Colleges and universities continue to search for ways to place their brand and messages in front of prospective students and parents where their eyes are: on their mobile devices, tablets, and computers. Because students (and their parents) spend so much of their days online via different platforms, it stands to reason that digital marketing campaigns will bolster the effectiveness of your institution’s traditional recruiting efforts.
In Part One, we discussed the various platforms and strategies that work best for undergraduate student recruitment. Here we offer recommendations about how enrollment leaders can gain the most ROI from their digital marketing efforts.
Just as with direct mail campaigns, it’s helpful to be clear about what you want a digital campaign to accomplish. In other words, how will you measure success? In our world of college recruitment, we generally measure success at three major decision points in the student recruitment cycle:
It follows logic that all marketing campaigns, including digital, should rely on conversion results at one or more of these decision points to measure success. For example, did the inclusion of IP Targeting (banner ads) have a significantly positive impact on students’ engagement with a student search campaign? Or, did Facebook ads reminding students about your deposit deadline result in a greater percentage of deposits being received on or before the due date?
We find that these direct call-to-action messages work most effectively when paired with other recruitment campaigns. Digital recruitment can expand visibility, provide important reminders (like FAFSA completion), and positively impact attendance at events and other activities that support student conversion, such as information sessions and open houses. It is relatively easy to measure the difference between print and email outreach with and without digital “air support.”
Many institutions use digital marketing for general brand awareness and these initiatives typically originate from the marketing or communications office. In order to maximize success and recruit and enroll more students, we highly recommend that the admissions team drive the campaigns. This is the most effective way to control messaging for student search and all other print and electronic campaigns designed to recruit and engage students.
Many colleges that currently deploy digital marketing campaigns do so in silos, resulting in poor timing and consistency of messaging as it relates to the admissions recruitment calendar. They, therefore miss important opportunities to convey specific calls to action.
Busy students and parents need to be reminded what we want them to do at any given time in the recruitment cycle. Using digital marketing solely for brand awareness (for example, “Learn More”) can oftentimes be a wasted opportunity.
Banner ads, Facebook and Instagram ads, and Search Engine Marketing are most effective with short, highly specific content that can be digested at a glance. The enemy of effectiveness in this medium is verbosity or cramming too many messages and/or images into the presentation. The call to action typically gets lost in the noise.
We often see banner advertisements for colleges that try to accomplish too many goals at once. For dynamic digital content, we advise our clients to identify the one action they want their audience to take and target three clear supporting points to drive the call to action.
Our most successful digital advertisements, the ones that generate the most responses from students and parents, convey emotion. This is usually done through the faces and actions of happy students rather than traditional flat images of campus buildings.
For digital marketing, it’s important to partner with an enrollment firm, not just an advertising agency. A service provider that specializes in student recruitment and can wrap digital marketing around your other recruitment initiatives already in place is your best chance at success. Never underestimate the value of subject matter expertise.
Chances are your institution has already spent a significant amount of money on a visual brand identity and website. A trusted enrollment partner won’t recommend that you reinvent the creative wheel (and pay them accordingly). We have found that successful digital campaigns can be developed using existing assets, which dramatically reduces cost and turnaround times.
It’s also important to select a partner that can provide the right mix of digital platforms and strategies for your institution, not just specific digital services that the firm is contracted to offer. No one strategy works for all institutions, so look for a partner that can offer you a variety of options.