In 2010 the EDU market essentially ran out of gas and has been forced to come up with more sustainable fuels to keep the system going.
The EDU lead gen market went from a booming industry to an industry that had two parties, vendors and buyers who didn’t trust each other anymore. Suddenly there were “ad police” in the market sending you screenshots of what was wrong and not kosher according to the new DOE standards. When the police arrived, a community based group called the Education Marketing Council put forth self imposed regulations and standards.
All of this lead to a massive decline in the publicly traded EDU stocks, a drop in overall lead flow and layoffs at various organizations.
Why did all of this happen?
It happened mainly because very few if any lead buyers knew where their leads were coming from. If they knew where they were coming from, they were not 100% sure if those leads were fresh. Think of it like if you went into Whole Foods and bought a really expensive steak which looked fresh but you really had no idea how long it had been there, where it had come from, if it was organic, if it was grass fed, etc… You mainly relied on the fact that it was sold by Whole Foods, a historically reputable company.
The effects of buying bad leads from a high quality provider caused a massive sense of distrust in the industry which spread like wildfire. It seized the lead gen engine that had run so smoothly for the last 10 years.
In a so called performance marketing system on boarding vendors costs on average $20-60k (conservative test buy of 500 leads a month for 3 months at a CPL of $25) before you know if the leads are viable or not. I am not sure if that is “performance marketing,” anymore.
Leads are Commodities…or are they?
The EDU Lead Gen market is a commodity market. Everyone is just selling information. However, this market is unique in that the leads can be graded by the following factors:
- Freshness – how long it took to get to the buyer. And how many middlemen it passed through to get to that buyer.
- Source – What was that lead fed in terms of a marketing message. Was the message filled with false statements etc.
- Certification – Did the lead go through a system like Targus Info to validate that it is in fact a real phone number and contactable? Also does that phone number match the name on the lead?
- Modeled – Based on the buyer’s historical success rate, does this lead look like it has a stronger chance of becoming a paying student?
After 2010, several EDU companies invested heavily into differentiating their leads and spent thousands on travel visiting their clients assuring them that they were going to be transparent moving forward.
But for some reason, this didn’t really resolve the trust issue in the industry. Media buyers still were skeptical of on-boarding unknown vendors. Mainly because if the bigger guys played by the rules, the little guys had a lot of incentives to play in the grey area and test the limits. The other reason is that the majority of actionable metrics were retro-active. You had to wait until you got enough info to determine if the lead was bad and kill the source. This took time and a lot of money.
In 2011 a company called LeadID entered the market. It is headed up by Ross Shanken, an old TargusInfo guy. He set up a simple system which essentially gives a lead a stamp of origination. This stamp essentially stays with the lead no matter where it goes in the market. If a buyer buys a lead with this stamp they can see how many hops it took to get to them. It also shows how long it took to get to them. All of a sudden the EDU market has a way of showing a buyer that they are actually delivering what they are promising.
It is easy to compare this system to something like a CarFax. It is a report of what happened to X car. The main differences are that you can get around a CarFax and not report information and a CarFax is somewhat retroactive. LeadID is in real time and once implemented you can not get around it.
I won’t go into the tech too much but here is a quick video explaining the concept behind LeadID.
As a media buyer what does this mean for you?
If you have ever bought a used car you have been trained to “ask for the car fax” through various commercials and friends recommending the system.
As a media buyer imagine how much time you can save by just asking “Show me that you have LeadID implemented.” If not, simply say we are not testing new vendors without this.
This one question has the potential to save you that initial media testing cost and save you tons of time listening to the exact same sales pitch.
This strategy has a lot of potential benefits for media buyers in the EDU industry and the system as a whole.
- It creates trust and honor in the system. If you stamp your product with a seal, you better be delivering what was promised. The buyer now has real time insight into if you are delivering it and can call you out at any time. This is also a metric that doesn’t require a ton of Excel time to find. It is in a simple actionable dashboard within LeadID.
- You can finally start to pay more for the good stuff while the media source still exists. A major issue with media buying today is that the inventory itself changes so fast. If you want to replicate a Facebook buy from 3 months ago, that is virtually impossible. There are new users, new ad units, and much higher prices. Being able to reward vendors now versus 3 months from now is big.
- As a media buyer you can spend more time talking about strategy with your vendor versus interrogating them about their “transparency.” Once again going back to building a solid relationship and partnership.
- You have one more point to negotiate prices be it positive or negative.
- You can cut outliers in the data quickly. Cut anytime during the month if they are not delivering what they originally promised.
- There is no real implementation time on the buyer side. It is a web based interface.
Is this all good?
No, of course there are issues with any new technology. To really make this work, it needs to be a standard and used by the majority of people in the industry.
Since it is technology, it may be possible to break it. The inherent mentality of a vendor is that they will always be testing/hacking to find the highest level of performance.
It also won’t erase the mass mis-trust in the industry right away. It will take some time for both buyers and vendors to realize the true value and get back to the more important conversations. This may require some re-training in the industry to show that new vendors can be given the benefit of the doubt.
What should be my next steps?
As a media buyer, vendor or C Level exec – the easiest thing to do is evaluate the technology for yourself. You can find Ross and his team at the upcoming Insights Summit in Las Vegas. I believe they will be presenting a case study with a current publicly traded client. You can also email Ross directly at email@example.com.
Before your meeting with the LeadID team, I would encourage you to ask yourself and your organization a few questions:
1) When you hear from new vendors – are you hesitant to reply to their emails knowing that you can’t test them or just don’t want to deal with the boring sales pitch?
2) Are you rewarding higher performing vendors? Are you able to cut bad vendors fast enough?
3) What is the average cost of your test buy? How many enrollments does that usually provide?
4) When is the last time you had a call with a vendor to talk about corporate plans 6 months out and actually have the vendor execute on a plan?
5) If your financial projections for 2012 and 2013 are flat, what are other ways you can save money in your media buy?