Understanding Unbundled and Fee-for-Service Marketing in Higher Education
If your college or university is considering alternatives to marketing programs with an OPM, you’ll need to understand your options for marketing and recruiting for your academic programs in house or with a partner.
Aside from working with an OPM, there are two main approaches to running marketing campaigns to recruit students — build an enrollment marketing team in-house or find a new agency partner to offer unbundled or fee-for-service marketing expertise.
Unbundled Marketing Services Defined
OPMs (online program managers) typically “bundle up” marketing services with other services related to marketing and delivering degrees, certificates, or programs. Those additional bundled services can include: enrollment management, student support, curriculum development, technology support, and curriculum delivery.
Unbundled marketing services for colleges and universities refers to a marketing agency that provides stand-alone marketing services — “unbundled” from other services typically offered by an OPM. These services include: paid digital advertising, lead capture, content marketing strategy, and measurement.
So then, what’s the definition of Fee-for-Service Marketing Services?
Fee-for-service marketing services is defined as paying a fee to a marketing or advertising agency upfront for the services and without any revenue sharing.
In the OPM business model, colleges and universities do not pay upfront for marketing services provided through an OPM. Instead of paying a fee for marketing services, the school pays 30-50% of the tuition revenue generated by the programs to the OPM. This revenue-share includes the cost of marketing (and profit) for the OPM.
What’s the difference between Unbundled Marketing Services and Fee-for-Service Marketing Services?
Nothing. Both terms refer to the practice of hiring an outside agency to provide marketing services for a fee. And, in contrast to an OPM partner, these services are paid for upfront and without sharing any revenue in the future.
Are Unbundled Marketing Services and Fee-for-Service Marketing Services better than an OPM?
The revenue sharing model offered by OPMs is attractive to colleges and universities because the schools are required to make little to no up-front financial investment in staff, recruitment processes, or media spend. The OPM model reduces risk.
However, the OPM model (and long-term contracts) also reduces the control the school has over their brand, marketing, and the overall quality of the campaigns. Fee-for-service or unbundled services offer schools the opportunity to find a better fitting marketing partner and the flexibility to end that relationship if the marketing partner does not deliver results.
Leaving an OPM? What Marketing Services Will Your School Need?
One benefit for a college or university in working with an OPM is that the OPM brings the processes, practices, people, and expertise to run digital marketing campaigns.
However, as schools consider moving away from OPMs and towards unbundled or fee-for-service marketing agencies, they often find themselves unsure of the services that they need to procure. While OPMs share generalized strategies with their clients, it’s frequently unclear to schools what exact tactics are being used by the OPM to recruit students and how much the OPM is spending on media to generate leads.
The following are the marketing services colleges or universities seeking a fee-for-service or unbundled model will need to source:
Overall digital strategy — an approach to lead generation through digital channels — paid, organic, referral, and email
Campaign digital strategy, by program — for each program creating a digital marketing strategy using paid search, paid social, organic, referrals, email
Campaign management — services for setting up digital marketing campaigns in ad platforms such as Google Adwords, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
Creative services — generating and trafficking ads and other creative assets
Website — design, content, and development of website program pages
Digital marketing landing pages — design, content, and development of stand-alone web pages dedicated to collecting leads from paid channels
Organic search — providing SEO services to optimize program pages
Content marketing — writing specific content articles related to the program that are optimized for organic search and lead generation
Lead capture — ensure that forms are integrated into the website and landing pages and properly funnelled and tagged in the CRM
Website analytics — ensure that website analytics are properly configured to allow for optimization against business goals
Campaign reporting — present regular reports on the campaign performance
Marketing and Enrollment Service Overlaps
OPMs typically have an integrated marketing and enrollment team, but if your school is considering unbundling these services, it’s important to clarify responsibilities and goals, align messaging, nurture campaigns, and process. When a school moves away from an OPM and unbundles marketing and enrollment services, additional coordination between vendors or in-house groups is required.
Colleges and universities need to make sure their fee-for-service marketing partner is able to coordinate well with the enrollment group (either in-house or another outside partner). It’s important that enrollment partners share information about the quality of leads and that an end-to-end funnel — from lead source to enrollment — is set-up. Without the ability to track data through the entire funnel, marketing and enrollment efforts and projections will be jeopardized.
Some lead nurture activities that can be handled by either marketing or enrollment groups such as email creation, marketing automation platform management, and texting. It’s important to clarify accountabilities between these two groups.
Selecting an Unbundled Marketing Partner
While there are a wide range of digital marketing agencies — from local shops to large national firms — it’s important to consider the following in making a choice:
Find an agency with higher education experience — running digital campaigns for degree and certificate programs is very different from running campaigns for other industries or products.
Consider an agency that understands the full customer journey for prospective students — the buyer journey is long for prospective students and your marketing partner needs to know how to nurture and influence your prospects at each point
Seek an agency that can provide strong reporting on campaigns and tie the results of digital campaigns to your enrollment partner
Consider a marketing partner who can look at the entire digital footprint — your website, landing pages, paid, and organic strategies.