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Higher Ed Demand Gen Podcast

Episode 42 – NFTs and Moving Fast By Using Data with Sol Nasisi at Bentley University

Sol’s LinkedIn

Shiro Hatori
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the higher ed demand gen podcast hosted by concept 3d. On this podcast we cover marketing topics in higher ed that revolve around creating and capturing demand. Before we jump in, we do have a quick message from our sponsor. If your school needs an interactive map, virtual tour or centralized events calendar, please reach out to concept 3d dot com. All right, so my name is Shiro, and I’ll be your host today. And today I’m super, super excited to introduce our guest saw on the CC. He is the Director of Digital Marketing at Bentley University. And he also loves digital technology, and is also a blockchain evangelist. Thanks so much for joining us today. And I do love to always ask this icebreaker. So So what do you love about higher ed?

Sol Nasisi
Higher Ed. You know, there are a lot of things that I love about it. But I think if I had to boil it down, it’s the people. And I know I’ve listened to some of your other podcasts. And that’s a common theme that seems like sort of comes up a lot. But I think it’s really true. The collegiality is great. And, you know, I’ve worked in venture capital backed firms, I’ve worked in Fortune 500 companies, and not only are people collegial, but they’re just smart, and they’re competent. And they move fast, faster, I would say even than some of the venture capital companies that I’ve worked back companies that I’ve worked for. So it’s a nice mix of nice people who are super competent and able to do things. And then if I could just throw a third thing in there. You know, it’s the mission, it’s, I was an adjunct for a while, and I taught a couple of classes and just being able to impart knowledge on the next generation, and see people get concepts and see young people learn is just really gratifying. So I think putting all those three together, it’s a really huge

Shiro Hatori
thank you for sharing that. Yeah. And I love that you have some work and background and experience outside of industry to so I really hope helps shape that opinion. And, and thought, I love that. Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit more about your responsibility and your role at Bentley as the director of digital marketing?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, sure. So the role really has two pieces to it, I would say the first is my group manages the bentley.edu, website and some other ancillary websites. And so we do the development, we keep it running, we do patches, we do training, we use a Drupal, CMS. And so we train other users across the university on how to use it. We deal with bugs, we manage tickets, if people can’t make changes themselves, my group will do that. So that’s sort of one half of the job. The other half of the job is managing digital marketing campaigns across the university. So we support all the different groups in their online efforts in their demand generation. And so you know, we place ads on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, you know, all of the big sort of social networks as well as search networks. And we do it all in house. So I know a lot of universities use agencies, we actually do it ourselves. We like, like to have our hands on the on the knobs and be pushing them up and down. So So that’s curious.

Shiro Hatori
I think I actually didn’t ask this on the last intro call. But or was there a time where you were outsourcing some of that digit digital ad agency kind of work? And I guess that’s the first part of the question.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I think there are pieces of it that we’ve outsourced in the past. At one point, we were outsourcing some of our SEO work. And we’ve tended to pull that back in house also, we just find that we can move a lot faster, and be a lot more responsive to what the needs of the university are when we’re doing it ourselves. And so we’ve been lucky enough to get really skilled people on the team who are able to do this. And so we have direct relationships into, you know, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn. We have tools that we use to help manage it. And so it’s made us

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. Yeah, we focused definitely on in house marketing too. So I can see how moving quickly is definitely priority. Speaking of campaigns, I know you said you you manage a lot of the digital marketing campaigns and Bentley’s doing some really innovative stuff around around blockchain and NFT. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’ve done in the last couple of years?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, sure. So um, Bentley is a business school. We’re a private business school in the Northeast outside of Boston. And, you know, if you’re going to play in the business world, you have to, you know, be innovative, you have to show that you’re innovative, you have to understand innovation. And so the university has always had a very open mind about experimenting and trying new things. And I’ve personally always been interested in blockchain and crypto. And so I, several years ago, I brought them the idea of launching an NFT, a non fungible token. Bentley had a woman’s basketball coach Barbara Stevens, who’s one of the winningest coaches in NC double A history, she was being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. You know, along with Kobe Bryant, there are some big names for a year, Kobe Bryant was the biggest obviously passed posthumously. And so I thought, why don’t we go ahead and try to do something around that something a little bit different? Why don’t we try to launch an NF T of her to celebrate the occasion? And, you know, I started circulating the idea. And my boss, who’s the head of the marketing group, you know, listened and was like, yeah, that’s, that sounds interesting. Why don’t we see if we can move this ahead and experiment with it. And so we spun up the work, you know, there was a bunch of different the technology side was actually the easiest. There are legal issues that we had to deal with. There were institutional issues, there were financial issues, like, how does the university even hold cryptocurrency and never had cryptocurrency on its books before. And so we had to work through all of those issues. At the same time, I was working through the technical issues. But we finally managed to make it all happen when we brought it all together, there were creative components to it also, because you actually have to produce the NFT. And we managed to bring it all together, and we launched what I think is the world’s first fully fledged NFT by a university. And so it’s out there, if anyone’s interested, you can go on to open sea. Look up Bentley University, and you’ll feel it’s

Shiro Hatori
amazing. And I believe, also that tuition is something you also accept through a cryptocurrencies as well. And that’s maybe not you might not be the first but also, you know, you’re one of the Select Schools. That’s does this right.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, that’s, that’s correct. So, you know, kind of building on the momentum of the NFT. Our new president, a new president came in President cry, and I think, thought, how can we continue to show the university’s innovation and be a leader in this space? And so he greenlighted moving ahead with accepting crypto for tuition. So for those of you out there who are familiar with crypto, we accept three different cryptocurrencies, Aetherium, Bitcoin, as well as USD C. And the advantages for students are that it’s faster than most payment methods. And especially for international students, it’s less expensive. And the school’s philosophy really is about meeting students where they are. And if students and parents will have cryptocurrency and want to pay that that way, it’s now a viable option for them. And as you mentioned, I think we’re one of the few universities that actually do accept it for that’s fantast. And we also accept it for donations. So it’s, yeah, it’s another option for thinking

Shiro Hatori
back to the analytics and the data side of my brain. Like, what were some of the goals like, what were you going after? I love that it’s tied to your core values, with Bentley as an institution that revolves around business and finance and how, obviously, blockchains and FTS crypto, they all relate to that. I love that. And I’m just curious, like, you know, what were other some of the goals that you were trying to achieve? Maybe it was awareness sales? I’d love to learn more there as well.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, you know, I think if we break it down, there were probably three things that we wanted to three goals that we had. The first one is can we actually generate, you know, any real interest through these, you know, so there’s kind of the top line metric goal, like, were we able to sell the NF T’s? Were there? Was there interest in it? Are we getting payment, you know, tuition payments, or is it making it easier for our students to pay? And in both cases, yes, we did sell NF T’s and yes, we do have students paying their tuition via crypto. So that’s kind of a checkbox. And I think, you know, over time as those markets mature, we’re going to see more and more people using both NF Ts and crypto. Certainly eventually we will and that kind of leads us to the second point, which is the main thing we wanted to do was learn about these new tools and markets. And so, you know, we had never done an NFT before. So what is the process look like? You know, what’s the right way to launch an NFT, we probably didn’t do it exactly the right way we launched with 100 versions of our NFT, we probably underpriced them a little bit. And so this is a chance for us to kind of understand the market and understand what works and doesn’t work. And so I think that was the second thing. And then the third thing is, yeah, I mean, to kind of get out there and let people to telegraph telegraph to the market. They we are indeed an innovative school that’s willing to try new things that’s willing to experiment. And that is on the cutting edge of, you know, some of these technological revolutions. So those I think, were the three goals.

Shiro Hatori
Amazing, and I believe for recall, our previous conversation that ft definitely got lots of coverage. But the tuition even made like national news, I believe, like television news. Yep.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, it was on local news. Yeah, it was on local television news. I think fortune picked it up. It was pretty widely covered in the in the crypto world. It was a pretty, pretty big, pretty big news announcement. So it definitely, it’s amazing.

Shiro Hatori
And do you mind if I ask how some good play up there? What percentage of students are paying tuition with crypto right now? Right.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I think it’s relatively small start. You know, it’s not like 50% of our students are now paying. But there’s definitely a number out there who are doing it. And I think that, you know, we’ll continue to see that grow, right. And it’ll become, hopefully, as word gets out, it’ll become a more and more important channel. And I think it’s really in the student’s best interest. Because like I said, for an international student, they can save 1000s and 1000s of dollars, if they’re able to pay via crypto, the fees for international students to pay their tuition, cross border payments is quite high.

Shiro Hatori
That’s new news. To me, that’s their tuition. So that’s great. I know, the US has, I think, the highest percentage of international students, which definitely dropped during the pandemic. So I think a lot of institutions are scrambling right now to re reengage and re enroll more international students. So what a timely thing to talk about.

Sol Nasisi
Totally, right, totally. And think about, you know, what a great message you’re sending to international students said, Hey, here’s a way that you can pay. And I love

Shiro Hatori
that that’s great. You know, I’m curious, like, what are the what are? Are there any plans in place, or strategies or ideas you have that you want to put in place related to NFT or blockchain or crypto in the coming months or years?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I think that, you know, we’re continuing to see how we can leverage the technology. You know, just like we’re continuing to see how you can leverage AI. You know, everybody’s talking about chat, GBT. So, Blockchain is one of those technologies that’s sort of on our radar. So in terms of blockchain, you know, we’re starting to look into or I’m starting to look into blockchain based credentials, whether it’s diplomas or certificates, or, you know, certificates for exec ed classes. Does that make sense? And so automating puzzle together and bring it to the university relatively soon? That’s kind of a maturing. It’s a it’s a, it’s a pretty undeveloped space right now. But I think it’s something that’s going to mature over the next year. We’re looking at different meta versus, you know, the whole web three world. So web three is kind of the term for what comes after web two, web one was sort of the static web, you know, where you go, you’d see a web page. And you just scroll through and you’d read it for the most part, web two, or all the different social networks where people are able to interact right with the world and able to put their own content up there, like on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, right. Web three is kind of the metaverse with Blockchain with AI pulled in. So it’s a combination of web two, with all of these new technologies, and you know, I think that the metaverse is a big part potentially, of web three. And the implications for higher ed are pretty large. You know, should you have your university outposts in one of these web three worlds, Facebook, rebranded itself to meta is spending billions of dollars on it. You know, we don’t know how that that’s going to turn out but still, that’s kind of an interesting space to watch and experiment with a little bit. You know, There are other sort of meta verses that are out there on the blockchain. And so, you know, we’re starting to take a look at them and see, are they marketing channels for us? Should we be working with them? There are other, you know, roadblocks. That’s another example of a sort of Metaverse that a lot of people are on. How do we think about these, you know, it’s something that I’m not sure Higher Ed has totally grappled with yet. But we’re trying, we’re trying to think through whether that’s where we should be because you and I talked about this a little bit, it’s where our students are, our potential students are, they’re spending a lot of time to hear and I

Shiro Hatori
love that

Sol Nasisi
these new guys, a

Shiro Hatori
digital marketer, you’re not only talking about digital channels, you’re making changes at the institution that are helping students meeting students where they need to be, like, you know, reducing funds for international students, for example. But also you’re, you’re using that as a tool, from a marketing perspective, to help, you know, get some press and get awareness out there that, hey, we’re making some innovative changes that are market leading, and I love how you’re combining what you’re doing with the school programs, campaigns, like making it a better place, on top of using that as a strategy for more recognition and awareness. So I love that. It’s great, awesome, switching gears a little bit, I know, we have a lot of problems in digital marketing, right. And we could probably go on forever. But we talked a little about this before. And I love kind of the little topics. And each topics we got into about, I think there’s a huge issue around understanding what is working and what is not working. And then tied to that, again, is making sure that we’re meeting students where they are, but can you tell me a little bit about some of the main issues you’re seeing today? It could be at Bentley, or just you’re seeing in the market as well.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, so I think, you know, Bentley has a, I mean, my group is relatively small, we don’t have a lot of people. And we have a lot that we have to do, because I said that we manage the website, we have our fingers on the dials for social media in our in our digital advertising. So we’re spending time with that. And we’re kind of thinking about these futuristic projects that are, you know, kind of bubbling on the side? And so, you know, I would say, yes, there are a lot of problems in the digital world, but I would almost reframe them as there are a lot of opportunities. And the problem is, where do you take your limited resources and apply them against those opportunities? And how do you figure out which of those projects and which of the investments you make in terms of time and money are actually going to provide you with a return are actually going to reach your target market, right? And are actually going to influence students and get the word out about, you know, what your institution offers, in our case, what Bentley offers, and so we really try to focus on understanding that I come from, you know, partially a digital background, but also I did a lot of direct mail, when I was working, I worked at some some big banks, fleet, and then Bank of America. And so when I was running the direct mail side of things, we would always be testing, constantly testing, a B testing, we have control groups, you know, when you’re sending out millions of pieces of direct mail, you can, you can do that, and you need to do that. And so what I’ve tried to do is put the same methodology in place, maybe not to the same extent, because you have to sort of scale it to the appropriate size of your institution, but put some kind of test testing methodology in place to understand what’s working and what’s not so that we can focus our resources appropriately. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that all marketers across any industry face, but especially in higher ed, where there always are constrained resources of beloved person I was gonna say, so it’s

Shiro Hatori
to talk to my boss, because that one key thing is prioritize prioritize, right? Think of what’s

Sol Nasisi
exactly, yeah, that’s it. But then how do you know, how do you know what to prioritize? Right? How do you know, let me give you an example. I worked for our company once, and we were sending out a ton of emails, okay. And the emails had high click through rates, you know, high open rates, high click through rates. And so everybody was like, Oh, well, I guess the emails doing really well, and it’s having an impact. So what we did is we took one group, which we call the control group that didn’t receive any emails. And the goal was, you know, people were purchasing the product. Okay, that was the angle, one group that didn’t receive any emails and another group that we sent our normal email sequence. And we followed those two populations over six months. And what we found is, even though the email group or opening the emails and extensively reading them, and clicking, the overall purchase percentage of the product was no higher for either group. So the email group was not generating any additional revenue for the company. And we were spending a lot of time working on this email sequence, you know, drafting the emails, loading them into our, into our email tool, sending them out tracking them. So the question is why, on the surface, it looks like they worked. Alright. But when you drill down and actually look at the impact, there was no impact. So is that something that we should continue doing? I don’t know, probably not. So those are the types of insights that I think are really important. And higher ed, it’s hard, because you’re always running to try to, you know, enroll people for the next class to fill the next executive ed program. And your priority is on just doing things to try to, you know, meet those targets. And so it’s really difficult to carve out time to go ahead and set these testing protocols up. But I would argue that they’re really important, because you may be doing a significant amount of work difficult

Shiro Hatori
to measure, but it has to be measured. Right. And so the focus needs to be there for sure. In terms of, you know, let’s let’s focus on maybe the what is working aspect, you know, what is working in terms of your channels today, at Bally and in your digital marketing channels? And how are you doubling down on it?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I mean, I think we Yeah, I think we definitely have some sense of that. I mean, we know that Email does work, right. So I think the case of this company, was a little bit different. And you know, it’s not doesn’t doesn’t translate over to everything that we’re doing, not all of the email that we do in higher ed, and in my opinion, looking at the data does work, but a lot of it does. And so it’s understanding, you know, when is the right time to send email, what types of emails to send, and that’s information and data that we’re trying to parse through now. So that works, we know that digital advertising works, we found great success advertising on Facebook, advertising on LinkedIn advertising on Google. So we know that that is helpful. We know that changes to your to a website can be pretty impactful. And we’ve done a bunch of testing on that. So we know that the web, your web page, and your web presence is an important part of your marketing component. So those are things that we know, right, then it’s a matter of optimizing sort of within that knowledge set. Now, you mentioned, you know, challenges. And so we know that now, but the industry is constantly changing. And, you know, we know that email works to some degree, but it’s probably working to a lesser and lesser degree every year, right? I mean, if you think about the average 16 to 18 year old, they’re not they’re not reading a lot of emails, you know, I’ve got three kids, and I’m not even sure they know what email is half the time. They don’t check it. They’re spending their time on social media. And so the one of the challenges that we’re working through is, how do we pivot away from being very email heavy, to going where, once again, you know, like with, with, with crypto payments, going where our customers are, and going where our prospects are, which is on the social media channels, whether it’s Instagram, tik, Tok, YouTube, you know, right, all of the different ones, Twitch all of the different ones that are out there. And so understanding where to be understanding how to measure the impact on those channels, understanding what’s the best way to interact with those channels, because on some of them, you can do paid placements. And we do in some cases, and other ones paid placements aren’t as effective and you want to do more Ganic content on you know, organic, organic listings and postings. So

Shiro Hatori
that’s going back to sort of your first point around prize prioritization and resource limitation. Like, let’s say next year, we do want to do more social media, organic, especially we want to work with more creators, we want to, you know, get them on board with what we stand for in our institution and get them on our team. Okay, how if you have the same amount of resources and you don’t plan on set sunsetting email because we still know it works, but just to a lesser degree. How does that How can you do more like can you cut back on email programs and open up some space for social like how does that work?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I think what you have to think about is, you know, a lot of marketing is about optimizing a channel. And a lot of the time goes into trying to optimize. So you may, you know, an organization, university may already have an email sequence that’s running. And people may think, Well, you know, I can tweak it here, I can make it better here, I can tighten up this message, I can add this message. And the question, I think that, you know, marketing groups have to ask themselves is, is that the best use of time have we? Have we picked all the low hanging fruit from email? Is it still a growing market? And should we devote that much time to it to opt to continuing to optimize it? Or should we say, okay, you know, we have the sequence, we’ll make sure that it’s current that we’re, you know, speaking about our programs the right way, as we update our programs, we update our sequences, but that’s really about it, and we’re gonna let it run. And we’re going to take the time that we would have spent optimizing it in the past, and move that towards, you know, other other projects and other programs that might have more potential, and a higher

Shiro Hatori
stature that kind of reminds me of that sometimes I hear web developers say it’s easier to redesign or to design a new website than it is to do go through redesign. And so maybe, you know, I look at email nurtures because I’ve had to trade them in the past before too, and sometimes tweaking them. And then, you know, waiting or waiting for the results to come in takes a long time. And yes, there’s a lot we can do. Between that, I think, gotcha. Speaking of website, I know, you spend a lot of time optimizing it, because you know, it’s a great channel for you. What were some of the learnings that you’ve or learnings or strategies you’ve taken on over the last few years that have really helped to improve enrollment and other institutional goals?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, so I mean, you know, the website is another channel that we’re constantly trying to optimize, I would, I would argue that the web is an important one. So whereas, you know, I think you can make an argument that email probably doesn’t warrant as much of an investment anymore. You know, once again, you don’t want to stop doing email, but maybe not optimizing it as much, I think the website still is a pretty important channel. And it’s probably the number one marketing source that students go to, and parents go to when they’re researching a school, right. So we’ve done a bunch of experimentation, we’re always running experiments on the website, you know, and a couple that we’ve run that I think are kind of interesting is go to a lot of home pages to universities, and you see these, you know, write awful hero videos, you know, animated videos with shots of campus, and they look, they look great. Well, we decided to test that against just a static image. And when we ran it through our A B test and looked at, you know, the final analysis, we didn’t really find any difference in outcome from having that fancy, moving Video, Animated Video versus just sort of a regular static image. And, you know, to us, once again, that has interesting implications, because it takes time, it takes effort to create those beautiful videos, you know, it’s more bandwidth, they load more slowly, depending on which market you’re accessing the site from. And so to the degree that we can simplify, that’s more time that we can spend doing something else. So I thought that was an interesting, interesting insight. You know, another insight that we found, had to do with the way that we arrange our pages. And so we do spend a lot of time thinking through like, you know, what should we have above the fold, that’s a very sort of important thing that people think about when they’re designing their pages. And so we tested having a big hero image above the fold. And then the content below it, you know, just with a headline versus getting right to the content, really not having as large an image because a lot of times we hear from people, oh, I don’t want such a big image at the top people have to scroll down in order to get to the rest of the page. And why can’t we just get to the content. So we tested that also. And we found that the Big Hero up at the top, the static image actually tests better than not having that image and just getting right to the content. And so those are kind of two learnings that we repeatedly come back to. We retest them every now and then just to make sure that the mark It hasn’t changed. But those are the types of things that we’re trying to discover. I mean, our goal is really to figure out insights, you know, to understand at a deep level, how people are responding to things. And we found that those, once we do have an insight, it’s a powerful way for us to organize what we do, and to think through our business. So that’s, in some ways, as a marketer, you’re really in the business of collecting insights. And so that’s, that’s kind of how we organize our group, we actually try to, we have a spreadsheet. And our goal is to add, you know, several new insights every month or at least every quarter. So

Shiro Hatori
that’s amazing. And and getting super into details about the landing pages got me thinking, are you seeing or observing any changes between desktop mobile, as well, like? Some, some of the things we find is a lot of people may, we might actually get more mobile views now on our website. However, for the people who actually convert, they usually look us up on desktop. So like, that’s an interesting thing. So we still try to any conversion pages, we try and optimize more for the desktop versus information. Oh, maybe we’ll we’ll try and make sure it looks good on mobile first.

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, I mean, I think that that’s, that’s definitely what we found. Right? Right. People don’t really want to fill out an application on a mobile device, right? I mean, if you’re going to, you’re going to take that next step. It’s really usually on desktop. But like you said, I think I think it’s really a cross cross platform experience, I think people come and they do a lot of research on mobile, they read a lot of emails on mobile. And then once they’re sort of hooked in, they’re interested, they’ll sit down at their laptop or desktop, most likely a laptop, and they will go ahead and spend the time to actually check it out on one of those devices. And so, you know, we try to make it as cross browser friendly as we can. The site is responsive as I think almost probably everyone’s site is at this point. And, you know, whenever we test, we kind of tried to have a mobile first mentality, actually, because we found that if you design something that looks good in mobile, for the most part, it’ll also look good in desktop. Whereas the inverse is not true, right? You can design something that looks beautiful on desktop, but really is a pretty poor mobile experience. So that’s kind of been our that’s

Shiro Hatori
amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that it’s super detailed, but I love hearing about the details. That’s great. And to our listeners. Also, if you’re interested about launching your first NFT at your institution, or you want to know how to actually get your execs and your board to be on board with collecting tuition through crypto, where can our audience reach out to you?

Sol Nasisi
Yeah, so probably the best channel is LinkedIn. Just look me up. There aren’t any other people out there with my thanks

Shiro Hatori
so much for all your knowledge share today. It’s great having you on it was great covering this topic for the first time. So hopefully, we’ll have more and to our audience and listeners. Thanks so much for joining today. And of course, if you are looking for an interactive map, event solution or virtual tour, please reach out to concept 30 Thanks so much, everyone. Have a good day.

Sol Nasisi
Right thanks Shiro

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