Zehnder Communications, Inc.

The 3 Step Multi-funnel Marketing Method for Marketing MBA and EMBA Programs

Almost anyone in communications is familiar with the concept of the marketing funnel. The marketing funnel, as you probably know, helps move consumers from an early awareness phase, through education and comparison phases, and toward a purchase or conversion phase. Marketers deliver targeted messages at each point in the funnel, addressing consumers’ concerns as they journey through the decision-making process.At Zehnder, we’re firm believers in the funnel — most of the time.

One exception is when it comes to marketing an MBA program. In this case, we think that it takes more than just one funnel to fill up a classroom with satisfied students. To ultimately settle on an MBA program, prospective students must journey through two separate funnels — and ideally “invert” afterwards to attract even more prospects. We call this the multi-funnel method. Learn more about it below.

The Multi-Funnel Method: Step by Step
After working with a number of clients in higher education and MBA programs, we realized that many universities were missing the mark on a key part of prospective students’ journey — the awareness and interest phases. Instead of focusing on prospective students’ initial concerns (like whether a graduate degree is a right fit for their professional and personal goals), programs focus more on end-of-funnel messaging (like how their test scores compared to other schools’ scores).

Digging deeper into this issue, it became clear that the decision-making journey for prospective MBA students simply can’t be distilled into a single marketing funnel — because if you’re only marketing to students who are considering and comparing specific MBA programs, instead of considering an MBA or EMBA in general, you’re missing out on a large part of the prospective student market. Furthermore, the diversity of target audiences for MBA programs (ranging from experienced executives to current undergraduate students), the complexity of the MBA decision, and the high costs and competition of the industry requires a more complex marketing approach than the simple single-funnel.

Therefore, MBA marketers must break down their messaging strategies into two separate funnels: The empathy funnel, and the experience funnel.   

The Empathy Funnel
The empathy funnel, which targets individuals considering an MBA in general, is often overlooked by marketers who seem more eager to prove why their program is better than a competitor’s. However, we think that reaching consumers at the early stages of their decision-making process — when they’re in need of empathy and guidance — makes this funnel particularly important in an overall marketing campaign.

Goal: Establish an emotional connection with prospective students and answer questions about MBA programs in general

Prospect concerns: Whether MBA programs “pay off”; how MBA programs impact lifestyle; how long MBA programs take; how expensive MBA programs are

Conversion metric: Prospect decides to pursue an MBA degree and begins comparing specific programs

Example: Zehnder recently worked with a client to create educational webinars that supplemented the university’s in-person info sessions. Targeted to a wide audience, the webinars addressed very basic concerns about MBA programs in general and did not go into specifics about the university's MBA program. Because the webinars were hosted online, they required very little commitment from prospects — meaning we were able to reach prospective students who were in the initial phases of their decision-making process and not ready to commit to an in-person meeting yet.

The Experience Funnel
Once a prospective student has completed the empathy funnel and decides that they want to pursue an MBA degree, he or she is now faced with another whole new set of decisions related to which program is the best fit. In fact, the classic funnel stages — awareness, education, comparison, conversion — practically start all over again, this time focusing not on whether or not to pursue an MBA, but instead on which MBA program is the best fit. Starting at the awareness stage, the prospect begins to look at universities from a broad level and then narrow down his or her decision to a handful of specific programs.

Goal: Build on existing Funnel experience relationship you established with the prospect by showcasing your program’s competitive strengths and the unique experience offerings.

Prospect concerns: How qualified are programs’ faculty; what curriculums/classes do programs offer; pros and cons of programs’ campuses

Conversion metric: Prospect decides to apply to a specific MBA program

Example: During the fall (the most popular time for MBA application submissions), we’ve worked with clients to transition from broad empathy funnel content on their social media channels to targeted experience funnel content instead. Experience funnel content showcases a program’s unique offerings, experiential opportunities, and advantages against competitors. We strategically time this content transition with key application phases to make sure we align our messaging with the academic calendar.

The Inverted Funnel
Once a prospective student has completed the first two funnels and been enrolled and accepted into a university’s program, he or she has the opportunity to “invert” themselves in the multi-funnel method by becoming an advocate for the school and attracting other prospective students to apply. Students and alumni can be an MBA program’s most powerful marketing tool — according to some experts, word of mouth is a key influencer in a student’s decision-making journey.

Goal: Foster strong relationships with students and alumni so that they recommend a program to their networks

Student/alumni concerns: How has my degree paid off; what would I recommend about this program; is my feedback appreciated; am I valued as a student/alumnus

Conversion metric: Prospects inquire about program based on word of mouth

Example: Digitally, we’ve worked with clients to turn alumni into advocates via short spotlight videos on social media, and when prospective students see these, it bolsters confidence in their decision to attend an MBA program. We’ve also worked to encourage in-person networking events or happy hours with alumni, because unscripted, fun, and casual events increase prospective students’ perception that they’re getting the real story.  

Multi-Funnel Method: Marketing Magic, or a Marketing Mess?
In our experience to date, the multi-funnel approach has paid off for our clients — for example, we recently helped one university triple its EMBA program enrollment and exceed the national EMBA enrollment average over the course of two years. With these types of results on hand, we’re tempted to say that the multi-funnel method is marketing magic when it comes to MBA programs. However, like good students, we’re open to studying other approaches.

Have an approach you think is better? Let’s discuss.
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