Spark451 Special Report: 3,500+ High School Seniors Discuss COVID-19


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|July 20, 2020

The high school senior class of 2020 has faced challenges unlike any students who have gone before them. To get a pulse check on how these students are feeling after months of remote learning, and to continue assessing the long-term impact this pandemic will have on their enrollment decisions, the Spark451 Education Research Division recently sent a brief survey to college-bound high school seniors.

Over a period of seven days, more than 3,500 students shared their thoughts with us. To access the results, download the full report now. You’ll gain valuable insights on topics such as:

  • How students really feel about remote learning
  • The many ways COVID-19 influenced their college decisions
  • Which factors undecided students care about most

Plus, you’ll even be able to read some noteworthy comments directly from individual students.

Get the Report

If you’d like to discuss any of these topics further, feel free to reach out. We’d be honored to help you navigate any student search and enrollment challenges you may be facing right now.

In the meantime, we wish you, your loved ones, and your entire campus community a safe and healthy summer.

Check Out Our Creative Portfolio!


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|July 15, 2020

As an admissions professional, you are constantly challenged to make a lasting impression on prospective students and their families. In a year such as this one—when critical on-campus visits and in-person events are practically impossible—it’s even more critical to consider how your print and digital marketing materials tell your story.

Spark451’s creative services team helps colleges and universities craft and deliver relevant, timely, and engaging branded communications across a variety of platforms. From content creation, to design, to video, motion graphics, and beyond, everything we do is developed to help our partners connect with students and stand out from the competition.

Not only does our work resonate with students and parents, it’s also recognized throughout the industry—in fact, 11 of our projects earned gold awards this year alone!

To see our work for yourself, take a look at our latest portfolio. It features an array of recent projects we are particularly proud of. Then, feel free to reach out if you’d like to discuss how our team can help you strengthen your institution’s creative outreach. We’d be happy to discuss some solutions that will support your goals and align with your budget.

View the Portfolio

Customer Decision Journey Mapping for Prospective Graduate Students


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|July 7, 2020

The customer decision journey is the process customers go through when deciding whether to purchase a product or service.

In higher education, the enrollment funnel has long been the model used to drive marketing and admissions strategy. However, the funnel is only designed for the traditional enrollment cycle and its specific touchpoints, such as fall application deadlines or a May 1 deposit deadline. Prospect graduate students don’t adhere to a traditional enrollment cycle, thus, the funnel breaks down. The customer decision journey allows more flexibility for graduate enrollment management to maximize efficiency in marketing and recruitment tactics.

source: McKinsey

Stages of a Traditional Customer Decision Journey

This journey puts customers and their mindsets at the forefront. What are their needs? What are their motivations? What are their challenges? What are their important touchpoints with my institution and how can we make the most of them?

The funnel higher education marketers are accustomed to using is the enrollment funnel, i.e., the process prospective students go through when deciding whether to attend an institution.

Stages of the Traditional Enrollment Funnel

The enrollment funnel is action-oriented. Students move through the funnel as they meet certain criteria. Did they inquire? Did they apply? Did they deposit?

For marketers on the undergraduate side (specifically for traditional students), the enrollment funnel works because the enrollment cycle is filled with known variables. Students’ ages, goals, and motivations follow similar patterns. The length of time and affiliate benchmarks within the cycle stay consistent. There is a clearer checklist of “at this time, I need to deploy these tactics in order to deliver students the information they need.”

On the graduate side, the funnel is an incomplete model because the enrollment cycle does not follow the same patterns. Among the differences between undergraduate and graduate are the following:

  • Time: Since we generally know when high school students start looking at colleges, we can map the process out from that initial search through their first day of classes, and sometimes even through graduation. The graduate process is different. The time between someone thinking about grad school to enrolling in classes can be as short as a few weeks or as long as several years.
  • Age: Though the age range of prospective undergraduates varies to a certain degree with gap years, veterans, and other specialized groups, there generally is a more consistent age range for this group. On the graduate side, it’s not unusual for age ranges to span a couple of decades and cover a few different generations.
  • Product*: In their college search, prospective undergraduates seek a coming-of-age experience. The products they’re considering are universities, whereas graduate students search for specific programs as a means to an end: more money, promotion, career prestige. The products they’re considering include universities, but aren’t limited to them. Competitors include free, online resources, networking, or even taking no action at all.

Key Benefits of Adopting the Customer Decision Journey

Graduate marketers can account for their non-traditional audience if they adopt the customer decision journey as the model, instead of the enrollment funnel.

This method spurs important changes to your marketing plans.

  • Defining customer personas: Freeing yourself of the funnel helps define the customers’ motivations, needs, wants, and desires at each stage of the journey.
  • Broadening your perspective: If prospective graduate students are considering options outside higher ed to accomplish their goals, then marketers need to consider those options as competitors.

How to Map the Journey for Prospective Grad Students

1. Determine and Create Customer Personas

Mine your CRM and conduct research within your customer base to create customer personas, “semi-fictional [representations] of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”(Hubspot).

Customer personas break your audience into segments based on demographics, psychographics, behaviors, and more. (Not sure how to approach this? Spark451’s persona modeling services can help you transform your quantitative and qualitative data into actionable insights.)

Example Persona - Simplified

  • Background: Liberal arts degree. Working at the same company since graduation. Has on-the-job training in his work, but no formal training.
  • Wants: A clear path toward prestige, promotions, and more money within his company and his field.
  • Needs: To separate himself from others in the same situation. To build his résumé with real and impressive skills. To stay ahead of changes in the industry.
  • Desires: Recognition. Impressive title. High salary. Prestige.
  • His Obstacles: Time. Money. Motivation. Energy. Dave worries that grad school is too big an investment in time and money right now. He worries about balancing work and school and having the motivation and energy to do both well.
  • Preferred Channels: Referral, email, forums/sponsored content. He is suspicious of anything that seems too sales-y.

2. Create Customer Journey Maps

Take each of your customer personas and design their journey map to determine targeting, messaging, and tactics at each stage.

Step 1: Awareness/Suspect

Dave feels frustrated and stuck in his career. He starts thinking about what he could do to climb the corporate ladder. He asks some friends for advice, visits some professional organization websites, searches for career coaches, looks up free online courses, and registers for the GRE.

How University X Meets Him

  • Word of mouth (hopefully!)
  • Free resources (courses, webinars, white papers, podcasts, video)
  • Advertising
  • Email
Step 2: Familiarity/Prospect

Dave feels a glimmer of hope. He sees that resources exist to help him, but he needs to figure out how much work he's willing to put in and how much money he can spend. While Dave is determining what he can do, he's researching what different products and companies can offer him.

How University X Meets Him

  • Product demos
  • Case studies
  • Student/faculty/alumni profiles
  • Testimonials
  • Events
Step 3: Consideration/Applicant

Dave has decided that graduate school is the best choice for his lifestyle. It will give him the prestige of an advanced degree, teach him real skills, and keep him accountable. He focuses his search on only universities, starts his applications, and connects with admissions offices or program faculty.

How University X Meets Him

  • Email
  • Phone calls/SMS
  • Live chat
  • Meetings (in person or videochat)
  • Coupons
  • Invitations to attend classes
  • Curriculum information
  • Student outcomes
  • Scholarships/funding
Step 4: Purchase/Enrolled/Current Student

Dave has chosen University X! He has enrolled in classes and is working toward his degree. He still worries about getting overwhelmed with working while taking courses.

How University X Meets Him

  • Dedicated advisor
  • SMS/email check-ins
  • Surveys about experience
  • Events
Step 5: Loyalty/Alumni

Dave had a great graduate school experience and has achieved the goals he set before enrolling. He wants ongoing professional development and the prestige of giving back to his alma mater.

How University X Meets Him

  • Professional/networking events
  • Career resources
  • SWAG
  • Donation rewards/recognition

The ways people make decisions remain the same, even while prospective graduate student behavior and the graduate education market both continue to evolve. Graduate marketers can adapt to changes quickly and effectively by shifting from the enrollment funnel to the customer decision journey. The team at Spark451 is ready to discuss your graduate enrollment challenges and help customize your marketing and recruitment strategies using a customer decision journey approach. Feel free to reach out so we can get started.

WEBINAR: Digital Disruption — Finding Your Class Using Digital Strategies


Now that we’re a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, so much continues to change daily, but at least one thing is clear: Colleges and universities will continue to grapple with the fallout of this global event for the foreseeable future. At Spark451, we’re here to help our higher ed partners navigate these challenges in real time. There’s no question that the traditional student recruitment playbook has been overturned, but we are optimistic that we can find a way to come through this together.

With that spirit of collaboration in mind, we hope you’ll watch the recording of our recent webinar, “Digital Disruption—Finding Your Class Using Digital Strategies.”

During this one-hour session, our team of enrollment marketing and digital media experts discuss specific digital marketing strategies you can employ to navigate the enrollment challenges you’re likely facing as a result of COVID-19. With a focus on undergraduate recruitment (including freshman and transfer audiences), our panelists discuss:

  • The initial impact COVID-19 had on digital campaigns
  • How you can find digital opportunities amid the chaos
  • How to determine the right digital platforms and campaigns to support your goals
  • Specific tactics to fill your funnel for the years ahead
  • Feedback and insights from one of our institutional partners
  • The team will also be available to answer your questions. We hope to see you there!

Watch the Recording

Spark451 Earns 11 Gold Awards


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|May 19, 2020

WESTBURY, NEW YORK — Higher education marketing firm Spark451 is proud to announce that several recent projects — created in partnership with our valued college and university clients — have earned recognition from respected industry organizations. This year, the firm’s work earned 11 gold awards, along with several silver, bronze, and merit awards.

Spark451 is honored to once again have its collaborative work with clients held in such high regard by the Collegiate Advertising Awards (CAA), the Educational Advertising Awards, and the Education Digital Marketing Awards.

“We take tremendous pride in knowing that our creative work is not just effective, but also inspiring and beautiful,” says Mike McGetrick, Spark451’s Principal, Creative & Interactive Services. “And most importantly, the work is a result of a team effort — a deep collaboration with our clients who set the bar high, and our design, writing, and interactive teams who rise to the challenge again and again.”

Here are our latest award-winning projects:

Collegiate Advertising Awards

Marymount Manhattan College

Category: Recruitment (Gold)

New York University

Category: Handbook (Gold)

Columbia School of Social Work

Category: Graduate School Brochure (Silver)

Purdue University Fort Wayne

Category: Recruitment (Silver)

Educational Advertising Awards

Columbia University

Category: Integrated Marketing Campaign (Gold)

Columbia University

Category: Search Piece (Gold)

New York University Tandon School of Engineering

Category: New Media (Gold)

University of Bridgeport

Category: Search Piece (Gold)

Howard University

Category: Search Piece (Bronze)

Longwood University

Category: Outdoor Advertising (Bronze)

Marymount Manhattan College

Category: Logo/Letterhead Design (Merit)

International Technological University

Category: Campus Window Graphics (Merit)

Western New England University

Category: Publication/External (Merit)

Education Digital Marketing Awards

Columbia University

Category: Online Display Ad (Gold)

Columbia University - Executive MS in Technology Management

Category: Admissions Website (Gold)

International Technological University

Category: Admissions Website (Gold)

Russell Sage College

Category: Social Media (Gold)

University at Albany - Graduate Education

Category: Admissions Website (Gold)

Russell Sage College

Category: Microsite (Silver)

University of Maine at Presque Isle

Category: Social Media (Bronze)

Reach out to discuss how Spark451’s award-winning team can help your institution gain a competitive edge.

Digital Marketing In the Time of COVID-19


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, on-campus events and tours are being called off, and standardized tests and NACAC fairs have been canceled, making it harder than ever for admissions officers to secure qualified student names.

Spark451 is constantly exploring how we can better support the enrollment efforts of colleges and universities. In these ever-changing and uncertain times, we’ve been tracking digital marketing trends in relation to higher education and beyond, and we believe that now is an ideal time to strategically engage prospective students through digital marketing.

Source: SocialMediaToday

Current Digital Media Trends

With the world currently practicing social distancing and staying at home, it comes as no surprise that social media usage and web traffic has increased tremendously across platforms and industries. According to Kantar, who surveyed more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets, social media engagement will increase “by 61 percent over normal usage rates” in later stages of the pandemic. Additionally, Facebook reported that in Italy, the platform saw “up to 70 percent more time spent across (Facebook) apps since the crisis arrived.”

In addition to above-average usage rates on social media platforms, users are more likely to click off their app of choice to visit a website during this unique period. SocialMediaToday is reporting that overall U.S. traffic from Facebook to other websites has increased by more than 50 percent week-over-week. This is especially noteworthy for our partners, as social campaigns seeing an increase in web traffic translates to an increase in leads and engagement.

Spark451 Trends

For additional context, we compared general digital media trends to what we’ve been seeing here at Spark451over the past few weeks.

For one, we’ve observed an overwhelming decrease in both CPM (cost per one-thousand impressions) and CPC (cost per click) across the majority of our social advertising. This is due to less competition within the platforms, as there are no longer ads running for brick-and-mortar stores, tickets, events, and similar in-person experiences, which target many of the same users. The CPMs have dropped anywhere from 20–50 percent, depending on the type of campaign. On campaigns where the CPM has seen a 50 percent decrease, we’ve essentially been able to serve twice as many ads to our target audience at the same cost as before.

Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in reach and impressions. If you’re wondering what that means for you, it means that now is the time to get in front of your audience. This is a unique opportunity to increase your reach at a lower cost (more on that later!).

Facebook stats from one of our partner institutions comparing the last two weeks in March to the first two, indicating what we’re seeing across the board.

As a result of lower costs and expanded reach, our number of clicks have increased. Basically, for our higher education partners, now is the perfect time to reach your audience. At the very least, all branding and lead generation campaigns not related to in-person events should be left running, and if possible, now is the time to increase your spend. If more users are online than ever, now is the time to be advertising to them.

What This Means for Your Institution

We believe there are several types of campaigns that may help you improve your prospects and get additional leads in the months ahead. Here are some campaigns that are on the rise:

Parent Campaigns, Local Campaigns

In addition to focusing on students, it’s essential that we now focus on their parents. They may be reconsidering their child’s college options in the wake of altered economic circumstances, or they may have new preferences or fears about their child’s intended location (city vs. suburban campuses, for example). It’s a great time to get creative with your campaigns and reach new audiences. Some of our partners are deploying parent campaigns, “stay close to home” campaigns, and increased sophomore and junior recruitment efforts to garner those new leads.

Transfer Campaigns

Another potentially untapped population is the transfer audience. With uncertainty of traditional summer and fall semesters, local students may be considering transfer options closer to home. One of our partner schools has been running transfer lead generation campaigns and has recently seen a spike in reach, impressions, and clicks, due to lowered costs. Additionally, their impressions have gone up by a stratospheric 154 percent in March compared to February.

A transfer lead generation campaign for one of our partner institutions saw an unprecedented increase in impressions as the pandemic spread last month.
Adult, Continuing Ed, & Graduate Campaigns

Perhaps the largest population being affected in times of a poor economy, recession, and unemployment is the adult market. With unemployment being at a historic all-time high, adults need to reassess their plans for the future. They’re asking themselves: “Am I on the right career path?” “Should I change fields and finally pursue my dream career?” or even, “What is the most secure career path to ensure I don’t get laid off again?” Your university can lend a helping hand in getting them to the next phase.

Record unemployment rates are likely to boost demand for adult learner, continuing education, and graduate programs.

Historically, graduate and certificate programs tend to see an increase in enrollment when the economy takes a turn. Considering that most people are online and consuming content, it’s the perfect opportunity to run a graduate lead generation or branding campaign.

Connected TV

In addition to an increase in website traffic and social media, there has also been a vast increase in television viewership, both traditional and streaming. According to Variety, Nielsen “found an average 61 percent increase in streaming video via the TV.” If you have the right video assets, now is the time to invest in a Connected TV strategy to get your ads in front of TV viewers.

Get Started

With huge spikes in digital media usage amid COVID-19, this is an ideal moment to digitally advertise to your prospective students and their parents. Spark451 can help you navigate this unprecedented situation and determine which campaigns would best support your college or university’s enrollment goals. To get started, reach out. We’ll be happy to schedule a call to discuss your options.

Spark451 Special Report: College Parents React to COVID-19


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|April 22, 2020

Last month, as the spread of COVID-19 forced colleges and universities across the nation to quickly close and transition to fully-online environments, Spark451 Research sent a brief survey to parents of current first-year college students. Our goal was to begin assessing the potential long-term enrollment-related effects of those changes.

In just a few days, more than 950 parents of first-year college students responded to our survey. To access all the results, download the full report today. You’ll gain valuable insights on topics such as:

How parents feel their children have adjusted to remote learning
Whether parents expect their children to return to the same institutions in the fall
If parents still feel they can afford to send their children back to school

Get the Report

If you’d like to discuss any of these topics further, feel free to reach out. We’d be honored to help you navigate any student search and enrollment challenges you may be facing as a result of COVID-19.

In the meantime, we hope that you, your loved ones, and your entire campus community are healthy and safe.

Watch the Webinar: The Art and Science of Data-Enhanced Graduate Student Recruitment


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|April 21, 2020

As the world continues to grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19, now is the time to reconsider your approach to graduate recruitment. If history and the nation’s recent record-breaking unemployment numbers are any indication, we are likely to see a wave of recent graduates and mid-career professionals heading back to school as they wait out the volatile job market.

To help you prepare for this influx, we invite you to watch a recording of our recent webinar, “The Art and Science of Data-Enriched Graduate Student Recruitment.” During this session, Mike McGetrick, Spark451’s Principal, Creative & Interactive Services, and JC Bonilla, Element451’s Chief Analytics Officer, teamed up to discuss how you can use data to enhance your graduate recruitment efforts.

Watch the recording to discover how to:

  • Build a data-enhanced pipeline using data enrichment, behavioral analytics, and persona development
  • Create dynamic segments based on student behavior
  • Utilize enhanced data to reach students via targeted marketing and highly-personalized messaging

Watch the Webinar

Webinar: What Parents Are Saying About College Search


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|April 15, 2020

Admissions pros know that parents play a critical role in the college search process, but it isn’t always easy to know exactly what these key influencers are thinking. To help meet that need, Spark451 Research recently conducted an expansive survey of parents of Fall 2019 college freshmen.

In our recent webinar, enrollment strategy expert Pete Colbert released the findings of the 2019–2020 College-Bound Survey: Parent Edition, which features feedback from nearly 900 parents from 46 states. Some of the results will be eye-opening for even the most seasoned enrollment managers!

Watch the recording to gain insights about:

  • Parents’ perception of the value of print vs. digital communications
  • Which communication tactics resonate best with parents
  • Which application incentives resonate best with parents (and the potential impact of NACAC’s new rules)
  • Whether most parents would encourage a child to transfer if they received a better offer from a competing school
  • The timing of the search process and when parents helped their children commit to schools
  • Whether the Excelsior program was compelling to parents in New York
  • Plus: Hear emerging feedback about how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting parents’ and students’ enrollment decisions beyond this spring

You’ll also have the opportunity to download the full report!

View the Webinar

Webinar: Making Your Class Amid COVID-19


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|March 20, 2020
View the Webinar

For the past several weeks, COVID-19 (a.k.a. “the Coronavirus”) has been top-of-mind on college campuses throughout the nation. Numerous enrollment managers are reevaluating spring yield events in an atmosphere where groups of people congregating are temporarily unwelcome.

In our recent webinar, enrollment and marketing experts Steve Kerge, Michael McGetrick, and Western New England University’s VP for Enrollment Management and Marketing, Bryan Gross, discussed smart strategies for keeping your team and your students safe while still building your class for the year ahead.

Though the live event already occurred, you can still watch a recording of the webinar to:

  • Get up to speed on how COVID-19 is impacting the admissions practices at colleges and universities
  • Anticipate how your prospective families are going to react, and how you can adjust accordingly
  • Determine how you should adopt and leverage remote events and presentations
  • Rethink counselor travel
  • Learn how to adapt a communication plan that is proactive, empathetic, and captures the spirit of your brand

View the Webinar