Nike-Caliber Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Carnegie Higher Ed Apr 13, 2015 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

As you surf the Internet or check your mailbox, you regularly see very impressive marketing efforts by some of the biggest brands in the world. Reaction: “Sigh, if only I had their marketing budget.” We all feel this way, trust me. But so much of what you’re seeing from those advertising heavyweights is doable and scalable on even the smallest of budgets.

In a time of data and segmentation, the overwhelming need to mass market is gone—you need to refine your audience to ensure you get the most bang for your buck! How do you do this? Let’s set up a few examples of often-used recruitment marketing strategies.

First, the most common and historically proven tactic is Search. Buying names, mailing and e-mailing promotional information, and engaging students that have demonstrated they are college bound is a must for most schools. You don’t need to Nike this entire list. (Yes, I just made Nike a verb.) The list you purchase should be based on your primary and secondary markets as well as any new hopeful markets. Every list source allows for slicing and dicing—use it. It’s not about a smaller list; it’s about the right list.

Budget tip:

Personalizing outreach in print, e-mail, and online based on segmentation costs basically nothing. Increasing your conversion for no cost? Yes, please!

Strategy tip:

Visuals are key! A letter in a plain envelope (you know, like the 15 others they got that day) won’t stand out. Your voice and look on an engaging and personalized postcard is both cheaper and more unique. As we like to say: “Search differently.

But what about all those other college-bound students? (There are a lot.) Look for a wide-spread service that puts you in front of a lot of eyes—*cough* like PC&U *cough*. No caps on leads—just a full year of reaching all of those students. It’s a great way to cost-effectively reach everyone else as well as reaffirm those students your Search targets directly. And you generate thousands of leads each year!

And now what about online? Getting an ad directly on the most popular sites is just impossible. Right? Nope! It takes some finesse and experience, but with technologies like real-time bidding and ad exchanges, geographic targeting, and super-savvy efforts like IP Targeting (read more about that here), you can ensure you’re reaching the prospects you want where they are—wherever that may be! All at a standard CPM. No direct buy premium rates.

Budget tip:

Retargeting is, dollar-for-dollar, the most effective online marketing tool. You reach your known audience wherever they are. If you are doing nothing else online, at least consider Retargeting.

Strategy tip:

Using an agency to conduct your digital outreach allows you to take advantage of their expertise in executing the most cost-effective and powerful campaign possible. And imagine if you could use an agency that is not only a digital marketing expert—but a higher education expert too. Just sayin’ . . .

Story time:

A President of a university called the Director of Marketing into his office to discuss an online ad he had seen for the school on He was thrilled to see the school on such a big-name site but concerned that they were spending crazy dollars to make this happen. The Director of Marketing, new to the position but had recently implemented Retargeting, proudly described their marketing effort and confirmed that the ad the president was seeing was very low cost. So it’s a win both with prospects and school stakeholders (and the boss!).

I could go on and on about how to appear to be marketing like Nike, but really it’s just marketing done right. It’s about using the information you have to make your campaigns smarter, not necessarily larger. Every marketing effort really is scalable. Don’t give up on those big ideas; find a way to make them happen!

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