In marketing we often get excited when we learn of new ways that technology can help us reach our exact audience with the perfect message at the precise time. These “shiny new toys” open up all kinds of possibilities and allow our imaginations to conjure up the amazing things we will now be able to do. For the most part these new strategies allow us to work smarter, send a clearer message, and collect data in ways we never thought we could. However, what works in some industries—or even with a million-dollar budget—isn’t always right for higher education.
Here at Carnegie we learn about every new digital marketing strategy and tool out there. And when we do, it’s our job to slow down, do our homework, and discover all of the pros and cons of that new capability. Some are exciting and perfectly suited to the goals and resources of colleges and universities. Many, however, are not. The key is the vetting process. Every strategy we bring to the industry has been tested to ensure it’s appropriate and can deliver results specifically for our higher education partners while being mindful of the care and custody of a college brand.
Once a tool is vetted, there are additional considerations when building out the strategy and setting the goals for a campaign. Here are a few to keep in mind before adopting that next latest and greatest:
1. Think audience first, then strategy. Often I will hear a client tell us they just heard of one of those great new tools and they’re certain they want to try it. But then the question “Why?” often leads to a blank stare. Yes, it may be the coolest new tool for marketers. But we need to think audience first. Just because it’s a great way to reach someone doesn’t mean it’s the best way to reach your someone. By examining your various audiences first we can then look at the best way to reach them at the right time with the right message the right way. Maybe that great new tool is perfect for one of your audiences but not the others. If you go into a marketing plan thinking audience first, you can construct each piece to maximize effectiveness.
2. Minimum audience size. This is one of the most common obstacles when it comes to implementing many highly targeted digital strategies. Even a must-do campaign such as Retargeting can often bump into thresholds to cross with website traffic size. For example, segmenting your audience based on pages they have visited on your website is an excellent way to respond with messaging perfectly tailored to where a prospect is in their journey or interests they are showing. In order to do so, keep in mind what the traffic to a particular area looks like. If that program page only gets 150 visitors per month, you are are going to need to combine it with the traffic from other pages as well. So segment, segment, segment—but keep in mind certain traffic needs to attain good delivery.
In the case of IP Targeting, list sizes are critical. Yes, you can send unique Online Display messages into the specific homes of prospects on your target list: Search buy, students who have applied, accepted students, etc. As a best practice, we like to segment those lists as much as possible to really leverage everything you know about a student. But each segment has a minimum size requirement to launch a successful campaign.
Think of it this way: you need to build an audience, whether through site visits, list inclusion, using geofencing to create a mobile delivery audience, or Rooftop IP Targeting to reach community colleges or businesses. Get that audience to the size needed, and then the magic can happen!
3. Budgets. Yes, in theory you can target half of the U.S. population of teenagers! However, budget restrictions will probably mean you can’t do it well. You might be able to deliver advertising in 20 states, but how well will that work for you if it’s spread so thin that the audience doesn’t come in contact with the message enough to create impact? Whenever you can, reverse-engineer a campaign using the budget you know you have. This way you can select strategies and audience sizes based on what you know you can afford and set priorities accordingly.
4. Don’t marry only one strategy. Every digital marketing strategy has strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to accomplish different engagement at different points in the student journey. The most successful campaigns are those that layer in tools that complement one another by picking up where the other leaves off.
We love shiny new marketing tools! The keys to using them correctly are knowing your audience, ensuring it’s the proper way to reach that audience, and knowing it’s the tool that should be the highest priority given your goals and budget. So let’s all work smarter by leveraging a combination of tools. Sometimes the most dependable ones are the ones that no longer shine. Be sure to layer them in there too—they are proven and reliable!