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  • Writer's pictureValentin Vassilev

Reaching the Right Candidates with a Data-Focused Approach (Interview)

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Digital marketing expert and director of Access Digital talks about the advertising agency's data-driven approach in helping schools hit their recruitment goals.

Marin Aganderov’s whole career so far has been dedicated to digital marketing. Prior to joining Advent Group, Marin worked for French advertising group Publicis as digital planner. He was responsible for the digital campaigns of the group's clients. Prior to that, he held various marketing-related positions in Bulgarian media groups.

Currently, he heads Advent’s Access Digital ad agency, which creates tailored campaigns closely aligned with the specific recruitment goals of university admissions teams. The digital advertising agency offers various services, including strategy recommendation, personas and customer journey mapping, custom audience targeting and lead generation, media planning and candidate management and conversion.

Digital marketing is an extremely dynamic ecosystem where trends appear literally every month. In order to keep up, he is a member-lecturer at IAB Europe and takes part in the Google Certification Program. He has also taken part in focused programs for project management and leadership at IESE Business School (Spain).

Marin says his work at Advent gave him the opportunity to travel the world and meet a great diversity of people. He has participated in numerous Access MBA and Access Masters events on five continents and has spoken in person with thousands of candidates and hundreds of school representatives.

2020 has forced universities to prioritize digital marketing strategies. Do you consider this a lasting trend?

It's no longer enough to just be online because everyone is there. Bold decisions and a well-developed digital marketing strategy are at the heart of success for business schools.

Learning has changed. With the growing number of online programs and other alternatives universities are facing competition in a way they never have before. It’s clearly a challenge. During this period of re-invention and change, data is one of the most powerful tools available. It will enable universities to become responsive and adaptive.

Gain deep insight into the needs of students

Experience and instinct are important, but organizations that use data-driven decision-making will gain deeper insight into the needs of students, faculty members and the institution and will have a competitive edge.

Universities that had not previously used digital communication as actively as a channel had to reorient very quickly during the pandemic. Of course, this transformation takes time, as well as a completely different approach.

Back in 2018, what led to the creation of Access Digital?

Access Digital, a brand of Advent Group, started as a programmatic advertising platform for the higher education industry in 2018. We wanted to put our knowledge of the industry to use, along with the data and experience we had gained through our own marketing activities. Now we are a full-scope digital marketing agency with a strong focus on tailor-made lead generation solutions.


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Advent Group has been diversifying away from the event organization business and is trying to offer end-to-end solutions to its clients. This is a niche the potential of which we have identified thanks to Programmatic Buying.

Advent Group has been diversifying away from the event organization business and is now offering end-to-end marketing and student recruitment solutions.

Programmatic Buying, or the automation of the media buying process, still exists, but the focus now is on personalized advertising. It’s just that Programmatic Buying offers a lower degree of targeting precision than what we currently do.

What does it take to make a successful digital marketing agency with global operations in the field of business education?

Having and knowing the audience makes the difference. We work in a highly specific niche – postgraduate business education. Having 20 years of marketing experience and expertise in matching millions of candidates to 350+ leading schools definitely helps.

Our activity builds on data from our personalized physical and online events such as Access MBA, Premier EMBA, Access Masters, Access Online, Women & MBA. They engage fresh cohorts of motivated prospective students around the globe year-round. For almost two decades, we have been growing steadily and innovating in the constantly changing environment.

We've been engaging cohorts of motivated prospective students around the globe

Having the right pool of prospects enables us to segment, re-target and build lookalike audiences, delivering a much lower cost per acquisition compared to any other agencies working with clients from various industries.

How does Access Digital engage prospects and move them past the initial awareness stage?

Apart from the precise targeting – geographical, demographical and based on interests, and other filters, we make sure that people registering and stating their interest for particular business schools are actually motivated enough to go all the way. That is why we usually ask those potential leads to take a step further in presenting themselves to the schools. We use a variety of approaches for this.

We make sure that people stating their interest for particular business schools are actually motivated enough to go all the way.

We also target users across platforms, using optimal frequency capping and customizing the ad messages depending on the channel.

Can you describe your audience?

First, we have to distinguish between candidates interested in Master’s programs and those interested in MBA and EMBA programs.

Master’s aspirants are Bachelor's degree holders without professional experience. They can be from anywhere in the world. The main thing for them is to find the right university in the right place where they will feel good. The location of the university is crucial for them. These people are part of Generation Z. Their media consumption habits involve unique platforms like TikTok, which are not in the marketing mix of many universities yet. So if universities want to reach this younger audience, they will have to adapt their marketing strategy and use platforms they never thought they would use.

MBA candidates are young working professionals and for them the most important thing is value, or in other words, what they get for their money. The location is not so decisive. Despite the pandemic and travel restrictions, I notice a strong interest in face-to-face training. Although online programs have become increasingly popular due to the pandemic, the full-time MBA is still alive and well. They are mostly Millennials and are interested in business, education, environmentalism, etc. You will not meet them on TikTok but rather on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.

Despite the pandemic and travel restrictions, I notice a strong interest in MBA face-to-face training.



Why do schools partner with Access Digital?

A lot of our clients have big marketing teams of their own. Our services are a great addition to an arsenal of online tools designed to reach the right audience. Each year we have more than 80,000 fresh registrations of prospective students actively searching for MBA, EMBA and Master’s programs.

Online tools designed to reach the right audience

With almost 20 years in this niche market, Advent Group has extensive experience in handling digital multi-channel campaigns and providing end-to-end solutions. Recently we had a campaign where one of our clients runs Google search ads on brand and long-tail keywords globally. In order not to compete and increase an artificial increase in the cost per click, we delivered a context-oriented mobile display campaign targeting more than 50 countries. The campaign was a huge success, bringing more than 900 leads and 30 applications in less than three months.

There is another client with small internal teams who can count on our expertise in design, messaging and ad delivery.

Can schools build this marketing expertise in-house?

Of course -- they can and many do. But Access Digital is a service that comes in addition to all the marketing activities that universities are engaged in.

Each year more than 4 million visitors visit our websites in search of the right business schools or universities. We then build on to reach fresh audiences in CPC platforms. This enables us to massively expand the range of a school campaign. At the same time, the costs for the school are much lower than if it launches the campaign on its own.

Quality has always set us apart. The foundation of this service is the highly targeted MBA, EMBA and Master's audience.

In addition, we rely on a wide body of historical data on the performance of different types of campaigns in different national, regional or global markets. This enables us to create bespoke marketing campaigns for each school and for different programs.

We provide services to hundreds of business schools worldwide and deliver not only quantity but also quality, which has always set us apart from the competition.

Have you changed your approach during the pandemic?

Personalization is key for us at Advent Group. So, I would answer yes and no. We have always tried to be really close to our customers with frequent enough communication. We show them that we are available at all times and that we manage to adapt really quickly to deliver whatever the circumstances.

Like any business, Access Digital has transformed during this period as well, but our priority has always been for customers to be satisfied. It is in such turbulent times that our task becomes even more important.

Personalization is key for us at Advent Group.

We have resumed international travel and meeting clients face-to-face where possible. This makes a huge difference for both sides. A natural human conversation helps you understand the person and their needs better. When communication is closer, problem-solving is much more effective.

What partnerships are you most proud of so far?

I am proud of almost all campaigns that we have done because they are all personalized and meet the specific needs of the schools.

The most recent campaigns were very convincing in terms of the number of registrations and leads. One of our clients said that during his 20-year career he has never seen such results from a digital campaign. It’s always nice when you get such feedback.

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