The Psychology Behind Marketing Online Education

Psychology Behind Marketing Online Education

This is a guest post from Sarah Smith.

How do people decide which online university will meet their needs?

What drives a student to choose one option over another — especially when both schools have little name recognition?

No one decides on an online education based on a single advertisement or one aspect of a website. Instead, a multitude of psychological factors work together.

Every student is different, bringing personal priorities to the selection process. That said, it is possible to use psychology to decode the common factors. By understanding the thought process that goes into a student’s choices, an online program can grow its enrollment faster.

Let’s look at some of the key factors:

1. The Feeling a School Will “Work With You”

One of history’s most famous psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud, posited that people are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Prospective students want the “pleasure” of a great education and the opportunities it affords, but also wish to avoid the “pain” of failing!

Schools aimed at working adults should evince a compassionate, caring manner to make the threat of failure seem distant.

2. Social Proof as Evidence of a School’s Intentions

“Social proof” is a key concept in neuro-marketing, the fusion of neurology, psychology and marketing. To overcome their doubts about a course of action, most people prefer to see that others like them have succeeded before.

Testimonials associated with clear, smiling photos of a variety of students can be motivational.

3. The Right Visual Cues

Online schools can offer a variety of programs, from the humanities and social sciences to vocational programs. When visuals are congruent with a college’s offerings, students will be more inspired to commit.

Blue, gold, and gray are associated with “prestigious” subjects in the humanities, while red, white and green evoke the practical.

4. A Sense of Urgency or Scarcity

Deciding to go to college can be a leap of faith, especially for those who have not been in school for a long time. A sense of urgency can shake them up and compel them to take action.

Establishing and communicating clear deadlines for enrollment, along with a path to speak directly to an admissions counselor is likely to improve conversion.

5. Anticipatory Activity

Anticipatory activity” is a perspective-taking process people adopt when they want to modify their social role. For example, a student who wishes to graduate from college with good grades will usually try to adopt habits they think are associated with that success.

When a college website is written from a future-oriented perspective, with rich details relating to a student’s future success, it can help activate this process, and so would-be students may become more confident that enrolling is the right course of action.

All these tools rely on one central factor: understanding your audience.

Someone who wishes to achieve a degree in philosophy may be very different from someone who wants real estate training online. Although, if you visit NREL’s website (a company that provides online real estate courses for NSW) you’ll see many of the above techniques.

Although each student is different, they all fall into demographic categories that can be used to develop a detailed understanding of the “average” visitor. The better you understand that group, the more effectively you can tailor your site experience to their needs.

Sarah is a small business owner, and is currently learning about marketing using the internet. Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media, and read travel books.

McKinsey 7 S Model

McKinsey 7 S Framework 2

(Source: Flickr)

While you may not directly use the 7 S Model in the consulting case interview, it will give you a deeper understanding of how to examine the inner workings of an organisation, identify strengths and sources of competitive advantage, as well as weaknesses and reasons why an organisation may not be operating effectively.

The 7 S Model can also provide a guide for organisational change.

McKinsey 7 S Model

The seven (7) factors considered by the 7 S Model include:

  1. Shared values refer to the values that are widely practiced within an organisation and form the company’s core guiding principles.
  2. Strategy refers to the plans that a company has for gaining a competitive advantage (e.g. low cost; product differentiation; new product development; entering new markets).
  3. Skills refer to the competencies of the organisation, its staff and management.
  4. Structure refers to the way in which an organisation’s people and business units relate to each other. This includes organizational structure, communication channels, and chain of command.
  5. Staffing refers to recruitment, selection, training, development, and management of talent.
  6. Style refers to the work culture, leadership style of upper management and the way things are done.
  7. Systems refers to the organisation’s processes and procedures for things like budgeting, communication, recruitment, compensation, and performance reviews.

[For more information on the consulting interview, download “The HUB’s Guide to the Consulting Interview“.]

Creation vs Appropriation

Creation vs Appropriation

(Source: Flickr)

What do the painter, the author and the tech entrepreneur all have in common?

They are all in the business of creation; producing new works for the benefit of their target audience.

And what about the professional gambler or the Wall Street prop trader?

They are both in the business of appropriation; placing calculated bets in order to appropriate more of what already exists in their direction.

Creation and appropriation are very different kinds of activities, and both can be extremely lucrative. But the truth of the matter is that while creation has the potential to leave everyone better off, appropriation typically doesn’t.

What kind of projects are you currently working on?

BCG Growth/Share Matrix

Cash Cow

(Source: Flickr)

While it may not be a core framework for solving consulting case questions, the BCG Growth Share Matrix can help to broaden your understanding of how a company might want to allocate cash between products and business units.

The framework is based on the idea that the amount of cash a product uses is proportional to the rate of growth of that product in the market, and the generation of cash is a function of market share.

To be successful, the story goes, a company should have a portfolio of products with different growth rates and different market shares. Money generated from high-market-share products can then be used to develop high-growth products.

BCG Matrix

Under the BCG matrix, products are classified into four types:

  1. Stars are leaders in high growth markets. Stars grow rapidly and therefore use large amounts of cash. Stars also have a high market share and therefore generate large amounts of cash.
  2. Cash Cows are highly profitable and require low investment because they are market leaders in a low-growth market.
  3. Question Marks are low market share high growth products, and almost always require more cash than they can generate.
  4. Dogs are low market share low growth products. BCG refers to these products as “cash traps”. They require little cash but also generate little cash.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Proven vs Actionable

You don’t always need proof that a threat exists in order to take action.

You don’t need to know everything, you just need to know enough to get moving.

In behavioural economics the common human bias towards doing nothing is called the “status quo bias”.

Faced with a difficult decision in the midst of uncertainty, people prefer to delay. And while non-action may sometimes make sense, the logical fallacy with the status quo bias is that a choice to do nothing is still a decision, and inaction can often be the most risky and costly choice of all.

One example of an existential threat faced by humanity is climate change.

Scientists first proposed the existence of human induced climate change some time during the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century (a hundred years later) that scientists started to form a consensus view that greenhouse gases have been involved in most climate changes throughout history, and that human emissions are causing serious global warming.

If scientific predictions are borne out, then climate change could have serious effects including rising sea levels which threaten coastal cities, increasing incidence and severity of floods and droughts that threaten the food supply, and increasing levels of species extinction.

Despite the clear message coming from the scientific community (97% of climate scientists agree), and the significant damage that climate change could cause, policy makers and business people are slow to act.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was an international agreement that committed the governments of member nations to set binding emission reduction targets, was signed in 1997. However, it didn’t enter into force until 2005 and was never even ratified by the United States. Almost two decades later governments and business people continue to move slowly.

The problem is caused in part by what economists call “the tragedy of the commons”. Since each nation benefits directly in the short run from tax revenues derived from industries that emit CO2 emissions, and since the cost of environmental degradation will be borne by everyone and only in the long run, there is a strong short term incentive for each nation to pollute too much.

The other part of the problem though, which economists rarely talk about, is lack of leadership.

If we agree on balance that human induced climate change is a reality, and that the risks could be severe, then it logically follows that we will need to live in a much more carbon constained future; a future in which energy can be generated through clean technology which doesn’t produce CO2 and which doesn’t continue to put the global climate at risk.

Fortunately, there are a small number of leaders like Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla Motors and Solar City) who are pursuing new technologies with the goal of driving us forwards into a cleaner future.

Hopefully companies like Shell and others will start to take some action too.

Trust Based Business

I recently bought a coffee from Quarter Horse Coffee, my new favorite Oxford coffee house.

Not having exactly the right change, I asked the friendly bearded hipster behind the counter whether they accept card payments.

He told me that they accept payment by card, but they charge a 20P surcharge for amounts under five pounds.

I hesitated for a moment, to which he smiled and suggested, “oh, don’t worry, if you want to save the 20P, just pay me when you walk by here tomorrow.”

This was surprising to hear but at the same time wonderful. To meet someone genuinely helpful gave me a utopian glimpse of how life should be, but typically isn’t.

Large corporates typically don’t operate this way because the value of trust can’t be measured, and is therefore either undervalued or overlooked. Corporate executives and senior managers who studied discounted cash flow models and the CAPM model as part of expensive MBA programs from prestigious institutions of higher learning never stopped to learn the value of human connection, or the value of generating customer delight.

How are you connecting with your customers?

What are you doing to delight them?