Digital Conversations: Career Education’s Rafael Zorrilla

November 17, 2015

Career Education Corporation is an educational services company that provides higher learning degree programs across various career-oriented disciplines through its universities. American InterContinental University and Colorado Technical University offer online, on-ground, and hybrid learning programs for a diverse student population.

Rafael Zorrilla

Rafael Zorrilla is Director of Marketing for Colorado Technical University, where he oversees the brand properties, especially the website. Established in 1965, Colorado Tech has more 80,000 graduates, with a focus on the serving students in the military. We talked with Rafael about the particular challenges of digital marketing in higher ed, and how the Signal platform helps his team do more with less, no matter how long the customer journey.

Tell us what your day looks like.

As with every kind of marketer, it’s a bit of art and a bit of science. I begin my day with science, gathering all the data from all the campaigns I’m running. I have 15-30 tests at any time, assessing our acquisition efforts. Based on those results, my next step is optimization—deciding what do we do next. We test and refine, and test again. The last step is the creative bit, the art.

How did you get into the world of digital marketing?

I’ve been in digital marketing since Google was CPM [cost per thousand impressions], not CPC [cost per click]. My wife and I had a hair salon in the late 1990s, as the internet was coming on and having an online brochure for our salon was so cutting-edge. As a small business, a digital presence put me on equal footing with the big guns—it could level the playing field.

I started with online consulting and online appointments, and soon I wanted to go bigger, better, stronger. I joined an agency, working with Fortune 100 clients. Twenty years later, digital marketing is part of the mainstream. I grew up with it, and I hope to see it continue for years to come.

What industry trends are you thinking about at the moment?

I’ve been thinking about the fragmented landscape, and the long process that is our customer journey. If our prospects are seeing banners, doing searches, visiting websites, we need to register that. We’re trying to understand that journey, from the genesis to becoming a student to enrolling again for a graduate degree or a certificate. We’re interested in the lifetime value.

We want to understand the best way to recognize someone who has a good intention from the start: the micro-conversions that will show there will be a macro-conversion. I want quality over quantity. This is a big decision, and it’s a long process with a very long decision cycle.

What are the different touch points in your customer journey?

A lot of our connections are human to human: Offline conversations that are hard to connect to online. We’re seeing a dramatic increase in our traffic from mobile—we’re close to being mobile-first. And prospects are probably filling out the form on the desktop, but they’re learning about us lots of other places. Maybe they’re at a bus stop. In Colorado, you’ll see our name on TV, on billboards, in print.

How do you manage those offline conversations?

We leverage a CRM application and a DMP to leverage the touch points. If someone fills out an online form, they’ll get a call within minutes from admissions. They’ll set up an appointment for a personalized interview. Did they show up? Did they fill out the application? Those are all funnel indicators.

How does Signal complement the DMP you’re using?

Today, our acquisition team uses our DMP to make better buying and bidding decisions. Signal provides a means to apply more granular data collection for analytics and customer journey analysis. Signal complements the efforts of the DMP, and allows us to leverage more customer data signals for better buying. 

What’s the next big challenge for you?

Picking up all the data signals and making sense of them. We’re picking up so much data, and it’s hard to sift through it all. We could have someone looking through it all day long, and it still wouldn’t be enough. We’ve been great at picking up signals, now we need to be more like data scientists to analyze our data.

How do you use Signal?

Signal was the genesis for us unifying the customer journey. Signal’s unique identifier allows us to understand more of that journey, across channels and devices. How did the customer move from search to website? Now we want to extend that understanding beyond our website to include our virtual classroom, too.

Signal is the heart of all the different journeys our customers take.

What have been the outcomes of using the Signal platform?

Signal’s platform is ideal for us: It’s innovative, the way Signal matches tags, the way we can use custom code without getting IT involved. Now we can work less with IT, and more on analytics and data mining.

We’re tracking more and tracking better: We can even track micro-signals, do data binding and event tracing. Signal has improved our speed to market. Within three to four months of using Signal’s platform, I felt I was on top of the world.

What do you tell others about Signal?

I tell them that Signal, for me, is an enabler. It’s about picking up the various signals and pulling them together to a centralized point. It’s this unifier of data for us. My team is officially three people strong—we’re small but mighty. Signal helps us do more.

What people forget is that being able to do stuff we want to do everyday is not the sexy part of marketing. We’ve had people come in here pitching bigger products, consulting and attribution. For us, Signal has been steady and innovative. The platform allows us to be storytellers rather than marketers, and I would much rather be that, instead of just laying out numbers. I want to talk about how we change students’ lives.

Laurel Wamsley

Laurel Wamsley was the Marketing and Communications Manager at Signal, and the editor of Signal's blogs. She worked previously at the University of Chicago, Rackspace, and NPR.