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Darcy Grabenstein Mar 22

Not All Leads Are Created Equal


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A lead is a lead, right? Wrong.

There’s a big difference between a lead and a qualified lead. The latter is someone whose interests/behaviors indicate that he or she is likely to be a good prospect. In the Executive MBA world, this means the lead is more likely to enroll in an EMBA program than other leads.

Lead scoring is a methodology used to identify “hot” vs. “cool” leads. It is used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead may have for the organization. The resulting score is used to prioritize leads. “Hot” leads should be followed up first, with “cool” leads later.

Before you can score your leads, you need to obtain some information about them. You can do this several ways:

  • Include an inquiry form on your website and landing pages
  • Capture demographic information when leads call to get information on your EMBA program
  • Collect information via forms at open houses and other events

Among information you’ll want to track is which program(s) the lead is considering. If this particular lead is interested only in a traditional MBA, be sure to share that information with your MBA colleagues at your institution. Likewise, you’ll want other programs to share leads who show an interest in your particular program.

A word of warning: While you want to capture demographic information via your online forms, you also don’t want to scare off prospects with too many form fields to complete. You must strike a balance. Focus on capturing basic information first; once you have that, you should follow up via phone and/or email to learn more about your prospects.

You can use other methods to find out what programs a lead is interested in. On the web, you can monitor visitors’ activity on your website. Attributes such as where they clicked, how long they spent on certain content and whether they requested more information could tell you a lot about their particular interests.

So exactly how does lead scoring work in the EMBA realm? Truth be told, it works basically the same as in any other industry. You gauge prospects’ interests/actions and rank them accordingly.

To determine how interested prospects are in your institution overall, see how many different web pages they visited on your site. You also can see repeat visitors, and track how often leads visit your site in a given time period. If this coincides with your registration deadlines, you may have a “hot” lead on your hands. Another factor that may contribute to a lead being considered “hot” is whether the lead’s company will help fund the employee’s studies. Once the best leads are determined, your admissions team must work to guide them through the application and enrollment process.

If a lead is identified as “cool,” that lead could simply be researching in advance of making a decision down the road. Eventually, such leads could prove to be equally valuable, but not in the short term. However, you don’t want these leads to fall through the cracks. You must nurture these leads. Keep in mind that committing to an EMBA is a big decision, one that has a longer buying process than, say, purchasing a new piece of workout equipment.

How can you keep cool leads on your radar, and keep your program top of mind among them? Keep the lines of communication open. Remind them about upcoming seminars, deadlines and events such as class previews. Executive education courses are a great way to introduce your institution, its faculty and curriculum to prospective candidates. In addition, if you see that a decent number of leads are coming from a particular geographic area, go to them. Schedule an information session in a location convenient for a majority of your leads.

While lead scoring saves wasted time/effort after the fact, many overloaded EMBA marketing and recruitment staffs simply can’t devote the time to it up front. That’s why it’s important to automate the process. First, set up a point system for assigning points to leads. Determine prospect actions and behaviors that correspond to the various lead scores. Then weight those actions/behaviors in terms of the likelihood that the prospect will convert.

Annodyne’s proprietary lead tracking and lead management platform, Annotrak™, automates lead scoring and more. Leads are color coded for easy identification: red distinguishes high-priority (hot) leads from blue low-priority (cool) leads. Annotrak also tracks social media activity and multichannel marketing performance, and can send tailored email messages to your leads.

No matter how you capture leads and their demographics or how you prioritize them, you must remember that it’s more than just data. It’s all about relationships. In fact, this entire process is referred to as prospect relationship management. Your admissions team must work to develop relationships with prospects at every stage of the sales funnel, and through every step of the buyer’s journey.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Darcy Grabenstein Feb 23

Make Your EMBA Program Stand Out from the Crowd


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BluePaper logo

Transformational. Life changing. Experiential. Professional development. Leadership potential. Executive coaching. Career advancement.

These are all words/phrases used to describe most Executive MBA programs. Could they be used to describe your Executive MBA program?

Therein lies the problem. Most EMBA programs end up sounding and looking the same. How is a prospective student expected to distinguish between your program and that of your competitors?

Think of your EMBA program as a product. Then you must determine its unique selling proposition (USP). This marketing concept was first put forth as an advertising theory back in the 1940s, yet it still remains relevant today. A USP is what makes your product/service different from all the others out there.

Domino’s Pizza does a great job of incorporating its USP into its marketing communications:

“You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less —  or it’s free.” Like a good tagline, a good USP is specific to your business and/or industry. In other words, it’s not enough to simply say, “We provide great value.” How do you provide great value?

Following are other ways you can make your EMBA program stand out from all the rest:

  • Exceptional ROI. Is your EMBA program the least expensive in your city? region? state? the nation?
  • Fabulous faculty. Are your faculty members noted for their research or publications? Have they received awards? Do they have industry experience? Students want to learn from those who’ve “been in the trenches,” so to speak.

  • Innovative curriculum. Most EMBA programs cover business fundamentals. But what types of electives are available? Do you offer specializations in or tracks according to areas of interest?

  • Impressive cohort. Is the caliber of your cohorts head and shoulders above the rest? EMBA students learn from each other as well as from their professors. This could be a big selling point.

  • Brand equity. Is your program ranked? Does it have exclusive accreditation? Is it part of a business school that is ranked or widely acclaimed? Is it part of a prestigious college or university? It’s OK to piggyback on the brand of your parent organization.
  • Program format. Many schools tailor their program schedules to meet the needs of working professionals. Is there anything about your program that is especially flexible? Do you offer a hybrid of learning environments or formats?

  • Leadership development. Do you go above and beyond basic executive coaching? Do you go the extra mile when it comes to careers and placements? Do you take leadership development to the next level? What about executive education?

  • Global reach. Does your EMBA program have an international component? If so, how does it differ from all the rest? The University of Texas at Arlington, for example, is known for its China immersion and Asian Business Studies Graduate Certificate.

  • Alumni network. This extends the value of your program beyond graduation. Where are your alumni now? We’re talking both geographically and in terms of positions at their respective companies. You might just find a trend to capitalize on, such as a track record of success in a particular industry.

Another way you can distinguish yourself is through your advertising. Think about foregoing the traditional students-in-classroom imagery and use an image totally unrelated to academia. This will make your ads eye-catching, which is the first goal of any ad. Your messaging, however, will still resonate with your audience.

If you’ve read the above bullet points and still are scratching your head over how your EMBA program stands out, this could be a wake-up call. Perhaps you need to revisit one or more elements and tweak them to make your program more enticing to prospective students.

Annodyne can help you determine your USP with services such as brand identity and messaging workshops, competitive intelligence and communication assessments.

Visit us at Annodyne.com

. . .

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Darcy Grabenstein Feb 1

How to Shorten the EMBA Decision-Making Process & Increase Your Program’s Bottom Line


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BluePaper logo

The decision-making process for a prospect to enroll in an Executive MBA program is painfully long. Statistics show that this process can take up to two years. So what can you do to speed up the process? Develop —  and implement —  a pull-through digital enrollment marketing strategy.

EMBA Decision-Making Timeline

                      Source: GMAC mba.com Prospective Students Survey 2014

Audience targeting is a key component of any successful marketing strategy, online or offline. Don’t throw a wide net; targeting will produce better results. Why? Because you will be delivering relevant content. If you bid on keywords that are too broad, you may be wasting your online advertising dollars. To promote a Healthcare EMBA program, for instance, both the keywords and the ad messaging must be specific. Otherwise, you may receive a great quantity of leads but not quality leads. Quality leads will be more interested in your EMBA program and, therefore, more likely to commit sooner.

Timing is everything. While you want your online ads to appear prior to your program deadlines, you also want prospects to see them at key stages in their decision-making process. Keep in mind that, although these two timelines may intersect at certain points, the overlap may be minimal. That’s why you should schedule ads throughout the calendar year, not just based on the academic calendar.

So what are some of the stages that prospects will go through on their path to enrolling? Here are a few common stages:

1. Considering an EMBA
2. Deciding what type of EMBA program
3. Seeking information
4. Applying
5. Enrolling

The Adult Audience Journey

Just because you get a prospect into the funnel, that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing. Bottlenecks can pop up anywhere:

• Cost of program (more important to self-financed than employer-sponsored prospects)
• Concerns regarding work-life balance
• Questioning ROI of EMBA degree

Your program positioning and digital marketing strategy must address and overcome these and other obstacles. You can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, by offering incentives for early enrollment. First, financial incentives will help to bring down the overall cost of an EMBA. Second, incentives can help shorten the decision-making process.

What kinds of incentives can you offer? That depends on your program’s pricing and operations budget. Some programs offer scholarships, waive application or GMAT fees (some programs waive the GMAT altogether), or pay for textbooks. Other programs offer incentives to specific groups, such as military veterans.

If you find that work-life balance is an issue for prospects, take a look at your program format. EMBA programs must be willing to rethink traditional models in order to appeal to professionals with limited bandwidth. Programs with flexible scheduling will have an advantage over those with rigid formats, and may prompt commitments earlier in the decision-making process.

Your digital marketing strategy must demonstrate program ROI. How? Include testimonials on ROI from current students and alumni. If favorable, compare your tuition to that of other EMBA programs. Survey your alumni to find out how they moved up the career ladder (and how quickly) and how much their salaries increased post-graduation. Collect stats, and then use them to your advantage.

Digital enrollment marketing is more than just “setting and forgetting” a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign. Your strategy should be made up of many components: keyword optimization, banner and search ads, landing pages, search engine optimized (SEO) web content, social media advertising, retargeting campaigns and more. Your online campaign also should be consistent in visuals and messaging with offline marketing.

Don’t forget to monitor your campaigns. Tracking results will reveal which components worked best, and which fell flat. Then tweak your campaigns for optimal results.

A coordinated, consistent, ongoing marketing effort will produce the best results and, ultimately, shorten the prospect’s decision-making timeline.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Darcy Grabenstein Jan 3

8 Trends Destined to Impact Marketing in 2017


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Annodyne T-shirt design

Yes, it’s time for the obligatory end-of-year trends blog post. Typically, these posts focus on topics such as marketing trends for the coming year.

I’d like to take a slightly different approach. I’ll be looking at upcoming trends and their impact on marketing.

1. Virtual Reality

Like it or not, virtual reality (VR) is here to stay. So are its counterparts, augmented reality and mixed reality. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. This video explains the difference between all three concepts.

How this impacts marketing:

For travel marketers, VR can be at once a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, VR can be used to give prospective visitors a real taste of what they can experience at a tourist destination. On the negative side, prospects who “visit” a place via VR may feel they can skip the real thing. It’s up to marketers to use VR selectively, giving prospective tourists just enough of a preview to make them want to see it all in real time.

2. Anonymous Consumers

TrendWatching refers to this as Incognito Individuals. Lest you jump to the conclusion that big data is “so yesterday,” think of it more as a deconstructing of data. On the one hand, the article notes, you’ve got non-traditional audience segments. On the other hand, you’ve got companies marketing to a “segment of one” at a mass scale.

 How this impacts marketing:

Non-traditional audience segments (TrendWatching cites the first male face of Covergirl as a case in point) must be taken into consideration when developing marketing campaigns. Once you’ve defined your segments, then you need to create ultra-targeted content to meet that segment’s needs. With all the data at our disposal, you’re doing your audience a disservice if you rely on mass marketing.

3. Love for Millennials

Inc. magazine says that businesses will begin to embrace Millennials instead of rejecting them. The stereotypes of selfishness and materialism will fall by the wayside.

This mindset is particularly important in higher ed marketing, where Millennials make up a majority of the audience. And in terms of graduate education, where Millennials are becoming a larger part of the demographic, marketers must shift gears in order to appeal to this segment.

4. Drones

Fortune predicts that drones will be increasingly used to make deliveries of fast food and similar items. While the FAA has eased up on restrictions for drone use, companies still face significant limitations.

How this impacts marketing:

For companies that deliver products, drones take quick, personal service to a whole new level (pun intended). Careful messaging will be needed to overcome consumers’ fears of drones, particularly fears surrounding privacy and safety issues, and focus on how the benefits far outweigh the risks.

5. On-demand work

According to a Forbes article referencing a prediction by the World Economic Forum, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Both workers and customers are freeing themselves from the traditional 9-to-5 workday.

How this impacts marketing:

There will be an abundance of freelancers, available to agencies and other businesses that typically hire them. A glut of freelance talent could cause rates to drop, and agencies can pass those savings along to their clients. Agencies that once shied away from hiring freelancers might find it cost-effective to do so. In addition, remote employees will be more commonplace, allowing agencies to remove geographical constraints, expand their staffs with top candidates and hire talent with the skills that match specific projects.

6. Patients as partners

Pharma will have a new strategic partner: patients. PwC Health Research Institute’s annual report says that pharmaceutical companies will better engage with patients in the coming year. Patients, faced with higher medical insurance deductibles, will be demanding better value from their prescriptions.

How this impacts marketing:

Pharmaceutical companies will need to forge more meaningful connections with patients. In order to do so, they must better understand their customer base. At Annodyne, we’ve helped pharma clients do this by mapping the customer journey and launching social listening initiatives. We’ve also created closed online communities that serve as a support group and a three-way source of information among the pharma company, patients and healthcare providers.

7. Less is more

Call it what you want — retro, nostalgia, form simplification, minimalism — the more people are
inundated in their lives with technology, the more they retreat to simplistic themes. Annodyne’s most
recent T-shirt design, shown above, is a nod to the nostalgic look. And it’s no surprise that logo design trends for 2017 harp on simplicity.

Pantone Greenery

Even Pantone’s color of the year for 2017, Greenery, reflects this trend. In choosing this color, Pantone noted: “The more submerged people are in modern life, the greater their innate craving to immerse themselves in the physical beauty and inherent unity of the natural world.”

How this impacts marketing:

For marketers of environmentally friendly products and services, this trend is good news. Marketers of any product/service should use technology prudently, not just for the sake of technology itself. Designs should be clean, copy clear and concise. The glut of promotional content people are exposed to on a daily basis means that advertisers who cut back on bells and whistles may garner more attention in the long run.

8. The voice of Middle America

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the election’s impact on marketing. If we learned anything from Election 2016, it’s that Middle America — which felt marginalized for a long time — finally found its voice and is demanding to be seen and heard.

How this impacts marketing:

Marketers must understand the pain points of this segment of American society and address them in an authentic manner. Anything less will be looked upon with disdain.

So there you have it. The upcoming year will be filled with immense challenges and opportunities for marketers. Let the games begin.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Michelle DeVirgiliis Oct 31

How to Transform Alumni into Brand Evangelists


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Call it what you want — brand advocate, brand ambassador, brand evangelist — this is an individual who enthusiastically supports (and promotes) an organization and its products/services. At Annodyne, we prefer the term “brand evangelist” because it describes someone who has complete faith in your offerings.

When it comes to your Executive MBA program, what audience segment is likely to be your best brand evangelists? Your alumni. They have already gone through your application/admissions process, experienced your curriculum firsthand and hopefully are on to bigger and better things in their careers.

Marketing guru Guy Kawasaki is credited with coining the concept “brand evangelism.” He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. Kawasaki was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing its Macintosh computer line back in ’84. He currently is brand evangelist for Canva.

Kawasaki maintains that the key to brand evangelism is a great product. He has come up with the acronym DICEE to illustrate what constitutes a great product:

Megaphone

 

  • • A great product is Deep. That is, it does not run out of features after a few weeks of use. In the EMBA world, this could mean offering your alumni executive education courses to keep on top of industry trends or holding networking/reunion events to maintain connections beyond graduation.
  • • A great product is Indulgent. With the price tag of most EMBA programs, this is a given. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be the cheapest option available. However, you must provide value (think ROI) to your cohorts.
  • • A great product is Complete. The total user experience should be exceptional. If you have the greatest EMBA program around but a lousy admissions process, for example, you miss the mark.
  • • A great product has an Elegant user interface. Think about it. Are your faculty members accessible? Is the post-enrollment process (course selection, housing, transportation, etc.) a seamless one?
  • • A great product is Emotive. It is so awesome that consumers (i.e., students & alumni) can’t wait to tell others about it.

Let’s assume your EMBA program is a great product. How do you encourage your alumni to become brand evangelists? You can pray that they’ll see the light, or you can take active steps to foster their relationship with your brand:

  • • Segment your marketing strategy to target the alumni audience.
  • • Connect with and friend alumni on social networking sites.
  • • Invite them to share their enthusiasm in info sessions and class previews.
  • • Create a closed alumni/student group on LinkedIn and encourage alumni to acts as mentors.
  • • Better yet, set up your own private networking site (ask us how) where alumni can seek answers to work challenges, post job openings, announce & bid on RFPs and more.
  • • Interview your alumni to create case studies that can be used to market your program.
  • • Curate/create content alumni would be proud to share, comment on or like.

We can’t stress enough the importance of social media. In terms of alumni giving, donations have dropped at schools nationwide in recent years. However, Philadelphia’s Drexel University is bucking that trend, thanks to a social media engagement campaign. David Unruh, senior vice president of Institutional Advancement at Drexel, says in the Philadelphia Business Journal that seeking large donations wasn’t the main goal of the campaign. “[The campaign events] are not intended to generate large dollar amounts… they’re really designed to engage the broader Drexel community.”

We’ll take it a step further. Don’t just milk your alumni for donations. Milk them for prospects.

It’s all about social proof or social influence. Include alumni testimonials on your website and in your marketing materials. Alumni videos can be repurposed; include them on your website, your social networking sites and in online ads. Third-party “endorsements” — such as testimonials, rankings and news placements — are extremely effective in forming a positive impression of your program among prospective students.

To recap, create a great product. Maintain your connection with alumni. When you do, they’ll become  believers, brand evangelists who will help you convert your prospects into students. Amen.

Want to explore how to engage and connect with your alumni in a secure, private online environment? Learn about Ziel, Annodyne’s proprietary audience engagement portal.

Michelle DeVirgiliis is an account manager at Annodyne.

 


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Molly Hafner Dec 2

Around the Table with Community College Presidents


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This past week, I attended the HERDI  conference in San Diego, CA. HERDI  is a gathering of companies in the higher education space that come together to share business plans, ideas and industry-specific solutions in order to get immediate, in-person feedback from an extensive panel of community college presidents.

Our panel consisted of seven presidents or chancellors, each with his or her institution’s own story. Over three hours, we were able to tap into their thoughts and insights on the current student situation.

We began our session on the premise that the community college student landscape is changing and that Annodyne is uniquely positioned to aid community colleges in the transition to this new landscape.  Here are a few key takeaways from the panel:

1)  Confirmed: Enrollment decline is an issue throughout the nation. From California to New Mexico to North Carolina, where the student populations, school size and budgets were as different as night and day, one theme remained constant: Enrollment is in decline. Those schools that were used to 5% year-over-year enrollment increases are now experiencing a leveling out, and those who were already flat are laser focused on stemming decline. Over the next 10 years, high school student populations will tend to be flat or decline (only projected to increase in the South around 2022). And credit load is shrinking. Whether we as community college leaders and staff are willing to admit it or not, we’re dealing with a tidal wave of a trend that is eventually going to be too big to ignore. According to the panel, most community colleges are not prepared.

Higher Education Research and Development Institute

2)  How can we do more with our marketing budgets and prove marketing’s worth? Activate the data and measure! It’s not easy to measure traditional media efforts. We can see lift, spike or shift, but it has always been a challenge to measure a “postcard’s ROI,” for example, and therefore difficult for presidents to hold onto dollars that could be reallocated elsewhere. One thing was clear: The most successful community colleges know that marketing is essential and are working to protect their marketing budgets. In our session, we showed the panel a recent leads and inquiries assessment that led to the development of a targeted marketing plan. With the same budget, we were able to be much more granular in our targeting…which allowed the dollars to work harder. Of course, there is no magic wand that will turn every effort into an enrolled student; however, setting up a plan based on an individual institution’s data-driven insights is a step in the right direction.

3)  My 8-year-old is your next generation of student: A president’s wake-up call. When confronted on what is changing and how colleges need to plan for the future, one of the presidents honed in on her 8-year-old son’s use of technology. Today’s children have been raised from day one on advanced technology. Elementary school students are using Chrome books, SMART boards, Google Docs, and multimedia in nearly every project. In elementary school. This tech-savvy mindset will only become more entrenched into the high school years; public, private and parochial schools are all joining in the technology game. In 10 years, when these students walk through the door of your community college, will you be ready to serve them with the technology that these students expect…even demand?

children on tablets in school

The panel ended with a collective feeling of yes, this shift is big, and yes, community colleges are generally not as prepared as they could be. For Annodyne, our challenge is how to best package our suite of solutions to meet the needs of this changing landscape in a way that provides the most value and results.

Stay tuned as the roll-out begins…

Anthony Molly and Simon at HERDI

Molly Hafner is an account manager at Annodyne.


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Darcy Grabenstein Aug 20

The Importance of Thank-You Pages


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When an online lead-generation campaign is launched, many organizations obsess over the banner ads, the keywords, the landing page content and, of course, the form used to capture data. However, the online marketing doesn’t end the second your prospect has dutifully filled out the form and clicked “submit.”

The prospect should then be directed to a thank-you page that includes even more information about your product or service. Keep in mind that, on the landing page itself, extraneous links are discouraged. These will only draw attention away from the form and its call to action, which is your main goal here: generating leads.

On the thank-you page, however, you have the opportunity to redirect the prospect back to your site. You also can provide additional details about your product or service.

Here are a few examples of content you can include on a thank-you page to keep the prospect on your site — and engaged with your brand:

  • Your logo. Chances are, the prospect is just becoming familiar with your organization. Reinforce your brand by including your logo prominently at the top of the page.

  • Links back to your site. Omit these, and you’ve lost the prospect for good. (At least, until you follow up via email/phone/letter on the lead generated from your landing page form.)
JHU thank-you page

The Johns Hopkins University EMBA thank-you page includes a strong call to action and links back to the site.

 

  • Images. This is an optional element, but who says a thank-you page must be text only? If other pages on your site have a header image, include it here for consistency.
    Disney Thank-You Page

    Disney does a great job of using images and brand reinforcement,
    but falls short when it comes to links.

     

  • A video. Even better than an image, include a video to engage the prospect. It doesn’t have to be long (in fact, the shorter the better).

  • Downloads. If a digital brochure is your incentive for filling out the form, then you’ll obviously have a link to the PDF on your thank-you page. You also can link to other brochures and downloadable information.
Seattle thank-you page

The Seattle EMBA thank-you page includes a link to view a digital brochure
and several other links presented in a graphic format.

 

  • Upcoming events. For an online retailer, this could be an upcoming sale. For an organization, it could be a webinar, in-person meeting or online chat. Take it up a notch and include a calendar widget that allows the prospect to register and add the event to his/her own calendar.
Illinois thank-you page

The University of Illinois EMBA landing page includes a calendar widget and links to its blog and social media sites.

 

  • Contact information. If the prospect wants to send an email or speak to a human, make it easy to do so.

  • Social media. Have a presence on social media sites? If so, include their icons and link to your pages.
VandyTY

Vanderbilt’s Americas EMBA thank-you page includes several links back to the site, a download link, and links to its social media sites.

 

  • A link to your blog. If you have a blog, consider linking to it (assuming that the content is fresh). This will give the prospect insight into your company and its “personality.”

  • Testimonials. The thank-you page is the perfect opportunity to include success stories, quotes and more. Remember, you’re still in the process of “selling” the prospect at this point.

  • A call to action. Don’t assume that your prospect isn’t ready to make a purchase or other decision. Include a visible call to action with the option to buy, sign up, apply, etc.
Arizona Thank-You Page

The University of Arizona thank-you page prominently displays its logo and includes a strong call to action.

Failure to include at least some of these elements on your landing page could mean missed opportunities for your organization.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Marisa Albanese May 5

In-Security Issues


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I have a very good friend named Denise whom I’ve known since we were 8 years old. Dee and I have a long, tangled history of incidents and adventures, some of which were amazing and others not worth repeating in polite company. When we were 11 years old, Denise got the Internet. A little context, this was 1996, when the Internet was still dial-up and everyone got those sweet AOL CDs offering free Internet. Remember when we had to pay by the hour for the Internet? Dark and evil times, my friends.

Anyway, during one of our marathon phone conversations, Dee was regaling me with tales of Internet browsing. We decided to create a Yahoo Geo-Cities page (oh yeah, this was real old school). Here’s how the conversation went down:

Denise: “Aren’t the Spice Girls amazing? Hey, Macarena!”

Me: “Dee, too legit! But we need to focus. I stopped reading YM for this.”

Denise: “Sorry. What should we call our page?”

Me: “Hmmmm. How about The Web Page of Marisa Albanese and Denise Clarke?”

Denise: “No! You can’t put your name on the Internet! That’s how people find out where you live!”

I may have paraphrased the beginning of the conversation, but I clearly remember Dee having a conniption over my title suggestion. While we can all chuckle over this now, tween Denise was offering some sage wisdom — data security is an ongoing problem.

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This was Denise back in the ’90s. After this blog, post I’m pretty sure our 22-year friendship will be history.

In February  2014, the University of Maryland’s IT department detected a breach in one of its databases. It was revealed a hacker had accessed the personal information of 300,000 student and faculty records. These records went back to 1998 and contained names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. The university stated the security around its databases was strong and that it was a “sophisticated” attack. They offered victims a free year of credit monitoring and the president of the university, Dr. Wallace Loh, even posted a video on YouTube providing updates on the data hack. Everything was under control.

Then David Helkowski made a post on Reddit.

Mr. Helkowski worked as an IT security consultant for the university. Over the course of a year, he discovered several “backdoors” on various databases containing student and faculty information. A backdoor is when someone hacks into a system and creates a way for themselves to access it. The hacker can get in and out quickly, without drawing attention. (Backdoors are created for large databases for legitimate IT purposes, too. Do not get concerned if one of your analysts uses this term.) If what Mr. Helkowski is alleging is true, that means the university’s databases had been previously hacked.

Then the February breach occurred, and Mr. Helkowski was not happy with how his warnings had fallen on deaf ears. So, he hacked into the newly “secure” database and posted Dr. Loh’s Social Security number on Reddit. He then bragged about what he did to his co-workers via the gamer site Steam (so there was a nice transcript of his conversation). He claims he did it to prove how unsecured the database was. I can’t wait for the film version of this to be made. I hope they get Ryan Gosling to play David Helkowski because God knows that man needs to be seen more.

All joking aside, what he did was stupid (and got him in trouble with the FBI because hacking is a federal crime) but he made some solid points. He also pointed out something very troubling — college databases are deep troughs brimming with valuable personal information, and they can be very easy to dismantle.

What’s the takeaway from all of this? Data security is a complex business. Take every necessary step when securing a database. If you use an IT security professional, which I highly recommend, take his or her recommendations seriously. Get educated. I truly believe the reason why these things happen is a lack of understanding. IT has its own language, but understanding what’s good and what’s bad isn’t hard. So invest in data security.

Or you could use the money to hire a PR rep to describe a data breach as a sophisticated test. Your choice.

Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.


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Marisa Albanese Mar 23

Carnegie Mellon University Deserves Your Judgment


Written by:

Dear Carnegie Mellon University, I have two words for you: Test Plan.

In case you haven’t heard, the prestigious university, located in Pittsburgh, emailed 800 prospective students acceptance letters. So what’s the problem? These students were actually rejected by the admissions board.

I just felt the collective wince of our reading audience.

Carnegie Mellon is not the first university to send mass acceptance emails only then to reply to unfortunate prospective students with “You know that ecstatic glee you felt yesterday? All that hard work, long hours of studying, and immense sacrifice actually paid off in the end? Yeah, you’re going to want to sit down. Our bad!” This same thing happened at UCLA in 2012.

What’s interesting is the problem was centralized in one department – Computer Science. Side note: The publishers of Webster’s Dictionary are now using this event as their definition for the word “irony.” I don’t know what kind of system Carnegie Mellon is using to manage its admissions process. However, I will assume it is using some kind of Customer Resource Management tool (CRM for short). This allows more automated, and efficient, mainstreaming of electronic communications. Montgomery County Community College is currently entertaining vendors to help with its own CRM needs, a process which has Annodyne acting in a consultancy role.

I have a very simple question for CMU: How did you let this happen? There are no fail-safes in your system? If that’s the case, Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University, then someone needs to go to Google and type in the words “test plan.” A test plan prevents stuff like this from happening. It’s mainly used when creating new software, updates to existing programs, basically any time you make a change. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a plan to test the system. But a test plan can, and should, be developed for situations like this.

Someone mislabeled a file. Fine, that happens. But there was no master file uploaded to check the names against? This can be done automatically, using the correct software. Here’s something — maybe take 20 names and run a test batch? Yeah, I’m sure the folks in the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University have better things to do with their time than to double-check an email list. Silly me!

To the students who were accepted only to get the rudest shock of their lives — chin up. Sometimes your second-choice school turns out to be the best choice. A few years ago when I was applying to graduate schools, I really, really, really, (did I say “really”?) wanted to go to NYU. But I was waitlisted. Three weeks later, I was accepted into Drexel University and never looked back. Drexel turned out to be exactly what I needed.

Get your degree and come work for us at Annodyne. This could be you!

Lester

Senior Applications Director Lester Traband is crazy about coding.

Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.


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Mar 9

A Higher (Ed) Calling


Written by:

I am originally from the UK. Yes, I have bad teeth. I pronounce aluminum “aloomineeum.” I know all British expatriates in the USA (not really, but you have no idea how many times this comes up in conversation). I love football (the “real” football and not that ruining of rugby that you Yanks so love).

Getting more to the point, I joined Annodyne last year in a higher education enrollment/retention strategic projects role. My position is “embedded” on the campus of our client, Montgomery County Community College. I work alongside my talented brainiac colleague Marisa Albanese, who is the other Annodyne “embedded” at the college.

british-flag

I came to Annodyne from many years in big pharma. I brought to my new role at Annodyne much prior experience in customer acquisition, segmentation and retention, coupled with a passion for big picture thinking. It somewhat amazes me that all those years in pharma proved to be highly translatable in a higher education setting (thanks, Pfizer!).

Working at the college is a fantastic experience. Every day, I get to collaborate with the incredibly talented members of the college’s Project Horizons team. This joint Annodyne/college cross-functional workgroup is tasked with the implementation of strategic initiatives that support the college’s enrollment/retention/completion goals. It is a truly unique and innovative partnership. On any given day, Marisa and I wear many different hats… project manager, analyst, process integrator, planner, meeting presenter. We’ve already accomplished much and I’m confident that Project Horizon’s collective efforts will have a transformative impact.

There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes with this engagement. Equally fulfilling is the certainty that we are helping students — whom I see every day — improve their lives and ultimately make their dreams come true.


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