Don’t change your marketing strategy during COVID-19—here’s why

Blogs

Don’t change your marketing strategy during COVID-19—here’s why

Data on prospective student search behavior and engagement amid the crisis tells us to stay the course

If the last couple of weeks have felt like an endless cycle of making decisions and putting out fires, you’re not alone. For enrollment leaders, one of the biggest outstanding questions is: what do we do about our marketing?

It can be tempting to halt marketing all together. But as my colleague Michael Koppenheffer wrote last week, it’s more important than ever to continue to market your programs and engage with prospective students. He talks about a few broad themes applicable to anyone accountable for enrollment—whether you recruit traditional undergrads or manage graduate, online, certificate, or degree completion programs for students.

Since Michael’s post, we’ve had about a week of prospective student search behavior and engagement data to analyze. To make sure our recommendations to partners—who rely heavily on digital marketing and media spend in the adult learner market—are sound, I asked our analysts to review data from our partner cohort as well as global search data.

Here’s the most recent data we’re seeing during this crisis and the data-driven recommendations we’re making to our partners.

Paid search trends

Our partners saw a slight decrease in impressions and clicks starting around Wednesday of last week. But since then, impressions and clicks have stabilized around their average daily values. I was very pleased to see that conversion rates remain consistent, on average. This suggests that a call-to-action-focused creative strategy is appropriate for these key audiences searching for your programs during this time.

The one place we did see a spike in metrics was around cost-per-click (CPC) for branded searches. By branded searches, we are referring to paid search advertising for your school’s brand name without modifiers such as “graduate” or a program name. We attribute this to searches for school closures and as a result, conversion rates could be down on these campaigns.

Recommendation: Maintain daily budgets for paid search without substantial updates to creative. However, if you are running campaigns for your school name (without graduate modifiers), consider decreasing daily budgets.

Student journey trends

Partner engagement rates have recovered since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, while application submission lags. However, volumes are on trend with our annual averages. Like paid search, we have seen trends normalize since Wednesday. We have not seen any data that would indicate students find messaging insensitive—so we’re continuing to include clear calls to action and build urgency with upcoming deadlines.

When we reached out to partners with strategies to share their COVID-19 responses, they were often so focused on current students that they had forgotten about their prospective students. Don’t do that! Even something as simple as an email banner (which we implemented for all our partners) that links to current student resources can be helpful to prospects as they consider your programs. 

Recommendation: Maintain your normal cadence of communication but include information about how your campus is managing the crisis. Make sure you include clear calls to action to apply and make sure all messages are student-centric.

My hope is to share more data and insights with you as the situation evolves. So far, we have seen an increase in searches for “apply to graduate school,” suggesting prospective students are continuing to think about higher education amid COVID-19. For now, our students and the data are telling us to stay the course.