Digital Advertising for Colleges and Universities: Don’t be Impressed by Impressions

Digital Advertising for Colleges and Universities: Don’t be Impressed by ImpressionsDigital advertising in higher education provides enrollment management teams not only with the potential for unprecedented reach, but also hyper-targeted psychographic and demographic criteria with which to search for right-fit students.

Want to reach high school females living in a particular zip code, who are interested in marine science, and whose household income is greater than $150,000? Check.

How about a 30-something year old businessman who completed some college, works for a particular company, and is an ideal candidate to return to school for a management degree? Check.

Reaching these prospective students and serving ads that speak to their motivations is an available and affordable marketing tactic. However, getting it done right involves some expertise and elbow grease.

As former employees of a University’s enrollment management team, the Calculate principals have the unique viewpoint of having been both the client and the consultant on digital advertising projects. Our philosophy on how to properly strategize, produce, and evaluate a digital marketing campaign was born from our own frustration. As higher ed administrators, we were consistently underserved by “expert” consultants who charged thousands of dollars. Too often the metric they delivered to showcase success was the number of impressions the ads received. Digging deeper, we were also provided the number of clicks and the click through rate, but that’s where the level of detail ended.

Our question was always the same: How does that information inform us on the success or failure of the campaign? In short, it didn’t. What we really wanted to know was:

  1. How many of these prospects actually made it into our admissions funnel?
  2. How many of them either applied, were admitted, accepted, deposited, or enrolled?
  3. What was our cost per conversion? (NOT our Cost Per Impression!)

After hearing the number of impressions we received for each campaign, and not being impressed until it resulted in a true conversion, we started to say to ourselves, “We’re not impressed by impressions.”

We’re not impressed because impressions can be bought without any strategy, creative, quality, or expectation for success. If we put a blank billboard up on the highway, it’s going to generate the same number of impressions as the beautifully designed one. The same goes for your digital “billboards.” The number of impressions correlates directly to your campaign budget. Want more impressions? Spend more money. Want more enrolled students? That involves a strategic inbound marketing approach and the aforementioned elbow grease.

The true measure of a successful campaign ultimately lies in the number of students who enroll. Getting to that number isn’t always easy because it takes time for all the data to be gathered and analyzed and not every school has the means to correlate data within a single system. Yes, it involves some work.

So instead of being impressed by impressions, be impressed by the campaign that delivers meaningful results – the number of enrolled students, deposits, accepts, applications, and conversions. Those are the numbers that will tell you how well your campaign really did and inform your decision making when embarking on your next campaign.

Digital advertising has enormous potential, but only if it’s properly and thoroughly executed. To ensure the biggest bang for your marketing dollars, insist on campaigns that align with your institutional objectives – increased enrollment! Otherwise, be prepared to be easily impressed.

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