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I’m sure you’re getting bored of hearing the line ‘the world of education marketing has changed’ – it seems to be the preamble of any blog post or piece of collateral of any education marketing company or media these days. But it’s true, we are in an unrecognisable landscape from the one we were in 10 years ago. Whether it’s the fees, the rise of digital or the spread of smartphones, there’s no denying that the fight for students’ attention has never been fiercer.

But picture this, you’re thinking about buying a car and you see an advert on Facebook for an automotive brand you’ve never heard of before, inviting you to test drive their new model. You click on the ad and it drives you through to a form to book the test – even though you still know next to nothing about the company. Sure, they’ve told you they’ve got a 98% satisfaction rate and that they’re the number one car brand according to a specific ranking. Are you likely to test drive the car and then spend £27,000 on it? The answer is probably no.

So why then do we expect potential students to do this? Most universities main advertising spend in the recruitment cycle is for Open Days. In this age of performance marketing, there is a tendency for universities to chase short term goals (such as open day registrations), as they are easily measurable. A direct response campaign will have goals such as open day registrations as its key performance metric – which is very easy to report on and prove ROI to your Senior Leadership.

However, whilst chasing these short-term metrics, we lose sight of something important – brand awareness. Logically, if a potential student knows about your university, what your brand values are and has an emotional connection to your institution, they’re much more likely to register for and attend an open day when you ask them to.

An IPA (Institute of Professionals in Advertising) * study recommended that the ideal split between long-term brand building and short-term activation campaigns is 60/40, with broad-reach campaigns still being the best way to drive market share. Universities should be focusing on brand building to increase market penetration as a key driver for growth – which requires significant investment in paid-for media, as well as great organic content.

In the age of digital metrics and direct response campaigns, we can be forgiven for wanting to spend all our budget on Google Search, Facebook and Instagram adverts, as they are the easiest to report on and optimise. However, a healthy mix of digital and offline media are crucial to the success of a multi-platform brand awareness campaign. Fundamentally offline media will make digital work harder. For example, it has been shown that Google Search volumes increase in areas where an out of home campaign is running.

‘I don’t have that kind of budget’ I hear you saying as you read this. But a brand awareness campaign doesn’t need to cost the earth. Yes, there are brands (and universities) out there that are spending vast sums of money on media campaigns, but you can still be really targeted with brand awareness campaigns and minimise wastage. It’s not just Google and Facebook that have come along way with technology…

If you take a look at all of the smaller spends you have for direct response and bring them together, you can put together the money for an effective brand campaign. And we can be pretty certain, later in the cycle, your direct response campaigns will be so much more effective.

The long and the short of it is simple – if they know who you are and what you stand for, however they find out about you, they’re much more likely to register and attend an open day, apply and ultimately enrol at your institution.

*Media in Focus, Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era –  July 2017, Les Binet & Peter Field, Institute of Professionals in Advertising

Alex Causton-Ronaldson, Lead Strategist, Havas People