Colleges and universities are moving beyond the mailbox and finding ways to place their brand and messages in front of prospective students and parents where their eyes are: on their mobile devices and computers. Because your prospects spend so much of their day interacting online via multiple platforms, it makes sense to deploy digital marketing campaigns to bolster the effectiveness of your institution’s tried-and-true recruiting efforts.
If you are an enrollment leader who wants to understand how digital marketing can improve your enrollment results, read on. Digital marketing is an umbrella term that comprises many different strategies, applications, and platforms, so one size does not fit all institutions.
Whiteboard’s feet are firmly planted in enrollment management and data analysis and we’ve learned a great deal over the past several years about what works (and doesn’t work) with digital marketing for student recruitment. We don’t believe that digital marketing is a silver bullet that will replace print or email marketing campaigns anytime soon. Rather, we advocate deploying digital marketing strategies in conjunction with traditional recruiting methods to provide economical “air support” to your campaigns.
Digital marketing is not just IP Targeting or Retargeting with banner ads as some would lead you to believe. There are numerous different digital marketing platforms, channels, and techniques available today and choosing the right combination of outreach strategies is critical to the success of any student recruitment campaign. Diversification is key, because prospective students and parents interact with many different online applications every day.
To maximize conversion among prospective undergraduates, enrollment managers should take advantage of the digital marketing options that best reach and engage 16- to 18-year-old audiences. We typically propose a mix of the following five digital marketing approaches:
IP Targeting uses a college’s list of students (prospects, for example) to deliver banner advertisements to them at their home address. The benefit to institutions is that IP Targeting allows them to target prospective students and parents they already have in hand rather than investing money to serve ads to a wider audience based on demographic information.
Our experience shows that deploying IP Targeting in conjunction with traditional mail and email student search campaigns significantly boosts student engagement in those campaigns and leads to higher conversion rates. Instead of just sending mail and emails to prospective students and hoping for a response, they are also presented with online banner ads that encourage engagement with the campaign and reiterate the call to action.
IP Retargeting is an online tool that can serve an institution’s banner advertisements to a college’s website visitors based on their unique IP address. For example, an institution can identify anyone who has opened their “visit” web pages and serve banner advertisements to that person’s device for a specified time period to inform people about an upcoming open house. Or, an institution can choose to serve banner ads to anyone who had visited the college’s website, the “apply” pages, or the homepage of the main website.
There are a number of different strategies that an institution can employ with respect to IP Retargeting. With all our clients, we recommend running a program of IP Targeting and IP Retargeting with the same banner advertisements for brand and visual identity consistency, which improves the ROI of such efforts.
Teens are still using Facebook. So are their parents. We recommend that colleges place images and messages on the Facebook pages of prospective students (based on their lists) with a blend of News Feed, Mobile, and Right Column Ads. Additionally, an institution can serve its messages and images to the Facebook “friends” of prospective students and even their “friends of friends.”
To best target college-age “friends” of your prospective students with Facebook, we recommend setting age limits so that your marketing dollars are used just for 16-18 year olds. This is a highly effective way to put your institution in front of students who have expressed interest in your programs — and also put your message in front of their immediate peer group.
Instagram is an important social media channel for colleges to consider as well. Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos and share them either publicly or privately on the app as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms.
Instagram is the social media platform of choice for a large subset of artistic high school students. This includes young artists, photographers, and anyone interested in visual media. Much like Facebook, the platform also operates with a system of “friends” that can also be served an institution’s images and messages.
SEM is the process of influencing behavior by purchasing advertisements on search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. When used in conjunction with traditional outreach efforts, we have found pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to be especially useful in driving admission event attendance and deadline reminders.
The cost associated with targeted digital marketing is relatively small compared to traditional recruitment marketing programs such as print mailings. So before designing and printing another brochure, you might consider testing a digital marketing campaign first. When a smart digital marketing strategy is deployed alongside existing recruitment marketing efforts, we have seen significantly higher conversion rates among prospective students. Additionally, with A/B testing of digital ads, institutions can easily see what content and messages are most effective.
It is also advisable for enrollment managers to look for a digital marketing provider that has deep experience with the college admission life cycle rather than hiring an advertising agency that has little experience with the intricacies of enrolling a class. Ultimately, the effectiveness of any digital marketing effort for student conversion is measured not just by the number of banner ads served or clicks but by applicants and enrolled students.