Display Advertising Explained for Higher Education

Carnegie Higher Ed Mar 27, 2019 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Have you ever wondered where Display ads appear or how Display advertising impacts marketing for colleges and universities? Thirty years ago, before the world of digital marketing, when someone mentioned the word “brand” or “brand strategy,” they were likely referring to a logo, motto, or mascot—very simple, tangible assets that you could use on a mailer, bus wrap, or flyer. Your need for awareness of said brand was often limited to your regional area. And the only questions your customers would ask would be specific to the product or service you were offering, or, quite simply, “how much?”

Fast forward to 2019, and brand is a much more pivotal piece of your organization. Your brand must now emulate your mission, your core values, and the authentic personality of your organization. The number of channels you need to juggle now falls in the hundreds, and your target markets transcend across states and even countries. Even the questions you field from customers have changed drastically, from the relatively simple “what” and “how” to the much more complex “why.”

Because of this shift, marketing strategies—particularly digital marketing strategies that increase branding and awareness—are now an integral part of any campaign. Display advertising is at the forefront of these efforts and has created a more nimble and targeted approach to address the pitfalls of more traditional methods.  

What is Display advertising?

Display advertising is a paid digital branding strategy where a banner advertisement is placed in designated ad space across various websites, like this:

These ads can come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms, but the most commonly used Display ad is the image banner ad you see above. These are generally simple and include a photo or graphic, a logo, a few words of text, and a CTA, or call to action. Once clicked, these ads take you to a landing page that typically expands upon the content in the ad.

How does Display advertising work?

What’s most incredible about Display ads is the complexity with which they are delivered. In the early days of online advertising, ads were placed directly on sites, which we now refer to as “whitelisting.” You would need to choose the sites where you wanted your ads placed and hope that your audience would see them. Now, paid Display advertising works on a real-time bidding process that’s based on an analysis of three main pieces of information:

  • The past behaviors of the user you’re targeting
  • The available ad inventory on the site they visit
  • The amount the advertiser is willing to bid for the inventory that’s available

Why is that so incredible, you ask? Because all this back-end analysis happens as soon as the user lands on a particular website. You can now get in front of thousands of users in a matter of hours and track their engagement with your ads. It’s also important to note that those coveted whitelisted websites, such as Forbes or Wall Street Journal, will post remnant ad space on the ad exchange networks, which means you could get high-quality placement at a very low cost.

What is the impact of Display advertising?

Now that we know what Display advertising is and how it works, we need to circle back to the “why.” Marketing 101 tells us the more a user sees your brand and brand message, the more likely they will be to take action. That’s why Apple, the most well-known technology company in the world, still buys billboard advertising in their core markets. And why Amazon, the e-commerce giant, still spends billions of dollars in Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising to own the top position in search. If you aren’t staying top-of-mind, you’re missing a huge opportunity to build brand affinity and grow your audience.

Unlike more traditional brand advertising such as billboards, TV spots, bus wraps, and arena placement, digital advertising offers true visibility into the impact your ads are having on your audience. You can know exactly how many people are visiting your website after seeing your ad and even how many fill out an inquiry form on your website. With other methods, you rely heavily on unique URLs or website traffic alone, which can be antiquated and vague.

Display is also a great avenue to test out creative elements before committing to a more permanent traditional piece. Uploading new ad sets takes little to no time and has limitless opportunities for testing different images and text.

Display advertising has more or less created a paradigm shift in the branding world. Instead of focusing our time and energy on researching specific locations for ad placement, we can now focus solely on our audience, where they are, and what is meaningful to them.

At Carnegie Dartlet, we’ve done substantial research in this area, specifically within the higher education industry, where a focus on audience is even more pivotal. Prospective students have thousands of choices when searching for a college degree, and having the ability to meet them where they are, with an authentic brand message, will make all the difference in your marketing strategy.

If you want to learn more about how to utilize Display advertising in your higher education marketing plan, we’re here to help.

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