Exclusive Interview with Mr. Brian McCray: Effective Marketing for Online Education Conference

November 23, 2013

Dr. Saba: Mr. McCray, would you please tell us about your academic and professional backgrounds?

Mr. Brian McCray

Mr. Brian McCray

Mr. McCray: Sure. I received my BA in history from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in client/server communications from Virginia Commonwealth University. Much of my career has been spent on the technical side of online marketing, and I recently launched the Corporate Learning Network, a publication and social media community, which focuses on learning and talent development in both corporate America and online higher education.

Dr. Saba:  How did you become interested in online education?

Mr. McCray: I come from a family of teachers — my parents, aunts, uncles are all teachers.  Couple that with my background in technology and online marketing, and my interest was sparked. For years, I developed platforms to deliver webinars, a form of online learning. My interest shifted to online higher education after my wife spent a year obtaining her master’s degree in special education from Arkansas State. I was very intrigued by this online learning environment, from the process by which she chose the school to the delivery of classes and grading. As a technology geek, I dissected each section and realized that there was a need for schools to really look at the process by which they attract and deliver a quality education to their students. As such, we launched an online education event series at Corporate Learning Network: Effective Marketing for Online Education, which is geared toward the marketing of degree-granting programs, and New Directions in Online Learning, which discusses the online education market as a whole, including admissions, course development, staff buy in, and proctoring.

Dr. Saba:  What is the importance of marketing for online educators? I ask this question as a person, who over the last two decades or so, has witnessed several programs that failed. Not because they had poor academic standards, or incompetent instructors, or lacked learner support services. What, in particular, marketing brings to the mix of a successful online educational enterprise?

Mr. McCray: Three key things come to mind. In the world of online education, marketers are invaluable for their ability to proficiently segment and target prospective students that match the institution’s online offerings, communicate clearly with students (keeping in mind that it’s possible no one from the institution will physically speak with prospective students during their decision process) and consistently reinforce the value that the institution provides. These practices ensure great returns on every marketing dollar spent. Additionally, as marketing departments are the primary engine when it comes to branding and crafting an overall student experience, they can significantly impact student retention – and many have only started to scratch the surface in this regard.

Since the cost of online student acquisition is a significant variable in the overall cost of delivering an online degree, every step in the journey to more effective marketing produces better results for both the institution and its students.

Dr. Saba: What could participants in Effective Marketing for Online Education Conference expect to learn?

Mr. McCray: Attendees will have the opportunity to gain insights and strategies for effective online and integrated marketing for their online education programs. Additionally, they will be able to gain expertise in creating a competitive advantage for their online college or universities. They will also have the opportunity to create a roadmap to ensure outstanding student experience throughout the ‘customer’ lifecycle.  Some key topics and takeaways include:

  • Agile marketing is all the buzz lately, with marketing teams scrumming, sprinting, and pivoting with a renewed energy to improve speed, transparency, and adaptability of their strategies. The ability to be responsive, adaptive, and flexible has proven itself in other industries, but while the benefits of agile marketing (higher efficiency, faster response, more creativity) are becoming clearer by the day, there are some hefty dangers to be aware of when applying this to grow your own audience
  • Storytelling: as the online education space becomes increasingly crowded it is more important than ever to understand the role storytelling can play in helping your institution stand out. Learn how Southern New Hampshire University strategically crafted a creative narrative to establish their brand, drive leads, and become the country’s fastest growing university.
  • Using Analytics to Drive Marketing Decisions: Everyone says they love data, but are you using that data to your advantage? It’s one thing to have the numbers, but it is true marketing to take those numbers and turn them into students. Implementing the findings of the data is the most important step, but too many marketers collect data and then leave it on their shelf to collect dust.
  • Creating a Value Proposition in a changing Economy: Perceptions of online higher education have changed dramatically in recent years but the value proposition has not kept pace. Institutions must look beyond convenience and flexibility, and position their value to potential students.
  • Building your online Brand: You may think succeeding at distance education is a marketing problem. It is not. It is a student experience problem. At the MAMC in Web Design and Online Communication in the College of Journalism at the University of Florida, one of the fastest growing programs of any kind at UF, we’ll show that improving your ‘customer experience’ starts with a passion for transforming your student’s lives
  • Creating & Sustaining Strategic Alliances: Today innovation leads the way for continuing education on campuses; no longer should the approach to student development and program design “inside out” – based on the insights from the college or university which must be stretched to apply in the real world. The new phrase is “Education to Career”; how does that look today and what connections are relevant to adult learners, what are the needs of corporate sectors? What about the importance of advisory boards, online learning, nationally and internationally, and the new partnerships between education and corporation?
  • To MOOC or not to MOOC: The New York Times declared 2012 the “Year of the MOOC” and the conversation hasn’t ceased since. But what, exactly, are the impact of courses that 90% of students don’t finish? Do MOOCs help attract prospective students to paid degree programs? Or are they for a different kind of audience
  • Looking at the Student as a Customer:  In the ‘good old days’ of marketing higher education, students typically chose a school because they were familiar with a local institution, it was within driving distance, or their neighbor was a faculty member. With the explosion of online/distance learning, students have more choices than ever – and they are becoming very savvy shoppers. What does that mean for your marketing strategy

Dr. Saba: Why did you select San Diego, CA as the venue for the conference?

Mr. McCray: San Diego is a beautiful city and one of the nicest places to visit in December. Also San Diego and the surrounding areas are home to many of the finest colleges and universities in the country

 Dr. Saba: What are some of the future trends and programs that we can expect to see from your conference series?

Mr. McCray: In March 2014, we will be running our second annual New Directions in Online Learning conference in Boston, which will focus on the ways online higher education programs can accelerate enrollments, learner engagement and student retention.  Some key themes:

  • The Future of Online Education: Creating Value in a Changing Economy
  • Moving from a Faculty-Centered to Student-Centered Institution
  • Scaling and Standardizing Your Degree Programs in a High Growth Environment
  • Being Nimble and Managing Demands from Administrators & Faculty
  • Student Retention: The Challenge of Our Times
  • Creating Outsourced Partnerships for Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • The $15,000 Degree: Why You Should Care About the Cost of Acquisition
  • Disruptive Education: Badges, MOOCs and Alternative Credentialing – They’re Here, Should You Fear?
  • Measuring , Tracking and Increasing Student Engagement
  • Leveraging Your Institution’s Investment in Online Education
  • To MOOC or not to MOOC, And What It Means for You
  • Think Like a Business, Run Like a College: The Best of Both Worlds
  • Using Technology to Personalize and Scale Learning
  • Creating an Innovation Ecosystem in Distance Education

Additionally, we have a series of conferences that focus on corporate learning and corporate learning partnerships with higher education institutions. These include: Corporate Learning Week Europe in February in Barcelona, the Learning Design Congress in April in Austin, Corporate Learning Week West in May in San Jose and the 16th Annual Corporate Learning Week in November 2014 in Orlando.

Dr. Saba: Thank you for this informative interview. I look forward to seeing you during the conference.