By William Bullard

“Susan,” the new Director of Communications at a K-8 school in the Northeast, was planning a marketing campaign to support her school’s Admission team. Their open house had been less successful than hoped, and they planned a second open house and an extension of the acceptance deadline. The school had recently reduced many of its budget lines, and Susan was under pressure from her boss, the Director of Advancement, to account for every dollar spent on the campaign.

Traditionally, Susan’s school sent postcards to local families, placed ads in local publications and banners on the school website, and asked certain parents to display lawn signs. She felt it was crucial to try some targeted digital ads, such as Facebook and Google AdWords. While she knew her boss was primarily concerned with the program costs, Susan thought it essential to not only understand the relative costs, but also the impact of the ads. When she asked Admission how they measured advertising success, she was told they asked people who attended the open house where they heard about the school, but that otherwise it was complicated and not worth the effort.

Multi-Channel Measurement

Susan had worked for a retailer before moving into education. She remembered a friend once telling her that his company used to do campaigns in a lot of different media and his group was learning how to determine which medium had most influenced the customer’s decision to buy. She couldn’t define the phrase he used, but recalled it started with “multi-channel,” so she Googled a bit and found it: “multi-channel attribution.” After reviewing several articles describing advanced techniques that “go beyond the last click,” deploy “lift studies” and rely on complex software programs, Susan realized that most of these would be over-kill and prohibitively expensive for her school.  However, she also gleaned a few basics she thought would apply to her campaigns: adding tracking information where possible; requesting snippets of the prospect’s data to help with tracking and personalization; and carrying the analysis as far as possible into the process, e.g. if the person responded, inquired, registered and/or actually attended the open house.

Susan’s Campaign

After considering the School’s circumstances, admission team’s goals, short time horizon, and the Advancement Director’s requirement, Susan developed the following plan, heavy on calls-to-action:

  • Postcard: add a separate phone number that can be tracked uniquely, ideally a spare telecom line, or an admission person’s direct line if the volume will be low; create a very simple landing page with friendly copy and a separate URL. That page is trackable and links to your open house registration form.
  • Community paper ad, print and digital: use a similar approach, with a slightly customized landing page and separate URL (similar to a redirect of a primary page), and different phone number.
  • Email to inquiring families who did not apply or attend an open house: if you use an email program, you can see the opens and clicks for each record.
  • Website banner: create a final, simple landing page leading to the registration form.
  • Lawn signs: with the usual imagery and information, add a large note – “Mention this sign and receive a free gift!”
  • Simple Google AdWords program – to: test two or three phrases for their click-throughs.
  • Facebook ads: develop two strategically different ads with the same audience selection and again test.
  • Track all data in a simple format, such as an Excel spreadsheet
  • Compare results vs. costs, where applicable, first on a general level, i.e. the print vs. digital, then on the sub-campaigns, e.g. Facebook vs. AdWords. In addition, request all open house attendees to complete a brief survey that lists these specific channels and asks “which of these influenced your decision to visit us?” Open house responses can be challenging to attain; consider boosting numbers with an incentive such as a raffle for free school event tickets or a Starbuck’s card, culled from a drawing at the closing remarks or a survey emailed after the event.

The above plan is basic and lacks two core capabilities of robust marketing attribution platforms: allocating credit for an action when the prospect is exposed to multiple channels; and tracking a prospect all the way through the process. It also avoids one of the trickiest factors in marketing, measuring the influence of branding ads. However, the thought process of planning for and tracking the effectiveness of each marketing channel in any campaign with a broad mix will help your school begin to optimize your marketing spending.

What do you think of Susan’s plan? Please comment below.

Want to learn more about enrollment marketing? Be sure to read Energize Your Enrollment Marketing With “Lead Nurturing”.

William Bullard is a strategic marketer who spent most of his career in the business world before moving into education. He has been the director of communications at two independent schools in greater Boston as well as a social media consultant for a leading literacy training company. He is especially interested in applying lessons from his early-stage work in direct marketing, the Internet, and digital marketing to schools. As the VP of Internet Marketing for the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association, he is a frequent blogger, including this post on multi-channel attribution, William is a strategic partner for Kalix Communications, focusing on digital and data-driven marketing.