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The COVID-19 outbreak threw a massive wrench in the spring semester for the Higher Education industry. Colleges and universities had to act quickly and make tough decisions regarding the health of students and staff while also balancing the best ways to continue education during a pandemic. Coincidentally, as these changes began to roll out, academic institutions had to turn to education marketing agencies to help share important course information about the upcoming semesters with prospective students.

Making the shift to online learning

Oglethorpe University (OU) historically offers in-person and on-campus Summer classes for traditional undergrad students, transfer students, as well as adults in their Adult Degree Program. However, with the pandemic eliminating in-person activities, OU shifted their approach and went completely virtual for the first time in its history.

This sudden shift, however, meant OU needed to provide a timely message to current and prospective students exploring safe learning options for the upcoming semester. So OU tapped Vert’s digital team to launch a campaign to generate awareness that OU Summer courses were still happening — albeit online.

Using smart media strategy to communicate the “new normal”
The 2020 Summer Online campaign was the outcome of this pivoted strategy. We shifted messaging and ad placements to focus on generating awareness of OU’s now fully online courses and ultimately drive traffic to the site for application inquiries and further reading.

This media strategy featured a full-funnel campaign approach that focused on two key tactics: supporting top-funnel awareness initiatives on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Display Network while simultaneously driving bottom-funnel conversions through Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads. 

Leveraging first-party data to reach higher education audiences

To generate awareness of OU’s new virtual courses, Vert needed to reach both new audiences and existing audiences to continue to prospect new students looking for alternative education during this time.

For our new audience segments, we leveraged lookalike audiences based on existing first-party data that included currently enrolled students (including Traditional Undergrad, Transfer/Transient, and Adults). For our existing audiences, Vert built out prospective custom affinity audiences based on users who were interested in exploring alternative education courses online. This approach helped us reach current students as well as high school seniors interested in coming to OU for Undergrad.

Additionally, we activated retargeting efforts across all platforms that served messages with more direct calls to action to apply. This comprehensive approach meant that all audiences were effectively filtered through the funnel.

Making the most of a tough situation

The nimbleness of the Oglethorpe and Vert Digital teams proved to be massively successful. The campaign served nearly 8 million impressions (at the most efficient campaign CPM to date) and led to over 22,000 clicks to the website and 140 “Enroll Now” inquiries. Oglethorpe University found themselves with an well-informed audience list and a steadily growing enrollment pool, even despite COVID-19’s unexpected arrival.

Veronica Ulicny

Veronica Ulicny

Veronica joined the Vert team right out of college as an intern and became full-time on the Paid Media team in 2017. When she’s not pivoting data or optimizing campaigns, she can be found on the Atlanta Beltline or catching up on her guilty pleasure MTV shows. If you want a good laugh, follow her on Twitter @veronicaulicny.