Added Muscle for Your CRM

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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

TOTAL CONVICTION: EPISODE 1

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!


2021 College-Bound Student Survey: Download The Report

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Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|October 8, 2021

You already know that the college admissions world has been working through some unique challenges in the last couple of years (to say the least). However, you’ll probably still be surprised by some of the findings from Spark451’s latest College-Bound Student Survey. For example, in spite of all the hype in the media, just about half of students who responded to our survey said that an institution’s COVID vaccine requirements had NO impact on their enrollment decisions.

This summer, thousands of 2021 high school graduates responded to the Spark451 Education Research Division’s 10th annual survey on the college selection process. Download the full report to gain access to all the valuable information for college admissions professionals, including:

  • The Class of 2025’s social media habits
  • Students’ reactions to test-optional admissions policies
  • The effect of fee waivers on application decisions
  • How students feel about text messages from schools

Download the Report

Download the report now. Then, reach out. We’ll be happy to help you determine if your upcoming admissions marketing and student search plans are fully in line with the latest data from students.


May the (GA4) Force Be With You

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Ann LevyBy Ann Levy|October 7, 2021

Google Analytics (GA) released its most recent update, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and has introduced some enhancements that are quite useful to us as higher education marketers. First, we think it’s important for you to understand what GA is for—understanding your website traffic and using the data to make informed decisions in your marketing plans. For example, GA tracks how many unique visitors land on a website, whether they arrived at that site organically or through a paid ad source, where visitors are coming from geographically, the time of day they’re landing on the site, and day of the week. We use these details to drill down to incredible detail and find commonalities and trends which can further inform us how to wisely spend marketing dollars and maximize ROI.

With this in mind, we can now answer this core question: How does the rollout of the improved GA4 differ from what was available in the previous iteration of the tracking tool (formerly called Universal Analytics, or UA)?

Desktop hub for analysis

A Hub for Analysis

While the GA4 interface may seem complex and overwhelming at first, it has become a powerhouse of a tool that requires much less manual work to get your analytics off the ground. Its increased automation gives you hours back to your day and allows you to use its pre-built components to start connecting your data and reporting it in one fluid stream.

You can slice and dice your data however you need to showcase it, because GA4 has the pre-built templates you want to get your data analysis started. It also has the customization options to allow you to start dreaming big. The Analysis Hub is where you’ll find a variety of reports to start out with. For example, GA4 includes a custom report for “Funnel Exploration,” which enables you to see a user’s interaction with steps they took before submitting an inquiry form or starting an application. “Path Exploration” is another report that will show you a user’s pathway through your website; where did they come from, and what path did they take to peruse your website?

“Free-form” and “Cohort Analysis” reports will help you answer other important questions, such as:

  • What types of visitors are coming to your site—traditional high school students, adult degree completers, or graduate prospects?
  • What pages are users looking at before taking an action?
  • Is there a common thread in the customer journey between landing on your homepage to submitting an app?

You can start to answer all of these questions with the report customization options within GA4.

GA4 List of Events

Enter “Events”; More Than Page Views

Universal Analytics (the prior version of GA) tracked user sessions during a website visit, accruing session-based data from a user’s time on a webpage, and it reported these actions back as “hits” on your website. GA4 takes these “session-based hits” and ups the ante by providing a fuller picture of what users are taking action on, with the use of “events” for each step they take. Now, each action taken on your website is tracked as an event. GA4’s default tracking events include click, scroll, file downloads, video start, and video complete. Ultimately, these advanced metrics will be the key in uncovering behavioral patterns to inform your content strategy and marketing tactics.

Engagement chart

Say Goodbye to Bounce Rate

Bounce rate, the trusty, yet one-sided metric that tracked the number of visitors who navigated away from your website, has made its own exit from the new Analytics. Replacing it is “engagement rate,” a more useful measure of time spent on your site. Unlike bounce rate, this new metric doesn’t just show you how many users leave your site, but it dives deeper, considering one or more actions, such as being active on the website for 10 or more seconds, engaging in two or more page views, and/or a conversion event firing. This is a favorable update if you’re looking to squeeze out as much information about the user experience on your website as possible, since it exposes more than just the fact that some users leave, or bounce. Now, you can look at how they enter the site and better understand whether your website content is engaging for your targeted audiences.

Now that Google Analytics has upped its game, it’s time to leverage this tool as your (not-so) secret weapon to evaluate your website’s strengths and challenges. Having so much analytical power at your fingertips can be overwhelming as you start to explore the tool (it does, after all, have a completely new look), but it will be worth all of your marketing dollars to invest the time to learn the tool’s insights for your institution’s website. If you don’t know where to begin, we can help you get started. Reach out to learn more about how we can help you leverage the force behind GA4.


Trendcast: The Rising Costs of Paid Digital Media

Trendcast

The Rising Costs of Paid Digital Media

Ann LevyBy Ann Levy|September 1, 2021

In the last year, vast changes in the paid digital media landscape have been reshaping how advertisers execute their digital marketing strategies. Most notably, tracking transparency earlier in 2021 and the resulting targeting limitations caused marketers to rethink their approach to targeting within Google and Facebook platforms. However, at the same time, the heightened reliance on digital advertising driven by the pandemic continued, so these platforms became more and more crowded with advertisers, which led to fierce competition and ultimately, rising costs.

Now, a new report from Business Insider analyzing costs from Q1-2021 and Q2-2021, as well as comparing year-over-year costs, shows the true impact of all of these paradigm shifts. The report compares CPC and CPM—the main metrics that measure cost as a factor of competition across all major paid digital advertising platforms such as Facebook, Amazon, Google (YouTube included), and Snapchat. CPC is short for “cost-per-click,” and CPM, or cost per mille, indicates how much it costs to serve your ad to 1,000 users.

Here are some top-level takeaways:

  • Apple’s newly-implemented, ad-tracking transparency regulations forcefully cut back advertisers’ ability to set hyper-specific targeting for ad campaigns geared toward Apple users, increasing cost for advertisers to serve ultra-relevant ads to these audiences.
  • Facebook’s (and Instagram’s) CPM prices rose 89% year-over-year, as of July 2021
  • Facebook’s  average price per ad increased 47% year-over-year in the second quarter, and according to the article, the platform “warned investors that ad prices are likely to continue to climb in the second half of the year.”
  • YouTube CPMs also reportedly rose 108% year-over-year in July. (This is in line with previous predictions that video will continue rising in popularity across the web, but especially in paid advertising.)

While this report shows that competition is steep and costs are especially high across platforms, keen strategy, all-hands-on-deck monitoring, and a data-driven approach for your digital media campaigns are what will make the difference between just spending budget and achieving enrollment goals.

To discuss specific tactics that will ensure your institution is maximizing its digital media marketing dollars in today’s increasingly competitive digital landscape, reach out now. We’d be happy to connect you with a Spark451 digital marketing specialist.


Webinar: Oh, Behave! Why The Future of Higher Education Marketing is Behavioral

Webinar

Oh, Behave! Why The Future of Higher Education Marketing is Behavioral

Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|August 26, 2021

If you find yourself continually searching for ways to make your institution’s marketing communications more effective, we’d encourage you to check out the recording of our recent webinar.

During the session, Spark451 President Mike McGetrick and Client Strategist Ed Flaherty discussed how we recently helped an elite graduate school boost email open rates by 94% by implementing a Behavioral Marketing campaign.

The duo also shared insights to help you:

  • Learn the basic principles of behavioral marketing
  • Discover the benefits of trigger-based communication flows
  • Consider how you can incorporate this approach in your own campaigns

Watch the Webinar On Demand

Download: 7 Winning Marketing Tactics You Haven’t Tried Yet (But Should)

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Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|August 19, 2021

We’re all still adjusting to the “new normal,” and for higher education marketers like us, that means adjusted marketing approaches to suit the new lifestyle and media consumption habits students formed during the pandemic.

As you work to update your institution’s communications plan, download “7 Winning Marketing Tactics You Haven’t Tried Yet (But Should)” for a little inspiration.

Check it out, and then, reach out to discuss specific strategies that will support your goals.


Boosting Email Engagement Using Behavioral Marketing

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Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|August 10, 2021

Overview

Spark451 partners with several elite graduate schools across the U.S. to design and execute robust, personalized marketing campaigns. One such school, a client since 2015, partners with us on managing their prospect nurturing campaigns. Through the use of a segmented prospect communication strategy, Spark451’s campaigns with this institution typically yield average email open rates of 40%+ and click-through rates of 5% or higher.

On their own, these results are impressive. Over the last year, however, Spark451 implemented a Behavioral Marketing email campaign targeting website visitors, which blew these results out of the water.

Approach

The team at Spark451 are experts at delivering the right message to the right person at the right time; Behavioral Marketing is a methodology of doing just that. Spark451 created and implemented an email series triggered to send to visitors (tracked via a pixel) to a select group of pages from the university website. After 24 hours, a communication was automatically sent to the website visitor sharing additional, personalized information from the pages viewed while visiting the institution’s website.

Results

Implementing trigger-based web visit communications yielded:

94%

increase in email open rate


85% average open rate for each email

Over 90% open rate on an email

300%

increase in click-through rate


Click-through rates of 20%

Conclusion

As enrollment marketers, we like to control the narrative and cadence of our messaging in a linear flow. The problem is that our audiences are rarely ready to ingest our messages this way, preferring instead to do their own research when and where they are ready. By using behavioral targeting based on web visits, you can get the best of both worlds: Students do their own research, but you can supplement that with what you want them to know about that subject. For example, a visitor to your financial aid page should know about funding for graduate assistantships and unique scholarship opportunities.

We’d love to help you achieve a similar outcome using our technology stack or your current CRM. Reach out when you’re ready to discuss strategies and tactics we can implement to support your enrollment goals.


International Student Recruitment: The Renaissance Ahead

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As a higher education professional, you already know the facts when it comes to international student recruitment. In short, it’s been a tough few years. The COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel, which affected both in-person recruitment as well as admitted students’ ability to enter the United States to attend their dream schools.

According to the latest annual Open Doors survey, the 2019–2020 academic year saw a 43% decrease in new international student enrollment in the United States, which contributed to a 1.8% decline in total international enrollments from the previous year—the first decline recorded since the 2005–2006 academic year.

What may surprise you is that many of the major factors impacting international student recruitment are not new. While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decline in the international market, several other factors have been fueling the fire for almost a decade.

  1. Most widely known, the increased political and social unrest within the United States has painted us in a negative light for many students looking to pursue a degree here. This has also led to increased confusion around the rules and regulations within the United States, muddying the decisions for those considering to study here.
  2. Many foreign countries have long provided their students’ government-funded scholarships through national scholarship programs. Recently, many countries, such as Brazil (through their Brazil Scientific Mobility Program) and Saudi Arabia, have defunded these scholarship programs, making an education in the United States largely unaffordable.
  3. Over the past several years, the value of the U.S. dollar has increased substantially, again making it harder for international students to afford a non-funded education in the United States.
  4. Large pathway programs are beginning to emerge, making it harder for many U.S. schools to compete in this arena. These programs create partnerships with select universities in the United States and encourage International Student Recruitment Agents to send their students to the finite set of U.S. schools with which they have agreements.
  5. The competition within the international market has grown substantially and students are finding they have more options on where to pursue their degrees. Many countries, such as China, India, and Germany, which were once large exporters of students, are beginning to retain more of their own citizens. Additionally, countries such as Australia, Canada, and even the United Kingdom are enhancing their long-term visiting student options and making it easier for students to obtain a visa, placing additional strain on the international market for the United States.
  6. Finally, rankings continue to have a heavy influence on the international market, leaving a heavier burden on the smaller, more regional institutions.

At first, it’s easy to be bearish on the short-term future of international student activity when you consider the points above. However, we believe there’s an international renaissance on the horizon. Allow us to point out a few important facts that may help sway your opinion:

COVID Deferments Offer Great Potential

According to an iie research study published in November of 2020 40,000 students deferred their enrollment from Fall 2020 to a future semester.

Source: Institute of International Education, Inc.

When you factor in a combination of these deferments with the traditional new-student application activity we’ve already seen for Fall 2021, as well as what you can expect for Spring 2022 and Fall 2022, signs of growth begin to show.

COVID Vaccinations Are On The Rise

Source: The New York Times

U.S. colleges can begin to work with the U.S. government and those in other countries to offer vaccinations for incoming international students who otherwise might not be able to get vaccinated in their home countries or even in other competing countries.

The idea that an incoming student can test negative prior to coming here, test again upon arrival, and then get vaccinated can prove to be both career and life changing.

The U.S. Is Regaining Its Global Image As A Friendly Place

Based on recent reports, many U.S. admissions officers are feeling more optimistic about their ability to attract students from abroad, now that the new Biden administration is setting a more welcoming tone for international students than we’ve seen in the last several years. For example, in one recent article, Xiaofeng Wan, Associate Dean of Admission and Coordinator of International Recruitment at Amherst College in Massachusetts, told Inside Higher Ed that he believed families are beginning to feel more comfortable sending their children to the U.S. again. Also, according to Forbes, a recent poll by Morning Consult found that global opinion of the U.S. in general has improved quite significantly in the months since President Biden took office.

Positive Domestic Enrollment Trends

Historically, domestic enrollment trends have always been a strong indicator of where the international recruitment market is headed—though you can expect roughly a year of lag time. As vaccinations take effect and further empower U.S. institutions to return to fully in-person and on-campus environments, Spark451 strategists are hearing overwhelmingly optimistic outlooks on domestic enrollment for Fall 2021 from enrollment managers across the country—at institutions of all sizes and types.

"Over the last 14 months, Fisher College turned crisis into opportunity. Through virtual recruitment and a strong CRM (Element451), the College diversified its recruitment strategies to attract a strong applicant pool. These new strategies are paying dividends in the form of increased new student yield for the Fall 2021 semester and elevated student engagement for Fall 2022 and beyond!"

Robert Melaragni, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Fisher College

By and large, enrollment managers are satisfied with their Fall 2021 classes, and considering where they were just 12 months ago, they are bullish on the future for their schools as they re-engage domestic recruitment plans for Fall 2022.

Looking Ahead With Optimism

In spite of some recent interruptions in the market, international students remain a critical component of the ecosystem at most U.S. colleges and universities, and we expect that to continue well into the future. As the pandemic continues to recede and our nation’s political leaders continue to reestablish a more welcoming tone for foreign students, the Spark451 enrollment strategy team can’t help but feel especially hopeful about all of the new and emerging opportunities in this arena. In fact, we’re already hearing positive rumblings from the institutional leaders from across the nation with whom we speak daily.

“The international students we receive from more than 30 countries around the world add tremendously to the culture, diversity, and learning experiences of our entire campus community. Despite the challenges faced by so many during the pandemic, we have not stopped supporting our current international students and our global partners overseas in every way possible. Even though our numbers of international students from overseas declined last year, we did receive new international students who were already in the United States, and our numbers of new students are looking promising once again for Fall 2021. International strategic enrollment management does not happen by accident. It takes the right motives, people, a commitment to positively impacting the lives of our students and lots of hard work. Because of our shared values, we feel Western New England University is in a strong position to continue to educate a diverse group of international students for many years to come.”

Bryan Gross, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing at Western New England University

Let's Connect

We look forward to helping your institution connect with talented students from around the globe in coming cycles! Reach out when you’re ready to discuss specific strategies and tactics to help you reach your international student recruitment goals.


Spark451 Named a Top Digital Agency in Raleigh

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Spark451 Media RelationsBy Spark451 Media Relations|June 14, 2021

Spark451 is proud to announce that we have been recognized as a 2021 Top 30 Digital Agency in Raleigh by DesignRush. We’re honored to have been selected for this commendation, adding yet another mark of distinction that sets our agency apart in recognition of our outstanding work.

A respected online guide that evaluates companies in a variety of professional industries,
DesignRush analyzes thousands of agencies to determine the best qualified in each category, then shares this information with companies seeking support. Users can search the platform by location, expertise, reviews, and more, allowing them to explore a wide range of options based on their specific needs. DesignRush assessed Spark451’s reputation, marketing capabilities, and results, and awarded our agency this coveted ranking.

We look forward to living up to this recognition by continuing to support our partner schools with sound strategy and exceptional creative, producing powerful outcomes that exceed our shared goals.