How to Maximize a Higher Ed Marketing Budget

by Jamie Larson and Hannah Ruszczyk

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals,” according to David Ogilvy, one of a handful of thinkers who shaped advertising after the 1940s.

Think of the internet as an advertising battlefield; each institution is fighting for user attention. You may not think of your competition as enemies per se, but, with 272 million internet users in the United States as of 2017, you’ll want every marketing edge you can get. The best way to create this marketing edge? Optimize your marketing budget based off analytical data, also known as your “signals,” so you can more effectively stand out in the eyes of your target audience.

Defining and Measuring Success

The first step to maximizing a marketing budget is defining what success looks like. However, to define success, you must first be able to measure success.

The full potential of “measuring success” is often unknown, therefore difficult to accomplish. A University Business study focusing on the state of analytics in higher education found that a lack of defined success metrics is one of the biggest roadblocks institutions face when trying to measure marketing performance.

The key to avoiding this roadblock is integrating your different technological tools. Separately, your advertising platforms, web analytics and customer relationship management (CRM) system reveal only a portion of a student’s journey toward enrollment. When these systems are integrated (i.e., are in communication with one another), the effectiveness of various marketing strategies can be easily recognized, allowing for straightforward budget allocation.

As you might expect, implementing this type of integration doesn’t happen overnight. Measuring marketing ROI needs to be built from the ground up.

Full-Funnel Measurement

So, what is considered a successful marketing strategy? The short answer is: it varies from one institution to the next.

To determine this for your institution, you first need to ask the right questions. Common questions we hear from partners include:

  • What is a good click-through rate?
  • What is the ideal bounce rate we should see on our website?
  • Is “time on site” important?

While valuable when analyzing initial ad or content engagement, these questions will not maximize a marketing budget for long-term enrollment goals. The real questions are answered further down the enrollment funnel.

Inquiries

Initial marketing efforts often drive prospects to request more information through a form; once completed, these prospective students have entered the institution's pipeline as inquiries.

When analyzing marketing performance at the inquiry level, the importance of technology integration begins to unfold. Think about your Google Analytics account — helpful for determining successful marketing campaigns — and your CRM — helpful in storing student data. Each serves its unique purpose, but, when integrated, they are able to provide valuable downstream marketing attribution.

Downstream marketing attribution allows for insights into overall marketing channel performance. From an inquiry perspective, you will be able to see which efforts best converted on your landing page or main .edu traffic, improving budget allocation and simplifying day-to-day optimizations.

Applications

After they become inquiries, the goal is to move students who have inquired to complete an application.

With communication between your Google Analytics, CRM and advertising platforms at the application level, you will begin to identify large-scale patterns, allowing you to further analyze marketing portfolio performance. For example, you may notice that last month’s paid Facebook advertisements produced the highest inquiry volume, but the majority of the submitted applications came from a targeted email campaign. Here, you begin to see which strategies are most effective at driving results through each stage of the student journey.

Enrollments

The final stage of the funnel brings us to the most critical question for maximizing a marketing budget: What is driving enrollments?

Going back to our example, social advertisements drove the greatest inquiry volume and email campaigns drove the greatest number of applications, but what if the highest number of enrollments came from organic search? If this is the case, then to truly optimize your budget (based off enrollments), your institution would benefit from investing in search engine optimization (SEO) efforts — a solution that requires the integration of technology.

It’s important to note that this isn't a “one and done” process, you’ll need to keep an eye on your signals at all times. The student journey and therefore, effective strategies, are constantly evolving and will differ by student type (graduate, undergrad, transfer, etc.). Because of this, marketing strategies and budget allocation will need to evolve in tandem.

The overarching idea remains the same: optimizing your marketing budget based off enrollment data is key to finding long-term, sustainable success.


Jamie Larson is a digital marketing specialist and Hannah Ruszczyk is a marketing analytics specialist. Both Larson and Ruszczyk are members of Collegis Education's team. 

About the Author

Collegis Education staff

Collegis is passionate about education and driven by the technology that keeps institutions moving forward.

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