Measure it to manage it: an idea to make your student recruitment display ads more effective

An interesting article crossed my desk today. It showed the results of an AdReady/Stamats survey with respect to the use of digital display advertising by American institutions of higher education (EDUs).  The survey shows that one reason for utilizing this tactic is to reach and attract students; EDUs want to stand out from the crowd.

As a former advertising agency gal – and one who spent time in the creation of media plans back in the age of the dinosaur (read: before the internet), the question most often asked was how to measure the results of these buys. We could talk about impressions, readership, viewership…but ultimately, unless a customer told you specifically that he or she showed up at your place of business based on the billboard on Main Street, it could be a challenge to measure.

With the onset of the internet, budgets were re-jigged to continue with traditional advertising, supplemented by digital advertising. And still it was difficult to measure exactly how many people were brought to you via a skyscraper ad on a targeted website. Again it was page hits and impressions.

So, as the EDUs plan to increase the digital portion of their marketing budgets significantly over the next year, we come back to the age-old question of how to tell if it’s really working? Links to specific pages, or special landing pages can be tracked of course; however, that still gives raw numbers allowing you to prepare reports and justify dollars allocated. But what if you could see actual results? What if you could make that display ad work harder for you?

An ideal use of the display ad would work like this: create something engaging enough to prospective students to encourage them to click through. It has to be very good to capture their attention amidst all of the other visual noise, and it should tell them exactly what will happen or what they’ll get by clicking. Place the ad on an appropriate website and link it to a very short, branded, sign-up form – again preceded by verbiage at the top which will tell them how signing up will make finding out about your institution very easy – that you’ll do all of the work for them as soon as they share a bit more information. Tell them you’ll be sending an email with a slightly longer form…and then do so instantly via an automatically triggered, branded email in which you ask pertinent questions regarding their interests.

If a prospective student clicks through and signs up, you have a person who is genuinely interested in interacting with you. As a higher education marketer or enrollment director, you know that’s pure gold. You will have gone beyond reaching out to large numbers and crossing your fingers to seeing a student who is truly engaged. It’s good to see institutions looking at innovative ways to reach prospective students and allocating budget dollars to do so digitally, meeting the students where they’re at. For those who take it one step further, the quantifiable results will be obvious, for once the relationship has begun, it will be easy to follow a student’s path from a display ad to enrollment.

This is a win-win on both sides: although you might be using something to automate these actions, the student feels it’s very much one-to-one as all interaction with your institution focuses on his or her specific interests. It shows you really care – and that’s using the display ad medium really well.

If you’re interested in reading more, the original University Business article can be found here.

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