May 27

Messaging for the Individual: How Data Can Help You Create Engaging Stories


As an education marketer, you’re always looking to utilize data to make messaging decisions that resonate with your target audiences. In this conversation, we learn how data segmentation helps drive engaging storytelling.

How do we help uncover and explain the most informative and persuasive information to prospective students?

How do we tell stories that get them excited about education?

We start by finding and utilizing data, analyzing that data, and then creating segmented marketing messages that will move the needle.

Recently, my co-host, Troy Singer of ThinkPatended, and I had an amazing conversation with Christine Harper and Julie Balog of the University of Kentucky about how to do just that.

Christine is Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Julie serves as Chief Marketing Officer.

The conversation was so full of insights that we had to divide it into two parts!

So here is just a preview of the many insights from the podcast about using data segmentation to create engaging stories.

1. Seek closer collaborations among marketing and enrollment.

When I talk to higher ed marketers, I sense that marketing and enrollment are often siloed.

As an institution, universities tend to be siloed as each department focuses on the development of their own unique discipline. But this siloed structure can really keep departments from benefiting from the strengths of the other teams.

via Wikimedia Commons

Typically, advancement and marketing stay closely connected on messaging, projects, and campaigns.

But enrollment and marketing are often lightyears apart – and that’s a real shame.

Christine Harper and Julie Balog, along with their team members, are showing us all how enrollment and marketing can work together.

And not only can they work together, they are better together!

But how do they make this work?

They trust each other.

This is easier said than done, but the first way they can work together across these teams is by trusting each other deeply.

On the marketing side, Julie devotes two of her staff members to the enrollment management team’s needs.

The way we view this is, [enrollment] is our client. We practically embed our staff members as “account managers” in Christine’s team. There’s a great deal of trust, those “account managers” that we have an enrollment management are pretty much just seamlessly part of enrollment. They go to Christine’s meetings, and she works with them directly. She tends to work more with them on tactical implementation, and then she and I work on the strategic side.

-Julie Balog

Trust is not easy to create. But I think Julie and Christine are on to something.

The more trust we can cultivate between enrollment and marketing, the better off both teams will be in reaching their goals.

It may mean that you lend the other team a couple of your staff to improve the speed of communication, but you don’t necessarily have to do it the way UK is doing it.

Whatever way works for you, build trust.

They include each other.

Okay, so this blog might start sounding like an episode of Sesame Street…


But I really like how Julie’s marketing team included the enrollment team in the process of their school rebranding.

Christine was very instrumental [in the new brand launch]. So as we developed brand strategy, we really did have the student population in mind. As we develop [the brand] out, we develop the creative expression of that brand, which is what we call “Wildly Possible.” We like to lean in on words like “dream boldly” and “achieve greatly.” Because we collaborated, she and her team were so much a part of that brand strategy development, it’s not like we had to educate them. They walked the path [with us]. And so the words they use and the way they represent us, it’s authentic. And I think that’s the key to a strong brand strategy implementation.

-Julie Balog

They let the data guide them.

University of Kentucky marketing team uses data segmentation to craft engaging messaging for their audiences.

via Wikimedia Commons

This, to me, is the most critical part of UK’s successful teamwork between enrollment and marketing.

Data is an objective standard.

It’s not subjective like design preferences or word choice for messaging.

Data doesn’t lie. If something isn’t working, the data shows it. If something works, the data shows it.

So if you’re going to collaborate with enrollment, you need something objective – your data – to guide your efforts and show you what you should prioritize.

Asking the “why’s,” the “how’s,” the “when,” and the “what” questions of the data you’re gathering will empower you to talk and make strategic decisions together.

2. Search for trends in the data.

Having data simply for data’s sake is not enough. We have to be able to interpret the data.

That means searching for trends in the data.

When we identify trends in the data, we can determine what it’s saying to us…

And more importantly, what we need to do.

Being able to respond to what you’re seeing in the data is important. If you’re not responding to what you’re seeing in the data, you’re really missing opportunities – opportunities to help inform to educate [prospective] students.

I look at data both daily and weekly. I take a slice of the pool each week and really dive into our freshmen and transfer [student pools], seeing what trends we have on a daily basis. I’m checking our numbers, but also looking at things that I get from Julie’s team [marketing] on open rates. So we can see how some of the communications have been picked up and received, and then how the pool is shaping up.

-Christine Harper

During the interview, Julie admitted that early in her career she had been “data rich” and “analysis poor.”

This really is how many of us education marketers can be unless we’re trained to analyze the data.

The collaboration that Christina and I have is that together, we’re able to take that data and really make it actionable. We use it as a roadmap of how to really impact change. It doesn’t matter how much data you have, [you have] to look at it, make sense of it, and then turn it into something useful.

-Julie Balog

3. Segment the data.

There are many different systems out there for education marketers to use to collect data.

CRM’s like Salesforce and Slate offer a mountain of information for marketers to consider.

But there are also other analytic data sources like open rates on your email, social media ROI, or key performance indicators in Google Analytics.

There are so many places we can start to gather the data.

However, the real marketing power comes with data segmentation.

Whether you segment for the “first gens” or for siblings of current students, once you have your data segmented, you’ll be able to better craft your messages to make them more effective.

Different segments ask different questions. They have different concerns.

That’s why data segmentation is so important.

Christine spoke about how data segmentation really helped the University of Kentucky understand how to better market to lower-income students during the pandemic.

There was information in the spring of the senior year. Most seniors were worried about missing those end of the year events. But when you segmented that data and looked at low-income, Pell eligible students or looked at students of color, or looked at students that were first gen, their concerns were very different.

Can I afford to go to school? Am I going to graduate? 

With different populations, they need a different message because they’re feeling something differently.

-Christine Harper

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interviews with Julie Balog and Christine Harper in Part 1 and Part 2 to get even more insights into:

  • How to utilize data to drive segmentation in messaging
  • How to engage undecided students using data
  • The difference between innovation and ingenuity
  • How the University of Kentucky is helping communities

Part 1:

Part 2:

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content In this popular resource from Caylor Solutions, you’ll get…

    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
    • Guidance on how to use each one for best results
    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
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