Jon Hinderliter’s story is impressive.

As the Assistant Director of University Marketing & Communications at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), he needed to find digital methods to boost enrollment despite a 5-year-old home page, no CRM software and no clear digital marketing strategy.

The story of how Jon and his department did exactly that also serves as AdRoll’s first entry in our Customer Blogging Corner, where we feature the most compelling stories from the tens of thousands of marketers and advertisers on our platform. Since Jon’s expertise is growth hacking, we’re presenting his top four recommendations for the aspiring marketing growth hacker.

UMSL Growth Hacking Tips

Growth Hacking, Defined

When people hear growth hacking, all they hear is hacking, Hinderliter said. But the practice is not about black hat or spammy tactics. It’s finding creative solutions, based on data, that grow marketing objectives.

1. Focus on Improving Key Metrics, Not Every Metric

There’s a temptation in marketing to try to fix as many problems as possible. The digital marketing industry addresses hundreds of different problems, from poor inter-office communication, to social media engagement and analyzing performance metrics. The number of tools available is dizzying.

“Every single network or company who is trying to sell a digital marketing product has their own different most important thing,” he said.

Jon, for example, could have gone for more likes and followers on social media, or more clicks on UMSL branded content. Instead, he focused on one problem: how to get more students through the enrollment process by increasing registrations for the biannual campus open house.

2. Get Data on Where Your Prospects Spend Time

UMSL Growth Hacking Tips

Jon knew that, in order to grow registration, he’d have to reach prospective students where they talk. He well knew that Facebook had an enormous, young audience, but kept reading that they were losing this audience.

To gain clarity, he turned to data. He researched Facebook’s use among those in his target age range, and surveyed then-current UMSL students on their social media habits. This confirmed his suspicion that students were still active users of Facebook.

Jon grew this audience through AdRoll Prospecting, reaching the audience through programmatic ads. This campaign tripled the previous year’s open house registrations.

3. Remember Your A, B, T’s – Always Be Testing

What worked yesterday, might not work today. Since digital marketing is constantly changing, Jon recommends to “always be testing.”

Jon runs between one and three tests per campaign, separates landing pages by source/channel and has tested a variety of media platforms.

This has let UMSL to participate in AdRoll’s Instagram beta. After one campaign, Instagram Retargeting had a four times higher CTR than Facebook, while Instagram prospecting was the 2nd highest source of traffic, with the added benefit of increasing follows by 29 percent.

4. In Data, Don’t Focus On the Positives—Look How You Can Adjust Your Average Metrics

Finally, Jon said there’s a temptation in marketing to focus most of the energy on improving the best-performing methods. In the case of UMSL, this was the school’s open house, which would typically drive between 100 and 200 applications.

Instead of focusing his growth metrics on improving that day alone, he found a new audience that acted similarly to his audience, through AdRoll Prospecting, attracted more new users by boosting his Facebook reach, and streamlined the application process. The result: many more applicants, and this satisfying, clean graph:

UMSL Growth Hacking Tips

Above all, Jon recommends marketers decide on the most valuable metric to success, instead of giving into the temptation to try to further improve the best-performing metrics.

“When you’re looking at your data, don’t focus only on the positives,” he said. “Look at what you can adjust on the average metrics.”

Interested in learning more about growth hacking? Check out this webinar for a more in-depth view on Jon’s thoughts. Additional resources Jon recommends include: GrowthHackers, UserOnBoard,  GrowthHacker, and inbound.org.

If you’d like to discuss your digital marketing strategy, email our team.

Connect with Jon on LinkedIn and Twitter.