How marketing leaders can transform their media’s value

Given that paid media often commands the largest piece of the marketing mix, we must maximize its effectiveness so that those in control of the bottom line appreciate the investment rather than fret over its cost. 
Chris Huebner
Chris Huebner
Chris Huebner is the director of strategy at SimpsonScarborough, a higher education marketing and branding agency.

It’s no secret that higher education has faced enormous pressures both within the category and with outside forces. Our industry is grappling with a lack of consumer confidence and trust, shifting demographics and increased competition.

But we’re not just fighting over enrollment. With resources, staffing and budget often in flux, managing effective marketing has never been more important. Yet, according to a recent poll of CMOs, more than half of large institutions and the majority of small institutions reported that their marketing budget will either be the same or decrease. 

Given that paid media often commands the largest piece of the marketing mix, we must maximize its effectiveness so that those in control of the bottom line appreciate the investment rather than fret over its cost. 

One of the marketing industry’s most prolific leaders, Marc Prichard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, has publicly shared his evolving views on reframing media as a value creator. Over the past few years, his writings have impressed me with four guideposts that can help higher education marketers realize their full potential.

Capture the category

“To grow markets, expand to reach all potential consumers.” 

P&G has made it clear that they endeavor to reach all potential consumers within a market. In a constricting category and one where the path to purchase is long, reach is integral to making media more effective. The problem is that the impressions gained from their media campaigns are never evenly distributed.

Too many higher education campaigns are planned in a way to reduce ad waste, and built-in platforms are highly targeted and optimized toward lower-funnel objectives. The most likely outcome is a high-frequency campaign delivered to a small segment within your already tightly targeted audience, cutting your marketing funnels and recruitment opportunities in half.

Invest in effectiveness

“Raise the bar on higher media effectiveness with advertising proven to grow sales.”

The majority of ads fail to be correctly attributed to the brand they’re marking. As a result, P&G has purposefully developed a company-wide approach to measuring its success once they’re in the market. A simple pre-test for brand recall can ensure no impression is wasted.

For higher education marketing leaders seeking to increase their investment in paid media, taking the time to pre-test creative materials may increase their investment tenfold. 

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Deliver distinctiveness

“Our job is to be distinctive, not generic, not average, not homogenous.”

As much as higher education marketers want to believe college search is driven by spreadsheets, the truth is a lot messier. So as more brands compete for attention across platforms, we must focus on distinctiveness to become memorable.

Distinctive assetslogos, taglines, design elements—deliver fluency, ensuring saliency and linkage within the split-second students give to an ad. Instead of chasing differentiation, become driven to find a solution to distinctly (and consistently) stand out in the feeds, posters and screens that command our audience’s attention. 

Strike a balanced budget

“It’s not who spends the most that matters. What matters is who reaches the most consumers with the greatest media precision.”

With more channels, less consumer attention and expectations increasing more than resources, there must be a concerted effort to balance marketing activities, such as brand and performance marketing. The two play different but equally important roles in a full-funnel approach to enrollment marketing and communications.

Like a balanced stock fund, ensuring adequate investment across brand and performance is critical to achieving short- and long-term goals. Brand marketing shapes the perceptions of target audiences, remaining top-of-mind during key moments in the prospective student journey. When a prospective student moves into the market, performance marketing converts more efficiently.

Higher education marketing leaders must manage media buys so as not to prevent either from commanding the majority of the budget, which can lead to a plateau in performance. For a category like higher education, strike a balance somewhere between 55-70% on brand marketing.

Higher education faces significant challenges. Yet, developing a perspective on what makes an effective investment in paid media will enable institutions to achieve more efficient outcomes based on static or reduced budgets. Through the lens of Marc Pritchard, both CMOs and higher education marketers can begin to put together the pieces of a marketing-wide view of what drives media success. 


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