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5 things we learned planning 2019 clearing campaigns

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Content, Education, main blog

It’s been a busy few months developing university clearing campaigns with our agency partners. As students start to receive their results, applications will soon be flooding in. Here’s 5 things we’ve learned so far….

  1. Clearing is not as scary as people think, so communicate that

Clearing can seem daunting to students who don’t understand the process, whereas in actual fact the whole point about clearing is that it allows students to talk directly to universities. They’re able to quickly find out what courses are available to them and apply straight away, sometimes there and then over the phone.

Clearing cuts red tape and makes it easier for students to apply, meaning more students in the right courses, and more places filled up for universities. It’s up to marketing teams to get this message across to potential students.

Some of our best performing headlines and articles have been reassuring pieces, helping guide students through the process. At the same time, long form content gives institutions the ideal opportunity to position themselves as a viable option and provides potential students with the confidence to contact clearing teams.

  1. Consider your audience groups

Universities spend large budgets targeting potential students and signposting key courses, but should they spend more time thinking about who their audience is?

Whilst students will ultimately make the final decision on where and when to apply through clearing, they don’t have to do this on their own. Parents, teachers, tutors and heads of year all have an impact on a student’s decision, so universities also need to be engaging with these influencers and giving them the best possible information for them to pass on. It’s certainly worth considering producing bespoke content for these groups.

Young people on smartphones

  1. Don’t just focus on traditional school leavers

This year we have seen more universities expand the audience of their content campaigns to engage with mature students who are considering returning to university (or attending for the first time) to change or progress their careers.

The messaging to these potential students has to be really eye-catching and inspirational to encourage consideration and cut through the wealth of marketing aimed at more traditional clearing audiences.

Unlike school leavers, mature students don’t have parents and teachers drilling key application dates into them, so they often don’t realise its application season or fall foul of the ‘there’s always next year’ syndrome. Universities need to reach these students, often found in the local catchment areas, and explain the benefits of career focused courses. We’ve found messaging around career changes or progress have had the biggest impact across our network.

  1. Be strategic with your budget

We know results day is an incredibly important time to reach students as they have a very short window to make a decision. As a result, advertising spends on results day have become mind-blowing due to the sheer amount competition driving up the prices of biddable media.

With a click on Google sometimes costing upwards of £100 have you considered other DR channels like Native Display to diversify your results day strategy?

Another option to take the pressure off a very narrow window is to engage with students in pre-clearing. This gives universities a chance to get their message across with longer form, less DR based content.

That way when students reach clearing, they have already engaged with the university, have some understanding of its offering / courses, and see it as a viable option. Therefore, pre-clearing brand engagement can massively increase performance of your activity on the big day and get more out of your overall campaign.

Young adult at laptop

  1. Try out different content approaches and react to performance

Every university is different in their approach to the content they create. You often hear that copy needs to be authentic, and written in language that students will engage with, but what does that mean?

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to producing content – whilst we’ve a wealth of experience writing for student audiences – it’s still worth trying different approaches; analysing and optimising towards what’s performing best.

For us, that might mean testing an advertorial article full of facts about courses, campus locations and teaching against a softer content-led approach, written to engage students with the brand.

Both have their place in the recruitment cycle, but looking at engagement with the content, CTAs from the article page and back end data from clearing landing pages, you can understand which approach works best for your audience and optimise towards those articles, giving you the best value for your advertising spend.

Why CTR doesn’t tell the whole story

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Education, main blog, Native advertising, Uncategorized

This week, industry body for digital advertising, The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) launched a provocative campaign with the strapline “Don’t be a #clickhead”.

This slightly cheeky pun provoked mixed reactions in our office (mostly dependent on your sense of humour!) but was designed to draw attention to a pretty serious campaign on the effective measurement of digital advertising.

So why take away the CTR?

The main villain in this tale? The click through rate (CTR)! The bullet proof metric we’ve all become beholden to, but one that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

From our perspective, True Native (publisher hosted brand content) has the ability to be optimised towards additional or different KPIs dependent on the campaign’s goals. Whilst reach is always going to be important, and CTR isn’t going away any time soon, should we not be optimising towards time spent with content rather than the initial CTR?

For some of our campaigns this is a core metric – pure engagement with content. For others, it might be CTAs (calls to action on the brand site) from the article. If we agree what the goal of the campaign is in advance of creating content and flighting, we’re going to get better results as both content and tech work in tandem.

Measuring multi-channel effectiveness

We know that long form publisher hosted brand content leads to an 11pt lift in unaided awareness, 18pt lift in online ad recall and a 13pt lift in purchase intent* but how does this fit in with your wider campaign across different media channels? How do you prove the value of each media as a touchpoint? As part of the campaign, The IAB have produced a practical Toolkit covering four key tools that brands should consider using in their measurement approach:

  • Brand Studies
  • Econometrics /Marketing Mix Modelling (MMM)
  • Attribution
  • Controlled Experiments

The value of content

Measuring the success of long-form content beyond initial engagement can fit into any of the above, but it’s important to consider that where attribution is used, content tends to be top to middle funnel activity. We’ve seen some great results where multi-touch attribution (page 11 of the IAB Toolkit) is used and content can be seen as the starting point in the customer journey (discovery) despite the final ad event being another channel.

You can download the toolkit at www.iabuk.com/measurement

* comScore / Nativo study

Young people on smartphones

Creativity + UX. The ultimate guide to creating great online ads

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Native Video, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Content, main blog, Native advertising, Uncategorized

In 2005 Bill Gates declared:

“The future of advertising is the internet”.

When asked about building big brands online he said:

“That is the thing that traditional advertising is better at…. but as it moves to the digital realm it will be hard to talk about what is and isn’t internet advertising.”

With UK advertisers spending £11.55bn a year online, it’s fair to say the gap between online and offline has not only been closing financially, but also creatively as new formats develop and old formats are redesigned for new distribution channels – vertical video for example.

Whilst TV, print and OOH were once considered the creative and brand formats, the world of online advertising has upped its game in the battle against ad blockers. Nobody wants poor digital advertising – consumers don’t want annoying interruptive ads and publishers (reliant on ad revenue to keep content free) certainly don’t want people leaving their site due to bad ad experiences. The answer is twofold – creativity and ensuring the UX is seamless. Research has found that 78% of UK adults dislike ads that are not suitable for the device they are using.

With this in mind, the fine folks at IAB UK have brought the industry together to produce a creative best practice guide. It started life, as most things do, with a good moan-up about all the bad ads we’ve seen and happily manifested itself into a useful guide of things you can do to make sure your creative is as good as humanly possible!

The aim of the project was to produce:

“A simple and actionable set of guidance to help you ensure that your digital advertising not only looks great but also works beautifully on the platform that it is served.”

You’ll find my missives on why you should select the right native format for your campaign and the value exchange between brands and consumers here.

Digital content creation best practice

Native distribution best practice

You’ll also great advice on creative best practice across a range of channels: native, content, video, mobile, audio, performance and search. The full guide is here.

engaging content student audience

Why engaging with students requires engaging content

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Native Video, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Content, Content Marketing, Education, Native advertising

The shifting landscape

Declining application numbers have been a shock to the system across the higher education sector and have led to several major shifts. This year we witnessed a squeeze at the top, with the highest ranked 20 institutions competing for the brightest. Russell Group universities accepted ABB in the summer which had a knock-on effect right down the rankings and led universities to rethink their recruitment strategies.

Students are aware that it’s a buyer’s market, so are now shopping around, visiting multiple campuses to find the perfect university for them. Others are leaving it later to apply and some are waiting until August in the knowledge that even higher ranked institutions will offer places through clearing and confirmation.

Last year St George’s University became the first to offer medicine through clearing. This year, universities that used to mop up their last few places on results day, still had courses available days after to accommodate for late demand. Most institutions now offer a clearing open day to engage with students before they apply.

Making a first impression

The university is a unique institution, in that it’s marketing team must work to a particular cycle, communicating with a largely new audience each year. This presents a great opportunity to fine-tune your brand over time.

As a result, it’s crucial to make a high quality and lasting first impression with each student, each year. It makes such a difference if potential students understand who you are and what you’re all about before they are signposted towards course lists, prospectuses and open days.

student content

The power of your brand

With tightening budgets to work to, most unis are opting for high-intensity campaigns at key periods – January deadline, open days and clearing. This offers maximum impact and ensures that students are given every opportunity to register or apply. A downside of this strategy is that ads that feel transactional are less likely to influence students in making an important decision.

This problem is compounded by the intensity of competition for share of voice, making it hard to be heard above the crowd. Students are likely to see multiple university ads in a day, so how can any one ad stand out above the rest? Will students click on the first one they see? The most colourful? The most relevant? The most impressive stat?

Or will it be a brand that they have engaged with before and feel they recognise and want to explore further?

Education agency, SMRS, recently drew attention to the importance of brand in their HE marketing survey. 97% of respondents pointed to the increased importance of brand, above other recent impacts such as Brexit and the Teaching Excellence Framework.

student content

Being inspirational

When we talk about online brand engagement, we refer to the execution of meaningful, prolonged interactions with university content. Campaigns are often judged on the price of their clicks and the traffic they drive to a site, but this isn’t always the best way to build lasting and impactful brand awareness. Sometimes we should look beyond the click to really understand the results of a piece of activity.

We should consider the potential student’s experience and ask ourselves what students want from their interaction. If the aim is to win hearts and minds, we can’t be pushy, sending students to fill out a form without having something to offer. Universities are great at producing content but not so good at sharing it!

Departments, lecturers and student groups produce fascinating research every day and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that grabs attention and excites young people about getting stuck in and starting their student journey.

Be the one to spark that idea, that conversation, that inspiration, whilst quietly reinforcing your brand identity as an authority on the subject.

Engaging with a digital generation

The last few years have seen the rise of programmatic display ads which have led to campaigns that mine for direct response, opting for quantity over quality. At the same time, a digitally savvy generation has started holding advertisers to a higher standard. To have a chance of generating quality engagement with potential students, interactions have to become less transactional and more inspirational. To get engagement you must be engaging!

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