
Pam: Thanks, Apple, right? Yeah, no. Privacy is important. I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with that. But it’s certainly the more recent technological changes have made it more difficult to track and to continue to follow up. But the nice part about the use of CollegeAPP is we do have you covered, you do have them covered on that and we don’t just know you fit in this particular demographic, we can see who you are and we can know where that originates.
Jack MacKenzie: Yeah. The emergence of meaningful first party data is I think the trend of the ’20s, if you will, that with all the reasonable cutbacks in cookies and tracking and all of that, which you could argue if you’re a marketer that creates problems, right? So how do you solve the problem legally? You do it by acquiring as thorough and detailed as lists as you can that become yours. And then in the case of adult learners, what separates one from another? And we would say that’s what CollegeAPP brings which is if that first party data, along with the intent data and the preference for types of institutions that allow colleges that efficiency allows them to stay in market and create a strategy over time.
Pam: What would you tell somebody out there who’s not using this kind of data? What advice would you give them, Kate?
Kate Kirkpatric…: I would say even if it means having to look at your budget and find a way to make it work, this is your audience. This is who you need to be talking to. So it’s well worth considering changing your strategy a little bit and finding those folks out there, being more strategic about where you’re spending your money.
Pam: Well, I’m glad we’re partnered with you, Jack, because I think that is the way to go. And particularly when geo-fencing is kind of a crapshoot at this moment. We just don’t know how reliable it is and tracking and all of those things are in play. So any other thoughts, Jack, as we wrap it up?
Jack MacKenzie: Yeah. And Kate, I appreciate you saying that. The only thing I’d say is we’re not that expensive. We really are pretty affordable. We are priced for community colleges. We know that that’s the biggest challenge that we’re looking to solve and we want our data to be used and not sitting in our database waiting to be used.
Pam: Well, and there’s always take your budget, go down to the local casino, mama needs a new pair of marketing shoes. I’m kidding everyone. I’m kidding. Thanks, you guys. I really appreciate you coming on. And this kind of data is the wave of the future, and it’s much more personalized and allows you to do, I think, better marketing long term. So thanks everybody. And I’ll make sure that you have the contact information for Kate and for Jack so you can follow up and learn from their experiences. Thanks.
Jack MacKenzie: Thank you. Good to see you, Kate. Good to see you, Pam.
Kate Kirkpatric…: Thank you.
Jack MacKenzie: Bye.
Pam: Ciao, everyone.