University survival tips: Leveraging digital media for success

How to take digital media strategy to the next level to promote brand awareness during the pandemic
By: | October 23, 2020
Getty Images: Bill Oxford

The current fluctuating socioeconomic and political state of the world has had a critical impact on higher education institutions. Not only are schools adjusting education programs to accommodate changing circumstances, but prospective and current student preferences are also shifting along with new developments.

Michael Kalman, MediaCrossing Inc.

Michael Kalman, MediaCrossing Inc.

A recent McKinsey study found that a significant number—86%—of college presidents had put enrollment numbers at the top of their most pressing issues in the face of COVID-19. Universities must adapt to survive, leaning on digital media in new and innovative ways to drive enrollment, promote value against competition, and engage with their communities.

Promoting brand awareness in a digital world

As a result of the covid-pandemic, digital media consumption has accelerated, as individuals are spending more time indoors and, as a result, in front of screens. Shift your marketing and acquisition strategy to focus less on in-person events and traditional marketing to meet the current demands of the marketplace.

Brand awareness campaigns are important for your university to establish authority in a space. Focus primarily on channels that promote video content, general informational sessions, sharable resources. Focus on building your community of prospects looking at metrics such as likes, shares and comments.

Identifying measures of success (KPIs)

Top-level metrics, or KPIs, in the higher education space are generally the following:

  • Number of Applications
  • Number of Event Registrations
  • Requests for Information
  • Contact Forms Submitted

Not only should you be tracking the number of conversion actions, but also the conversion rate of each action. What is the number of applications started vs. the number of applications actually submitted? Here is a sample scenario of measuring conversion rate and its impact:

A Director of Digital Media noticed that Google Paid Search ads are driving a significant amount of monthly traffic. They are seeing 10,000 sessions a month driving to the application form. The second-highest channel, Instagram Ads, is only driving 5,000 sessions a month.

Logically, the director may suggest investing more funds into the Google Paid Search channel to drive more traffic. The missing metric, however, is conversion rate (Number of completed applications  / total number of sessions).

Let’s look at the performance again:

Google Paid Search has 10,000 sessions with 1% conversion rate

Instagram Ads has 5,000 sessions with a 5% conversion rate

As you can see in the above example, the Instagram Ad channel is more effective in driving applications.

It’s important for marketing leaders at higher education institutions to identify KPIs with clear attribution, similar to how a sales team would measure how many carts are abandoned or new business requests submitted. The same formula can be applied to higher ed prospects.

Investing in the future

Higher education is a long consideration period lasting months and often years. It’s important for marketers to create campaigns that nurture prospects overtime—providing nudges to move forward in the process.

Personalization is key to relating to your community. According to Salesforce State of Marketing report, only 30% of marketers use customer data to create more relevant experiences:

  • 29% deliver the right message, on the right channel, at the right time
  • 28% create a shared, single view of customers across business units
  • 28% of marketers create personalized omnichannel customer experiences

Leverage data to identify key decision making periods and benchmarks for your audience to ensure personalization and relevant targeting.

Think about where your prospective new students will be interacting with media years in advance: will it be increasing impressions on TV streaming platforms or advertising on emerging platforms such as TikTok? First-movers advantage is effective when entering new digital platforms.

A comprehensive—and proactive—digital media plan will be a key differentiator for higher education institutions in sustaining enrollment and success.

Michael Kalman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MediaCrossing Inc., a leading, award-winning, independent digital advertising agency. In this role, he leads the advertising team that is dedicated to helping agencies and advertisers earn and then own the “customer conversation” through activating data and engaging audiences across all screens.