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Traditional Advertising Analytics

March 19, 2014
outdoor ad at night

Concordia University Irvine ad across from local community college

Google analytics and CRMs provide us with a wealth of data about the digital journey of our prospects, inquirers, and applicants. But how are universities assessing the effectiveness of traditional media advertising?

For those of us who live in the marketing higher education world, we understand there’s no way to know with certainty how many students we enroll because of a particular outdoor or radio ad. Oh, you’ll hear and read about using shortened URLs in traditional advertising to drive traffic to a specific landing page in order to convert the prospect and track his/her journey to enrollment. But we know it’s not that easy. For one thing, most people don’t type in URLs to get to a website. They search for it.

We also know that the purchase cycle is not a linear event that clearly connects the dots. The purchase cycle for the vast majority of prospects is NOT like this…

The prospect:

  1. sees your billboard ad
  2. at home, goes to his/her desktop and types in the shortened URL
  3. reads the content on the landing page
  4. fills out the inquiry form

In this scenario, with proper coding, you’ll know the prospect inquired because of the billboard advertisement. If this is the path your prospects take, you’re in luck–and alone. It’s almost never this easy.

The college search process is non-linear, involves two or more platforms, and looks something like this…

The prospect:

  1. sees your billboard ad multiple times
  2. hears your radio ad multiple times
  3. reads a story in the media about your university
  4. remembers that a friend graduated from your university, maybe even talks with him/her
  5. during the day, remembers your university’s name, searches for it on Google and checks out your website on his/her company desktop
  6. later that night at home, still remembering your name, shifts between mobile devices and desktop computer using Google search to check out your website again
  7. sees both the organic search result and your pay-per-click ad (PPC, i.e., AdWords)
  8. clicks on the PPC ad
  9. finds and reads the website content, not yet ready to either inquire or apply for admission
  10. on a subsequent visit days, weeks, or months later, fills out the inquiry form (conversion) or applies for admission on one of his/her devices (platforms)

Analyzing this journey, Google Analytics will tell you what the last action was that led to conversion, and may give credit for the conversion to the PPC ad. Google values last action. But we both know that the first, second, and third actions are what got the prospect to the website in the first place.  How do we show that?

Outdoor and radio are two advertising tactics designed to increase name awareness for prospects currently in the college search process, and for those who will be in it at some point in the future. It’s branding.

These tactics should be driving the needle. We should see increased website traffic, which is the purest indicator of success with traditional media. Once prospects get to the website, we introduce brand and website variables that influence conversion. Even so, I’m still interested in inquiries and applications during ad campaigns. It’s still about enrollment revenue. Thus we’re keeping tabs on all three numbers during advertising campaigns.

For our executive and program leadership here, we’re using spreadsheets to communicate the correlations. It communicates the data effectively, and that’s the format they desire. However, I’m in the process of trying to find graphical representations of the correlations that may point out additional takeaways from the data.

At Loyola University Maryland, they’ve found the same thing–that a mix of outdoor, digital, and some radio works well for them, according to a presentation last November by Sharon Higgins, assistant vice president at Loyola University Maryland, and Eric Jones, VP of digital marketing at R2Integrated at the AMA conference in Boston. And they’re finding success in communicating their results with sophisticated graphics that tell the story. It’s the sort of approach I’m exploring on what I suppose will be a never-ending process of assessing return on investment.

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