Education is empowerment, and India has about 300 million students yearning to grasp that. The country’s education sector, with around 31,000 institutions, is the world’s largest, and its marketing spends are enormous.
When pondering on how to reach out to all those thirsting for knowledge in an Internet-driven era and in an education sector spending far too much money on traditional media, Vivek Sharma, Founder & Investor, Unipro Education Pvt Ltd, saw a sea of untapped potential in digital marketing.
He observed that the majority of the education industry’s audience—the youth—were on digital platforms, making up over 60 percent of Internet users in the country, and over 90 percent of this number used the Internet to research colleges. Besides, the education sector barely adopted digital solutions, with only 10 percent of total ad spends going the digital way.
“All this made it a ripe market for entrepreneurs to bring in innovative digital marketing solutions that could reach out to and engage the most digital-savvy audience any business could have — students,” says Vivek, 48, an MBA graduate from Hawaii Pacific University.
One thing led to another and UniPro was born in 2012.
From ‘why digital’ to ‘how digital’
The company started with three people—founder Vivek with 16 years of experience in media, Co-founder Ankit Khare, 32, with more than 10 years of experience in media and education, and Co-founder Kunal Prajapati, 34, with 12 years of experience in media and education—and grew to a 34-member team.
But the growth wasn’t easy. “Adding the right skill-set and getting people with an understanding of the education domain was our biggest challenge in the early days. We started the company with a clear focus on helping educational institutes reach out to their target audience (students) without media wastage which happens a lot on other mediums like print, television and outdoor,” explains Vivek.
Clients wanted to see their marketing spends being used effectively and quantifying the ROI was difficult with other mediums. As an agency, Unipro focussed on addressing these challenges by bringing clients in the education sector onto the digital platforms.
The startup focussed on building awareness about digital marketing in the education sector which, according to Vivek, was very low when they started off. He called it their biggest hurdle.
“But we took it up as a challenge, holding digital marketing workshops in colleges to showcase our knowledge in this domain and the strength of digital platforms. Today, we have come far, having worked with leading education institutes and universities in India as well as abroad. Our team effort played a vital role in shifting the education industry’s mindset from ‘why digital’ to ‘how digital’,” he sums up.
Business metrics and big names
The founders invested around half a million to get the venture rolling and report that UniPro is now a profit-making company. The lion’s share of funding was spent in acquiring top-notch manpower with an understanding of the education domain and a penchant for digital media. Money also went into developing technology-enabled solutions specifically for the education industry – such as CRM solutions, CMS and LMS, student application portals.
UniPro now works with over 100 clients, providing solutions on digital mediums such as Google and Facebook, with mobile and video ads and lead generation campaigns — and aids some of the largest players in the education sector, namely TOEFL, GRE, LPU, Chandigarh University, MICA, TAPMI, Amity University and many more.
“As is with most agencies, we work with our clients on a retainer fee basis. Currently, our topline is about $1.5 million,” says the founder.
A case for study
For one ofthe clients, a premier B-school, UniPro prepared a digital media campaign targeting MBA aspirants in the 20-24 age group with the aim of driving awareness, generating leads for the school’s MBA/PGDM courses, creating visibility and driving online registrations across India. The campaign was run across the social media with deliverables including search and display to drive impressions. The campaign, according to the platform’s website, drove eight percent of all registrations for the mentioned course from all enquiries.
According to an EY report, the Indian higher education system has emerged as one of the largest in the world, with 14.6 million students enrolled in more than 31,000 institutions. Over the past decade, the number of universities in the country has increased at a CAGR of 7.5 percent (from 272 to 556) while the number of colleges has grown at a CAGR of 11 percent (from 11,146 to 31,324).
According to IBEF, the education sector in India is poised to witness major growth in the years to come as India will have world’s largest tertiary-age population and second largest graduate talent pipeline globally by the end of 2020. In FY 2015-16, the education market was worth about $100 billion and is expected to reach $116.4 billion in FY16-17.
Experts say that companies from various sectors are trying to tap the $100-billion education market; and the growth of the digital campaign companies for education sector is making the segment more vibrant.
Interactive Avenues, Digitas, Ignitee, Techshu among others deal in all category of clients, and work with some education category advertisers. Education portals such as Shiksha.com, Careers360.com, and many more provide advertising solutions to education advertisers.
Aggressive growth plans
UniPro is aiming for a 200-percent increase in customer acquisitions in the next two years and looking to invest in building a broader portfolio of offerings. For customer acquisition, it reaches out through direct sales team located in various cities.
It is also ready with a mobile application to help institutes bridge the communication gap between prospective and current students, and alumni, engaging all of them under one platform.
UniPro’s portfolio of digital services covers almost 80 percent of the youth audience in India, claims the founder, and this is how it has made it possible for education segment advertisers to reach out to most of them.
Apart from digital advertising and campaigns, UniPro offers technology-enabled solutions to clients, further augmenting their marketing strategies and enabling them to reach out to and convert far more leads into enrollments. These solutions include LMS (lead management system) to all clients to ensure smooth process of all leads, an application portal, which provides colleges a complete online application platform that comes with an integrated payment gateway, and partnership with Google.
“However, Unipro being an agency offers an array of services right from creatives to campaigns to technology support for education institutions and that makes it a full-fledged 360-degree company when it comes to digital marketing services,” says Vivek, adding that they are currently growing at a rate of over 100 percent year-on-year.