What do I mean by this title? Well, ask most people who work in higher and executive education what motivates them, and makes their job meaningful. It usually revolves around being involved in work that can help make a positive difference in the world. You’re surrounded by fascinating subject matter and great minds. This is wonderful, and a true privilege, the only downside from the point of view of someone selling executive education is that there are many people out there who agree with you.
‘What’s wrong with that?’ you say, ‘if more people in the world recognise the amazing work, brilliant minds, and ground-breaking research we do, surely this will make people flock to our programmes?’, well, yes and no. How many are leads with a genuine interest in your programme?
You’ve got the ‘halo effect’ from your brand building activities, harnessing the years of investment in facilities, employment of faculty and commissioning of research. Everyone should be justly proud of this effort, and I’m not saying this is negative or wrong in any way, quite the opposite. Yet, the very strength of this brand building can later on impact on the resources you use to sell your programmes.
It’s all about harnessing the power of reputation in the right way, discerning genuine interest in purchasing from subject interest.
What is ‘false interest’ in your programmes?
It’s not strictly speaking ‘false interest’, it’s an interest which won’t convert into leads attending your programmes. How does this false, rather than genuine interest manifest itself? In purely practical terms, ‘false interest’ is when you do most of the right things with your executive education marketing. You build a buzz, create relevant content, attract people to engage with you on webinars and download white papers; after all, you’ve got tons of this stuff ready to go with a subject you’re strong in! All this wonderful content goes out to your audiences, and you await the inevitable leads and applications. People duly attend your online events, download your content, join the mailing list, everything’s looking good. The weeks go by, the leads you have don’t convert, what’s the problem?
Perhaps you’re suffering from ‘false interest’. People have indeed lapped up the content you’ve produced, they find it fascinating, but they will never attend a programme.
What harm can ‘false interest’ cause?
Just think of a successful recruitment team following up leads on the back of a stellar content campaign, you basically end up with a lot more hay to search through to find the needle.
For example, the programme attracts 100 leads after your campaign aimed at generating as much interest as possible. Your team tries to personally call or email all 100, on average it takes 20 minutes to contact each and record this in the CRM. 5 genuine applicants emerge, that’s over 33 hours, more than 6.5 hours per applicant. Alternatively, you try some of the steps below to refine and restrict numbers of leads in your conversion funnel. You gain 20 leads, and spend 20 minutes on average contacting each, you get 5 applicants, it took 6.5 hours in total, 1 hour twenty minutes per applicant. One whole week’s work compared to one short day, which team looks more impressive now?
How can you balance false and genuine interest?
You can’t really get rid of ‘false interest’, only manage it. It’s a product of any marketing campaign, it’s the people who take the complimentary sweetie and never buy. It’s significant for education marketers as you are at much greater risk of it happening; the more prestigious your organisation the greater the risk!
So, how can you have one without the other, too much interest in an area of expertise and lack of interest in an actual educational product? As with everything in life, it’s a balance. You shouldn’t reject new programmes out of hand if it appears you have a big following in that subject area, but equally you shouldn’t assume you’ll launch a successful product either. The most important thing to keep in mind is what your customers are going to buy. What is it about the programme that both attracts people’s interest AND provides them with an educational experience that will help them?
What are the practical steps to mitigate ‘false interest’?
First of all, you should absolutely use great content for marketing, but how are you sharing this? Do you have strong calls to action? Do you present the customer journey and ‘way to the till’? Conduct market research, ask the question outright to people interested in the content, ‘would you pay for a programme on this subject with these learning outcomes?’ ‘How much would you pay?’ ‘What sort of format and duration would you pay for?’
Measure your customer conversion funnel. Understand, as best you can, who is in the funnel, what are their intentions based on the calls to action you’ve asked them to complete. Set up this funnel to monitor purchasing interest as closely as possible, refine down to the leads with genuine interest.
How can you harness ‘false interest’?
The thing I’ve not mentioned as yet, is that you can, and should build a wider interest in your programme with people who don’t want to attend it. You need them to refer, share, discuss, comment on your content, anything that helps build your profile is preferable. Make the most of this activity, yet see it for what it is, a secondary route for attracting leads with genuine interest, building your brand and reputation. Treat interest as simply, interest in the subject, until you get qualify genuine leads to start a clearly measured journey.
This is a good problem to have. It’s probably much better to be in an educational marketing team whose content attracts attention, as to opposed teams with little. However, you have to be careful, ‘false interest’ can cause a lot of time to be lost pursuing the leads with a genuine interest in the programme.
Perhaps it is worth considering ways to diagnose potential ‘false interest’ higher up in your sales funnel after all?
You can find related help on this subject in another blog, A Tale of Two Programmes.
Sam Birkett is a specialist marketing consultant in business education.