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Competitor Conquesting: What You Need to Know

By Sarah Parrott
Executive Vice President, Higher Education

This is the time of year that you want your institutional brand and most persuasive messages in front of prospective students and parents. Your competitors want the same thing. As digital marketing becomes a larger and more significant part of recruitment marketing, competitor conquesting is a technique that is increasingly being utilized.

What is conquesting? In the advertising world, it means deploying an advertisement for your products or services adjacent to content relating to your competitor. This has been done in print for many years, and it is now standard practice in online marketing.

The easiest way to understand the concept of online competitor conquesting in practice is for you to enter “Ford F-150” into Google and notice, over the next few days and weeks, how many Chevy ads appear on your screen in the form of banner ads, Facebook and Instagram ads, Gmail ads, and pay-per-click ads. The big retailers and automakers are at the forefront of this practice, and colleges are beginning to follow suit.

If you assume your institution is not being targeted, you risk putting yourself one step behind your competitors. To start considering competitor conquesting as a tactic (and, more importantly, to evaluate the threat it poses), it is vital to first understand if your institution is being targeted and by whom.

Is your institution being targeted?

To find out if your college is being conquested by a competitor, enter your institution’s name into Google (or any other search engine). Do this at work and at home. Over the next days and weeks, notice the banner ads and Facebook ads for colleges that appear on your screen as you are going through your usual online activities. If you see ads for your direct competitors appearing regularly, so do your prospective students and parents. That means your college is being conquested— and it’s time to level the playing field.

If you don’t see any of your competitors’ ads appear, then you have the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage! You can make sure that your institution’s brand and messages appear on the computers and mobile devices of prospective parents and students who Google your competitors’ names.

How does this happen?

It all starts with the search engines. By identifying specific keywords and actions as triggers, your competitors can have their advertisements appear on webpages served to prospective students and parents who have recently searched for your institution. This means that your competitor’s brand will be displayed multiple times per day to your prospects for weeks and months before critical decision points such as where to apply and enroll.

The logistics of competitor conquesting can get pretty complex, but the results from numerous consumer studies show that it is an effective way to intercept users who are interacting with businesses that directly compete for the same customers.

On the flip side, by repeatedly displaying your institution’s brand and message to your competitor’s prospects, you are presenting your college as a compelling alternative that parents and students might not have considered—or even known existed. This is an effective way to increase interest and potential applications among the types of students that may be a good fit for your institution.

What can I do?

It’s important to ensure that your brand and messages appear online alongside—or instead of—your competitors as much as possible. Given that students and parents spend a good portion of their days interacting with their computers and mobile devices, online ads are a wise option, particularly because they are targeted and cost-effective.

As a first step, we recommend speaking with subject matter experts who regularly work with Google AdWords and Facebook targeting and also understand the art of competitor conquesting in general (yes, there is an art to this). Each of these tactics requires its own specialization, and it is rare to find a single person who can leverage all of them well.

Ideally, you want a team of digital specialists working for you who understand how conquesting can boost applications and enrollment at your institution. Needless to say, using digital marketing to encourage students to apply to your institution is quite different from selling cars or shoes, so working with professionals who understand student recruitment is critical as well.

When one considers options to maximize the ROI from recruitment marketing campaigns, it’s fairly obvious that smart digital marketing should be a piece of your institution’s larger strategy. Putting your institution in front of students and parents in those valuable moments when they are in the process of researching colleges is paramount. Competitor conquesting allows your institution to do this in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

If you are not thinking about this, you can be pretty sure your competitors are.

Whiteboard Higher Education provides digital marketing services, including competitor conquesting, to forward-thinking colleges and universities. Just contact us at or (215) 282-0852 to find out how we can help give your institution a competitive advantage.