Generating and nurturing leads with digital media and email marketing

Generating and Nurturing Higher Education Leads


Danielle SaadBy Danielle Saad|February 1, 2022

Since you are a higher ed admission or marketing professional, I know that you rely heavily on digital media and email to communicate with your target audience: prospective students. But, are your digital media campaigns aligned with your email campaigns?

As a marketing professional at Spark451, I am part of the email and digital media team that has sent out over 100 million emails and optimized over 300 digital media campaigns in just the last year. We have set the tone for all our partnering institutions on best practices to achieve engagement rates that exceed industry standards.

Your digital marketing and email—both powerhouse channels—should operate in unison to turn your prospects into applicants. After all, sending the right message, at the right time, is key to any successful marketing campaign. Plus, with the latest privacy changes, it’s more important than ever to communicate to your prospects through various avenues to reach them where they are using every day. Here, I’ll share several smart ways to use digital media and email to engage prospective students and usher them through the enrollment funnel.

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Build Brand Awareness and Generate Leads

Before you can ask students to apply, they need to know about your school, so the first step with any prospective student is to spark interest. You need to build Brand Awareness, so students can become familiar with your college or university and keep it top-of-mind. Utilize creative digital media channels such as TikTok, Snapchat, Programmatic Display, or ConnectedTV to reach your target audience with eye-catching ads that will get them excited about your institution.

After building excitement and intriguing your audience, you need to keep the momentum going, which means gathering actionable user information with a Lead Generation Campaign. One of the most important factors in a lead generation campaign is the landing page. Driving your audience to a stand-alone landing page with an RFI form that has limited fields will bring in the most leads, as it prevents users from leaving the page and getting distracted. In fact, one of our partners saw a 500% increase in leads by using a campaign-specific landing page. Reach your target audience on lead generation platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Google Search Ads (formerly Adwords).

Nurture Each Lead

After collecting the digital media leads, it’s important to acknowledge their inquiry. In fact, most people expect to receive a follow-up immediately after submitting their information. Setting up a transactional email such as an Auto-responder Email is the best way to respond to the interested student right away. Use this message to share high-level information about your institution or the program and keep the reader excited for more. This type of transactional email will save you time and fulfill the interested student’s immediate needs.

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Keep the Ball Rolling

Build more engagement and further nurture your leads by setting up a series of automated emails in a Workflow Email Campaign. Due to the automated nature of this workflow, as more leads start trickling in, each individual will have their own journey through the workflow path.

Each email in this series should include relevant and targeted messages on a variety of topics that highlight your institution’s unique offerings and qualities. Develop a compelling narrative flow that will keep your readers looking forward to receiving more emails, and include information that will ultimately push them to apply.

Our partnering institutions have seen great success and an increase in applicants over the course of their workflow campaigns. In fact, one of our partners with a robust email workflow had 43% of their digital media leads submit an application this year. By communicating to your target audience on various platforms with personalized and targeted messages, your institution can expect an increase in applications. Just by setting up automated emails to nurture your prospects, your leads can turn into applicants.

Push to Apply

Drive-to-Apply campaigns on social media are a great way to further encourage prospective students to apply. With the recent changes in privacy protection rules for targeting minors, it’s even more critical to reach out to your audience through multiple channels to help yield more applicants and keep your school’s name in mind when the student is ready to start the application process.

One of our partners, a small private college in PA, started doing digital media and email campaigns with us this year—including social drive-to-apply campaigns. So far, they have seen an approximately 28% increase in applications over the last year, thanks to their use of our DM and email strategies.

students on phone filling out survey graphic

Bonus Efforts

To further support your efforts on digital media and email, another channel to communicate with prospects is text messaging. In today’s digital world, everyone is constantly on their phones, so the best way to reach students is on the device they have in their hands 24/7. According to our latest college-bound student survey, one-third of high school seniors say it’s ok for a college to text them at any point during the college search process.

We know it can be overwhelming to determine which tactics to deploy to get the best results as you move prospective students through the funnel, and that’s why we’re here to help. As you continue to refine your marketing plans for the remainder of the cycle, feel free to reach out to the Spark451 team to discuss how we can optimize your digital media, email marketing, and other campaigns to turn your prospects into applicants.

The Power of Connected TV


The Power of Connected TV

Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|January 25, 2022

In the latest installment of our new video series, “Total Conviction,” Ann Levy, Spark451’s Associate Director for Digital Marketing, joins CEO Steve Kerge to discuss the power of Connected TV (CTV) for higher education enrollment marketing. In fact, she shares three key reasons your institution should consider adding CTV to your marketing strategy in the year ahead. Check it out above!

When you’re ready to dive in deeper on how CTV can support your specific goals, please reach out. Our digital and enrollment marketing experts will be happy to help you develop a budget-friendly plan.

You can also revisit the full collection of “Total Conviction” videos here!

Ten Over Ten


Steve KergeBy Steve Kerge|January 11, 2022

In December 2021, Spark451 marked a major milestone—the celebration of our 10-year anniversary! As we reflect on the past decade, we are overwhelmed with feelings of warmth and gratitude for all of the support and collaboration among our team, partner schools, friends, and family.

Since our agency began, the Spark451 team has proudly delivered strategy, creativity, analytics, innovation, and most relevant to this blog post, original research. For example, in 2013, we began producing an annual research project, “The College-Bound Student Survey.” We have conducted this survey for more than nine years, and over that time, we have collected input from more than 40,000 college-bound students from all parts of the country. Their feedback spans topics including social media and technology habits, application activity, enrollment considerations, and more.

Before we turn the page and embark on our second decade, we thought it would be both fun and interesting to review all of our College-Bound Student Surveys to date and show you how certain things have evolved (or not). We’ve selected 10 questions that we have asked in multiple annual surveys in order to illustrate how students’ answers have trended over time.

We hope you enjoy this brief dive into students’ mindsets over the past several years.

10. Utilizing Social Media for College Search and Selection

It’s amazing to see how students’ social media habits have evolved in such a short amount of time. In 2013, we introduced the question, “Which social media did you utilize throughout your college selection process?” We continue to ask this same question today. Here’s a glimpse of how that answer has evolved in the past decade:

In 2013, Facebook dominated, while names like Snapchat and TikTok didn't even exist


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9. Time Per Day Spent on Social Media

In 2016, Spark451 began tracking the average time students spend per day on social media. The amount of time has actually decreased pretty dramatically in the last five years. In 2016, the highest ranked answer was 3–4 hours, while in 2021, the dominant answer, by far, was 1–2 hours.

This statistic is particularly interesting, as many of us would jump to the conclusion that COVID-19 has increased a high schooler's social media time. However, the data we have collected does not support that notion.


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8. High School Students Remain Social Media Voyeurs

In 2018, we introduced the question, “How would you characterize your social media usage?” The past four years’ responses continue to demonstrate that most students regularly view social media, but don’t often post.


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7. Device Usage

Over the last seven years, there have been incredible advancements in terms of market saturation and usage of technology devices—and we’ve had to evolve to keep up. As you’ll notice, in our more recent surveys, we’ve had to incorporate names of devices we never would have thought to ask about way back in 2014. While iPhones still rule the device world for high school students, the increasing availability and usage of other devices over the last several years is nothing short of amazing.


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6. Student Communication Preferences

Another question we introduced in 2013, and continue to seek feedback on today, relates to how students prefer potential colleges to communicate with them.

It may not surprise you to see that email continues to be the most preferred form of communication, but it’s certainly eye-opening to see how text messaging has slid into the number two slot from a minorly-ranked position.


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5. Applying to Colleges—Sheer Volume of Applications

Over the past decade, we have asked students to tell us the total number of schools to which they’ve applied. While we all have impressions of how this has shifted over the past 10 years, statistically, it has remained relatively flat. (Note: As you’ll notice, we expanded the number of options available over time in order to allow for a bit more specificity.)


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4. The Growth of Test-Optional Admissions

Understandably, COVID-19 accelerated the expansion of the test-optional environment; however, the number of students interested in considering a school because they were test optional almost doubled between 2013 and 2021.

COVID-19 was the primary factor driving an increase in students who wanted a test-optional admissions school. Between 2013 and 2019 (prior to COVID-19), the statistic remained quite flat.


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3. Decision-Making Factors

Over the last decade, we have collected data from tens of thousands of students on what is most important to them when it comes to deciding on the right school. While there are some shifts among secondary factors, the primary three reasons they give haven’t changed one bit: academic quality, cost/financial aid, and scholarship offers consistently move the needle.

Over the past decade, we have asked this same question to parents of college-bound students. The only difference we saw from the students’ data is a flip of the first and second answer, making cost/financial aid the number one motivating factor for parents.


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2. Knowing When a School Is “The Right School”

Over the years, we have made an effort to understand the emotional and informational decision path of a college-bound student. As part of our research, we have included questions like, “When did you know the school you chose was the right school for you?” Though the numbers have shifted slightly over time, campus visits and school comparisons have consistently risen to the top.


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1. Expectations for Life After College Graduation

Over the past 10 years, we have asked upcoming first-year students about how they envision their future beyond college. The growing emphasis on being employed has certainly molded the mindset of the first-year college-bound student.


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Content Marketing



Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|December 14, 2021

In the latest installment of our new video series, “Total Conviction,” Spark451 CEO Steve Kerge discusses why it’s critical to constantly deliver fresh, personalized content in order to successfully engage prospective students. He shares the different content types that resonate most, and offers a case study demonstrating the greater impact personalized content can have in enrollment marketing materials. Check it out above!

When you’re ready to discuss how to optimize your own institution’s content marketing plans, please reach out. Our team of enrollment marketing experts and seasoned content strategists will be happy to help you develop a budget-friendly plan that will support your goals.

You can also revisit the full collection of “Total Conviction” videos here!

Award-Winning Work: Spark451 and Collegiate Partners Recognized for Digital Marketing Excellence


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|December 1, 2021

WESTBURY, NEW YORK — Higher education marketing firm Spark451 is proud to announce that several recent digital marketing projects—launched in cooperation with its valued partner institutions—earned recognition in the latest Education Digital Marketing Awards.

“We develop our user-friendly and data-driven digital projects to help colleges and universities connect with students and achieve meaningful enrollment results,” says Irene Scala, Executive Creative Director at Spark451. “It’s truly an honor that our efforts are also being recognized by our peers in the industry. The Spark451 team is thrilled to share these awards with our partners.”

NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Category: Admissions Website or Microsite (Gold)
Project: Graduate Landing Page—Bio Tech Program

Springfield College

Category: Admissions Website or Microsite (Gold)
Project: Landing Page

Wilson College

Category: Admissions Website or Microsite (Gold)
Project: Landing Page

Longwood University

Category: Digital Video Ad (Bronze)
Project: Instagram Open House Ad

Longwood University

Category: Digital Video Ad (Merit)
Project: Instagram and Snapchat Ad

Saint Louis University

Category: Digital Video Ad (Merit)
Project: EMIB Program

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

Navigating College Search From the High School Counselor’s Perspective



Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|November 23, 2021

The Spark451 team recently surveyed roughly 3,000 high school counselors from across the nation to get an updated sense of their perspectives on a variety of student search-related topics, and we shared our findings in a recent webinar. Even though you missed the live event, you can still access our discussion.

A recorded version of the webinar is now available. To access it, simply complete this form and we’ll send you a link to the recording right away! You’ll also be able to download the presentation deck.

During the session, Spark451 Senior Business Development Strategist Bill Sliwa and Client Strategist Yuliya Cormier revealed survey feedback from nearly 3,000 high school counselors on their:

  • preferred ways to interact with college and university reps
  • thoughts on in-person and virtual visits
  • latest insights on the impact of COVID-19 on their own work and on the college search process
  • candid thoughts on the state of school counseling

Access the Recording & Slide Deck on Demand

Web Design Just Got Easier


Website design and development is always a moving target. Our colleagues in higher education web design, in particular, often share with us that they are under-resourced and overwhelmed. It is therefore exciting when a tool that we use and love, WordPress, comes out with a release that can make life easier for the average web designer. Such is the case with WordPress 5.8, and the introduction of Gutenberg 2.0, the next generation of the WordPress front-end editing experience. What we are especially excited about is the extension of the block editor interface to that of the overarching theme, giving designers the ability to customize the global look and feel without having to delve deep into the WordPress codex. And while it won’t put any coders out of work (as WordPress shines brightest when its deep function set is deployed), it will give more power and autonomy to the average web designer.

Source: “The new Gutenberg editing experience,”

So, What is Gutenberg?

Introduced in WordPress 5.0, the Gutenberg project is WordPress’ answer to creating a more user-friendly and visual experience to building a website, without all the need for coding know-how. To start, you have an array of block options to start building your site by simply dragging and dropping them onto a page. You have options such as Heading, Paragraph, Image Gallery, and Quote, to name a few. These can be arranged in any which way and repositioned on the fly.

It doesn’t stop there. You can even create multiple column-based layouts, to help create a better visual hierarchy of information. Want to display three stats or images next to each other? Easy. Just choose the Columns block and select the amount of columns you need. Gutenberg will automatically create equal and responsive columns for you to drag and drop any of their blocks into.

However, WordPress understands that users already familiar with their dashboard may want to stick with their original editor, be it for specific pages or the entire site, so you’ll still have access to those tools. Don’t get stuck in the past for familiarity’s sake, though; most themes and plugins are embracing the new Gutenberg editor with full support. We highly recommend giving it a whirl to get the best and most modern WordPress experience out there.

Source: “The new Gutenberg editing experience,”

How Gutenberg is Evolving

Gutenberg 2.0 introduces Full Site Editing (FSE), giving you the ability to not only customize the content on a single page, but to do so on a global, site-wide scale. For example, you can create a consistent font family, size, and color for all of your Headings across your entire site. This is called Global Styles, and to put it simply, it’s awesome.

Furthermore, you’ll have the ability to create block-based templates. The days of creating a page from scratch are gone. Create a page template based on the blocks you need, and reuse that template an unlimited number of times. For example, if the Program page you created is exactly how you want your other Program pages to be laid out, save it as a template, and reuse it for all of your remaining program pages. Similarly, if you built a landing page that was highly effective in capturing leads, make it a template, and keep on succeeding.

Global Styles and Templates are just the beginning—the building blocks (ha, pun), so to speak. For any web designer, these are the basics when developing the look and feel of a website. That power is now in your hands.

Let’s say your brand colors recently changed. The thought of having to go through your site page by page to get those colors updated sounds like a nightmarish task. Well, don’t assign this to the intern just yet. You can now easily adjust those colors sitewide in seconds, wherever they are applied. What’s even better, it doesn’t end there.

We mentioned a few of Gutenberg’s built-in drag-and-drop options earlier, which are just the tip of the iceberg. With Gutenberg 2.0, they are introducing a slew of new blocks that you can implement across all of your pages and templates:

  • Logo
  • Site Title
  • Page List
  • Tagline
  • Query Loop
  • Duotone

Gutenberg even allows you to utilize these blocks across the entirety of your site, such as Headers, Footers, and Widgets. The idea that you can create consistent branding with these tools is a huge leap forward for WordPress and your website.

Noteworthy Feature: Theme Blocks

This particular feature is especially exciting, and deserves its own special mention. With Theme Blocks, you can take parts of an existing template and plug them in on any page. It’s simple and will save you hours of building pages.

Let’s say you created a page template that has a really enticing CTA, image gallery, and content specifically for a parent audience, but the new page you’re building is geared towards alumni and doesn’t need all of that parent-specific content. However, that image gallery really showcased all the great things happening on campus, and would be a great fit for your new alumni page. Theme Blocks allow you to take those template-specific blocks, and insert them anywhere across your site without the need to re-select the hundreds of photos you already hand-picked previously. You can even add or remove existing photos from the Theme Block once implemented, so they can differ from page to page.

This is just one example with the Image Gallery, but you can use the Theme Blocks with any of Gutenberg’s blocks to pull in and customize your previously made blocks of content.


With Gutenberg 2.0, the possibilities are endless, and the tool will save you tons of time when creating or editing your website on a global scale. When Gutenberg was first introduced, it changed the way we think about how websites are built and who has the skills to build them. This new update puts more of the power in your hands, without having to know any HTML or CSS to build your brand’s presence on the modern web.

Most WordPress plugins have adapted themselves to function with this new iteration of WordPress at this point, but it’s always best to check your plugins to ensure compatibility before updating. There are always alternatives out there, should your plugins be outdated or no longer receiving support, so don’t fret! Gutenberg is the future of WordPress for its developers, and they are sure to adapt. Developers who understand that also understand that its users are embracing these new user-friendly tools. Gutenberg 2.0 builds upon these tools, and allows for the average user to embrace this future. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the changes, your partners at Spark451 are always here to help. Feel free to reach out to discuss your latest web design goals and we’ll be happy to work with you to find a budget-friendly solution that will help you achieve your objectives.

5 Micro Student Search Strategies That Work


In the enrollment world, we all plan ahead and go out like gangbusters every fall with the goal of generating applications from our inquiry pools and from new students we meet during fall travel. But, as every seasoned admissions professional knows, building a class is never a sprint—slow and steady wins the race.

While we all know to complement our fall application-driving activities with spring efforts focused around yield, robust mid-cycle application generation activities often fall off our radar. However, deploying supplemental efforts to attract new applications from students who are just starting to focus on the college selection process later in the year can yield incredible returns. (Remember, as the last two years have taught us, plans change and many students find themselves exploring other options throughout the spring semester of their senior year. It’s worth it to be ready to cater to them.)

A robust supplemental search campaign can not only provide a boost in applications, but these efforts will help you meet some students where they are. Even though it feels “late” to those of us in the admissions world, it’s just right for the recipients of a senior spring mailing. In fact, a January 2021 survey of then-current high school seniors found that 46% of students said they were still planning to apply to colleges or had not started their application process at that point.


Of students from across our partner institutions’ Fall 2021 classes applied after February 1


Higher yield rate for those students who applied after February 1, as compared to students who applied earlier

Five app-boosting micro strategies

Spark451 has successfully partnered with several colleges and universities to implement a combination of five successful micro search strategies that you can deploy later in the cycle to maximize engagement.

1. Enhance your data pool with Parent Append

Adding purposeful data, including parent email addresses, will enable you to boost your communication efforts and deliver relevant messaging for the family before their student applies.

2. Engage your pool in new ways

It is not uncommon for someone to “inquire” as a sophomore and all but forget about you by the time they’re ready to start applying, but they may be the perfect candidate during the spring of their senior year. Re-engaging your pool with short, engaging surveys about their interests, goals, or even their status in the search process can help get a better sense of where they are in their journey with your institution.

3. Deploy timely personalized content

A new campaign centered around where students are in the process can quickly build brand awareness and generate new applications. Be clear and concise with your messaging and calls-to-action.

4. Get to the point, with substance

Get in front of students and parents with a spring printed mailing that has an inspiring, timely, supportive message and a direct offer to engage with someone at your school. With less #collegemail clutter to compete with at this point in the cycle, your message can focus less on color and more on content.

5. Meet students where they are (online)

A digital marketing campaign is a great complementary way to reach students and parents with the right message at the right time. Timely messages about application incentives or deadlines help inspire urgency and drive action as critical deadlines approach.

Real Results: Micro Search Strategies In Action

Spark451 partnered with several institutions for supplemental student search later in the traditional cycle for Fall 2021 recruitment. By implementing the right recipe of micro search tactics, we saw great results.

For example, a small private college in PA gained over 75 new applications late in the cycle with an application completion rate of over 90%. Similarly, a community college in New York state deployed a targeted application print campaign and gained 50+ new enrolling students at a yield rate of more than 80%.


We’d love to help you implement any or all of the five strategies we’ve outlined above, as it is never too late to have an impact. At the same time, we have many other solutions that can be implemented during this cycle—specifically, our personalized financial aid package, a great yield boost. Reach out when you’re ready to discuss strategies and tactics we can implement to support your enrollment goals.

Added Muscle for Your CRM


Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|November 2, 2021

Over the past few months, we have been speaking to a variety of CRM users at colleges and universities across the U.S. They include admissions directors, associate directors, and specialists, as well as CRM managers and power users.

During those discussions, one common theme emerged: Nearly everyone’s desire to fully leverage their platform is at odds with the actual time and internal resources available to develop mature marketing and communications efforts.

Spark451’s new SparkAssist service will help you tap into the full power of your CRM by picking up wherever you and your team leave off. Our experienced CRM administrators, content creators, and higher education marketing experts have the context, creativity, and technical expertise to deliver advanced solutions that will best support your goals. The team is also well versed in all of the major platforms favored by admissions pros, including Slate, Salesforce/TargetX, Ellucian, Element451, and more.

Get More Details

Here are just a few ways we can support you and your team through SparkAssist:

  • Planning, writing, designing, and building comprehensive personalized e-communication flows with dynamic content using Liquid Markup, Snippets, and similar tools
  • Developing robust customized portals, communities, and microsites
  • Managing complex data segments using advanced queries and reports, configurable joins, and individualized data connections
  • Offering advanced data analytics through custom dashboards to promote data-driven decision-making
  • Delivering trigger-based behavioral marketing messaging to website visitors

Because we know every admissions office is different, we offer a wide variety of customizable subscription and project-based models to ensure we’re delivering as much — or as little — as needed to meet your team’s specific needs. For more details, download our SparkAssist info sheet. And, when you’re ready, let’s connect to discuss.

Episode 1

Prospective Student Parent Engagement


Prospective Student Parent Engagement

Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|October 12, 2021

When it comes to making a college decision, the influencers that truly matter can’t be found on a student’s Instagram feed, but rather, around the kitchen table. That’s right, as our College Bound Student Survey has proven year after year, a student’s family has the most sway over a student’s decision about a school. With that in mind, it only makes sense to make sure parents of prospective students fully understand the opportunities available for their students at your college or university.

In the first installment of our new video series, “Total Conviction,” Spark451 CEO Steve Kerge spends a few minutes discussing the importance of engaging with parents of prospective students, and he even offers a few tips for doing so successfully. Check it out now:

When you’re ready to discuss parent engagement strategies for your institution, please reach out. Our team of enrollment marketing experts will be happy to help you develop a budget-friendly plan that will move the needle.

You can also revisit the full collection of “Total Conviction” videos here!