Reality Check: 5 Truths About Digital Marketing for Higher-Ed Enrollment


Spark451 Digital Media TeamBy Spark451 Digital Media Team|August 25, 2020

Updated August 2020

As you finalize your plans and begin launching communications for Fall 2021 recruitment, now is the time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your digital marketing efforts. When it comes to digital marketing, there are many myths that other agencies may spout in order to attract new clients. Here, we set the record straight and debunk some of the most common myths about digital marketing, specifically in regards to higher education enrollment. Below are five key considerations to keep in mind when discussing your digital media strategy with a new agency partner.

1. Immediate Tinkering is All Smoke and Mirrors

According to digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook, all campaigns require a learning phase to allow the systems to properly optimize. In most cases, this can take two to four weeks beyond the launch. Facebook, for example, needs 50 leads to come in for the campaign to complete its learning stage. It makes sense though; the platforms need to accumulate data points on what performs best in a campaign, and the more data you have, the more precise the picture will be of your audience, the creative that resonates, and who will be more likely to take the desired action.

We want our campaigns to perform based on data-driven optimizations, and this can only occur if we give the platforms time to learn, which doesn’t happen overnight. While we know it’s scary to not see immediate results, we find that campaigns tend to perform better after being given some time to optimize. At that point, we can confidently make adjustments and optimizations that are in the best interests of your campaign.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that every change to a campaign restarts the learning phase. While the new learning phase may not be as long as the initial one, the platforms are constantly learning and re-learning, which is why immediate tinkering is never recommended.

2. Don’t Let Impressions Impress You

It’s easy to get impressions, but it’s hard to get qualified clicks, and it’s even harder to get high-quality conversions. Many other digital marketing agencies will inflate their reports with impressions garnered through one of many display networks. While these display networks can provide some value, they’re also often wrought with fraud and bots that contribute falsely inflated numbers of impressions. Display ads are an important element to a digital branding campaign, but unless you’re receiving clicks and conversions, there’s no way to truly know that you’re reaching the right people.

The moral of the story here is that impressions are the least critical element of a digital media campaign. Anyone can get impressions, but it takes truly skilled marketers to get clicks and conversions.

3. Less Is (Sometimes) More

We’ve run thousands of campaigns exclusively for our higher education partners (not many agencies can say that!) and we’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for a successful campaign. In fact, we’ve been saying this for years.

While there may be a hot new platform suddenly garnering a ton of buzz, that doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for your audience or goals. For example, we use Snapchat to engage younger audiences with a branding message, but we know from our experience that those campaigns will rarely lead to an action being taken on your site. Keeping that in mind, despite Snapchat being “hot,” we may recommend other platforms to get you leads, applications, event registrations, or prevent melt. It all depends on your audience, goals, and budget.

Sometimes, both we and our partner institutions would like to run ads on every platform, but we just don’t have the budget to do so responsibly and still garner results. This is where our experience comes in. We can take a look at similar campaigns we’ve run in the past and suggest the platforms that are most likely to achieve your goals while staying within your budget.

4. Every Flight Needs a Safe Landing (Page)

In order to achieve the best results on a digital media campaign, it’s important to focus on where your ads are driving. In almost all cases, your ads should drive to a strong landing page. The page should be designed in a manner that’s user-friendly and cohesive with your ads. It should render quickly on a mobile device, provide the visitor with an incentive to submit their information, and the embedded inquiry form should only have three or four required fields.

Pro tip: When it comes to campaigns running on Google Ads, the landing page is a critical element of a successful campaign, as it actually impacts the performance and delivery of your ads. In order to achieve maximum success with Google text ads, you want to have your keywords appear not only in your keyword lists, but also in your ads, and of course, on your landing pages. (Plus, a quick load time will only improve your Google quality score!)

In select instances, you may opt to use an in-platform lead generation form in lieu of a traditional landing page. When used under the right circumstances, these in-platform lead generation forms are also safe places to land. In fact, we’ve seen much higher conversion rates using these forms, so it’s important to discuss this option with your account team when planning your digital strategy. However, these forms aren’t right for every occasion. Each campaign has unique goals, and it’s important that we align our strategy in a way that helps you best achieve your desired outcomes, whether that means driving to a landing page or lead generation form.

5. You DO Need a Partner with Strong Higher Ed Experience

When you partner with us, you’re not getting a generic agency that works in multiple verticals or areas of “expertise” (a jack of all trades, master of none, anyone?) — you’re getting an agency that specializes in higher education, with professionals who have worked in the field. We have higher ed specialists across departments who have been on your side of the desk, including former admissions counselors, directors, and even VPs. They work together to develop relevant customized digital campaign strategies for every one of our college and university partners. Have you met another agency partner that can say the same?

Enrollment strategy is what we do, day in and day out. From balancing domestic vs. international populations and high-performing vs. low-performing academic programs, to lifting a university brand, we have you covered. Additionally, our real-time reporting dashboards will provide you with essential data, available at your fingertips, at any time. Our university partners can also rely on the fact that we’re here to advise and support your goals as an extension of your internal team.

Don’t sell yourself short with an agency that won’t understand your enrollment goals and vision.

If you’d like to discuss potential digital media campaign strategies that will support your institution’s goals for Fall 2021 and beyond, please reach out. We’d be happy to help you pinpoint the tactics that will help you achieve optimal results.

Dollars and Sense: Examining the Real Cost of Recruitment


Steve KergeBy Steve Kerge|August 14, 2020

August 2020 has arrived, and as fall semesters begin throughout the country, the stage is set with four undeniable enrollment management facts:

  • The profound effects of COVID-19 will linger in the upcoming year—forcing admission offices to communicate, think, and work differently.
  • Admissions and enrollment officers who have been laser focused on this fall’s class will be rapidly shifting their attention to the Fall ’21 start.
  • The vast majority of institutions are beginning the recruitment cycle with a deficit in Fall ’21 prospects due to the lack of spring recruitment and summer campus visits.
  • You are likely being asked to accomplish more than ever on the tightest budget you’ve ever seen.

With traditional in-person recruitment tactics still largely off the table for the next several months, you’re going to have to rely even more heavily on strategic marketing tactics to build your Fall 2021 class. While the thought might seem daunting at first—we know your overall budget is likely down—it is possible to get the results you need by simply reallocating some funds you might normally set aside for your road warriors’ travel expenses. Here, I’ll break down the true costs of in-person recruitment and demonstrate how you can get as much, or more, bang for your buck with the right strategic enrollment marketing efforts.

Analysis: Dissecting the Real Cost of an Inquiry

Over the years, I have been asked an all-important question by presidents and senior enrollment leaders: How much should we be spending per inquiry? To answer that question, the Spark team took a mathematical approach with a focus on the inquiries traditionally achieved through in-person recruitment. Below are the typical costs associated with three common scenarios, and an average of the three:

Note: Some of the numbers we present, such as cost of personnel, are based on industry standards and confirmed by a few institutions. For the sake of brevity, we have chosen to omit those details here, but we’re happy to discuss how we arrived at any number we present. Just reach out and chat with us.

Scenario 1: Regional High School College Night (Goal of 25 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a regional association in your state is hosting a college night. Over the past few years, your institution has participated by sending a counselor. Your goal is to achieve 25 inquiries. The high school is 100 miles from campus and will not require overnight accommodations.

Cost Analysis

Average fair registration fee: $150
Counselor’s time (9 hours including travel): $299.97
200 miles @ .575: $115
Dinner allowance: $25
Recruitment materials allowance: 25 @ $3: $75
College swag (pens or giveaways): 25 @ $1.50: $37.50
Card and data management: 25 @ $2: $50
Total Cost $752.47
Total Cost per Inquiry $30

Scenario 2: Out of State, Secondary Territory (Goal of 55 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a counselor is planning to travel to Virginia from New York to visit several target high schools during the day, as well as participate in the VACRAO College Tour, Week 7, evening college fairs. The counselor will require travel, lodging, and meal accommodations for the week. The counselor’s goal is to secure 55 inquiries between the 12 high school visits (4 per day) and the 4 evening college fairs.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees (3 events): $500
Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Sunday, October 20 at 10:30 a.m. (12 hours)
  • Return Thursday, October 23 at 4:30 p.m. (9 hours x 4 days)
    • 48 hours @ hourly rate of $33.33
Car travel allowance for 950 miles: $546.25
Tolls estimate: $55
Food (Per diem rate: $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 55 @ $4: $225
College swag (pens or giveaways): 55 @ $2: $112.50
Recruitment support infrastructure: 55 @ $13.63: $750
Total Cost $4,008.59
Total Cost per Inquiry $72.88

Scenario 3: National College Fair, Remote Distance From Campus (Goal of 60 Inquiries)

In this scenario, a school in the Boston regional area is planning to attend both the Orlando and South Florida National College Fairs in one weekend. The counselor representing the school will require air travel, car rental, lodging, and meals from Friday through Monday. The counselor’s goal is to secure 60 inquiries between the two events.

Cost Analysis

Total fair registration fees: $1,000
Counselor’s time:

  • Depart Friday at 8 a.m.
  • Return Monday at 5 p.m.
    • 4 work days @ 9 hours per day (42 hours)

  • BOS to MCO: $200
  • MCO to MIA: $150
  • MIA to BOS: $200
  • Luggage fees for suitcase and recruitment materials @ $75/flight
Rental Car

  • Rental Car 1: Orlando @ 2 days: $200
  • Rental Car 2: Miami @ 2 days: $200
Gas: $60
Food: (Per diem rate = $55) x 4 $220
Recruitment materials allowance: 60 @ $4: $240
College Swag (pens or giveaway): 60 @ $2: $120
Recruitment support infrastructure: 60 @ $13.63: $800
Total Cost $5,014.86
Total Cost per Inquiry $83.58

Solutions: Transforming Analysis into Action

Now that we’ve established the average you can expect to spend per inquiry, you have a metric you can use in discussions with your president, CFO, or board to establish the budget you’ll need to get back in line or even above last year’s pool size. For example, if you are down roughly 1,000 inquiries, you’ll require a marketing investment of roughly $70,000 to get back on track with where you might have been in a season in which typical in-person recruitment efforts were possible.

Of course, the figure mentioned above is elastic. If your need is much greater than 1,000 inquiries, we should experience efficiencies that bring the average down. At the point of 3,000, we should experience an efficiency of about 10%, which would bring the average down to $63 per inquiry.

Alternatively, if you are seeking a smaller increase of 100 to 200 inquiries, the average is likely to increase dramatically. (Marketing costs are always less efficient on micro populations.)

To be clear, by recommending these marketing investments, we are not suggesting a reduction in staffing to afford it. (Keep in mind that once your prospects are generated, someone needs to nurture them, whether that be in person or virtually.) Rather, we are suggesting that you will likely see a significant decline in your travel and recruitment costs this year, and you would be well-served by reallocating those funds to cover your increased marketing needs.

Weighted Average of the Three Scenarios:
$69.82 per inquiry

We Can Help

As strategic marketers, the experts at Spark451 have a vast set of tools and programs at our disposal to generate real prospects for your school—without your team having to travel at all. From direct marketing to digital media, we are confident we can quickly construct and implement a strategic solutions package that will help you achieve your goals. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you and prescribe a set of actions that will build your confidence for the Fall 2021 start. Reach out to start discussing your options.

It’s Time to Focus on Fall 2021


Spark451 Strategy TeamBy Spark451 Strategy Team|August 3, 2020

Can you believe it’s already August? Like so many of us, you’ve probably been so focused on your Fall 2020 class that it’s hard to believe Fall 2021 Senior Search season is already underway.

To shore-up your institution’s long-term future, now is the time to shift your focus away from whatever may happen this September, and devote your energy to building your next incoming class. Download our guide to the “Five Reasons You Can’t ignore Your 2021 Marketing Any Longer,” and then, reach out so we can determine which tactics will best resonate with your prospective students.

We know this has been an incredibly challenging year. The best thing you can do right now is make every effort to ensure that next year won’t be the same. We’re in this together.

Get the Guide

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.