The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

Google Higher Education

In April, when I first blogged about the impact of COVID-19 on higher education, I assumed the issue would be how colleges addressed finishing out the spring semester of 2020. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking the worst would be behind us by the time the fall semester rolled around. Now with the 2020-21 academic school year deadline upon us, there are still many obstacles and challenges ahead for higher education institutions. Meanwhile, thousands of students (and parents) are either anxiously awaiting more guidance or bracing themselves for a disruption similar to what the University of North Carolina just experienced when the school abruptly halted plans for an in-person school year amid a COVID-19 flare-up on campus.

Learning in the Age of COVID-19

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s most recent list of College Reopening Plans, 21 percent of colleges are planning “primarily in person,” 24 percent are planning “primarily online,” and 27 percent are still currently “TBD.” A very small percentage (2.5 percent) are planning “fully in person,” 2.9 percent will be “fully online – no students on campus,” 16 percent are planning on a “hybrid” approach, and less than 1 percent are planning on “fully online – some students on campus.”

All said, as of now, most colleges are leaning toward either an online approach or a hybrid option, offering some online courses and some in-person learning. And while the format of classes for the fall semester continues to be worked out, many students and (even more parents) are discovering how tuition will be affected. Harvard has come under harsh criticism after recently announcing it will still be charging full tuition as classes go online amid the coronavirus outbreak. Harvard, Smith, Tufts, Duke University, and others did say they will refund students for unused room and board on a prorated basis.

Assessing Costs

However, room and board costs, while still a considerable investment, are far less than tuition expenses; many parents may find themselves questioning the value of paying for a “top-tier” school education if classes are 100 percent online. Without a doubt, the college experience will be vastly different when learning is online versus on campus. Parents and students may instead opt for classes at a community college if they are within their first two years of their college degree. The financial savings are substantial, and with the lack of a traditional on-campus college experience, there certainly is a case to be made for saving money. Additionally, students will have more options available for online courses —and where they take them — as more and more schools expand their offerings.

So, what does all this mean for higher education from a marketing perspective? Two things: more opportunity, and more competition.

Opportunity

This is an opportunity for schools to promote their online offerings, whether they are new to the online learning format or a veteran in this department. Colleges who have traditionally featured online offerings may find themselves attracting a whole new demographic of students — students who might not have considered online learning before COVID-19. These students might think, “If I have to study online right now, I’m going to go where they’ve been doing it a while.”

But colleges just embarking on an online learning program may also appeal to a new demographic: students who, for reasons such as geography, might not have even considered a particular school before. With online learning, schools may suddenly become “in reach.”

Competition

Competition for online degrees is stronger than ever before, as more and more traditional on-campus programs are now entering the online space. In Google Ads, we have seen steep increases in keyword cost per click, primarily due to increased competition. To maintain an acceptable cost per lead, it is becoming even more important to leverage as many targeting options as possible within the Google Ads platform. Those options include audiences, device, location, age, income, and more. It is also essential to evaluate performance based on day of week and time of day in order to find the most efficient time to invest your advertising dollars.

While the increase in keyword CPCs might make it more difficult for smaller schools with smaller budgets to compete in paid search auctions, we’ve also seen a significant investment in Google Display Ads and social platforms as schools attempt to expand their reach. That’s because Google Display Ads and platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have much lower cost per click (or cost/impression) than traditional paid search in Google. So, for colleges with smaller marketing budgets, Google Display Ads, Facebook, and Instagram can be an effective method of reaching potential students.

Contact True Interactive

In short, great opportunity exists for higher education in the online market, but the competition is fierce. Now, more than ever, you need to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place. At True Interactive, we are well versed in the higher education vertical and are ready to help you navigate this ever-changing market. Contact us. We can help.

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How the Hotel Industry Is Adapting Its Marketing and Customer Experience

How the Hotel Industry Is Adapting Its Marketing and Customer Experience

Marketing

As U.S. states re-open (in fits and starts) after the COVID-19 lockdown, many may have expected to see a return to “business as usual.” Interestingly, what these first few weeks have shown is that the way businesses are now operating is anything but “usual.” In fact, it is probably fair to assume that going forward, we will continue to see a shift in business practices and priorities. The hotel industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, is demonstrating how to be resilient both in its customer experience and marketing as times change. Let’s take a closer look at how hotels are evolving.

The Hotel Experience Has Changed

Many in the lodging sector closed for months during the lockdown, while others operated at a fraction of their maximum occupancy. In some cities where COVID-19 cases were rampant, hotels closed their doors to the general public, and instead offered up free lodging to essential workers so that they could be close to their workplaces and keep their own families safe from exposure.

Now that more and more hotels are beginning to re-open to the public, we are seeing some very interesting changes in the industry. Prior to COVID-19, most hotels relied on their list of amenities to attract potential guests. Pools, on-site dining, spas, room service, valets, bellhops and more were just a few of the luxury offerings that distinguished one hotel from another. But with a new focus on safety, many of those extras are no longer available.

According to a recent article by Conde Nast Traveler, your hotel experience will feel different from the moment you enter the lobby. While the lobby has traditionally been a busy social hub of the hotel experience, it is very likely travelers will now encounter limits on the number of guests in the area, as well as paperless check-ins and digital room keys downloaded to the hotel app, replacing the previous key cards. Perhaps even before entering the lobby, guests may notice the lack of valet service or even bellhops. In order to reduce the number of touches exchanged between travelers and staff, hotels may opt to remove some of these services. so be prepared to park your own car and carry your own luggage.

Of course housekeeping changes will be at the top of the list when it comes to safety precautions. Many hotels are opting to put a “safety seal” on hotel room doors, indicating that no one has entered the room since it was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. The room may also look sparser than expected, as items such as decorative pillows, notepads, and pamphlets, which can be hard to disinfect, may be removed. Cleaning protocols will be enhanced to include CDC-approved cleaning supplies and techniques, and a several-day buffer may be instituted between guest stays in a room. Some hotels may continue to offer room service, but it will be done using a contactless approach. Amenities such as on-site dining, pools, and spas will operate with more structure, limiting the number of guests and times of operation.

How Hotels Are Changing Their Messaging

To reflect this changing experience, hotels have needed to adapt their marketing strategies. For example, one True Interactive client, a luxury hotel chain, recognies that travelers will have a different set of priorities when booking reservations. So our client has shifted messaging to focus on a more flexible booking and cancellation policy. A deposit at time of booking is no longer required, and a more lenient cancellation policy requires only 48-hour notice for a full refund. While the hotel chain is doing everything they can to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay, they still recognize the pervasive sense of uncertainty experienced by many leisure travelers right now. The chain is making big changes to accommodate travelers looking for flexibility when booking: the option, in other words, to change their minds.

Our client’s actions are consistent with how many other hotels have adapted their online experience. If you visit most hotel websites today, you will find reassurance front-and-center that your health is their priority. The Radisson Hotels’ home page, for example, features a banner guests can click on for more information about Radisson’s flexible booking policy and health/safety protocols. The latter are spelled out clearly, detailing efforts like team member temperature checks, and the installation of protective screens at the front desk.

Holiday Inn’s home page also addresses COVID-19 concerns head-on. The hotel’s “book now, pay later policy” requires no deposit and includes flexible terms for cancellation.

A page dedicated to explaining the hotel’s cleaning philosophy is worded in friendly, reassuring language, as his example from a Cleveland-area Holiday Inn : “When you’re ready to travel again, we’ll be ready to welcome you.” Holiday Inn also highlights the hotel’s partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to develop best practices for “returning to work and keeping guests safe.”

Contact Us

To stay competitive, all businesses are wise to re-evaluate their policies and safety standards, ensuring they are aligned with what consumers now expect. Moreover, businesses need to communicate these policies clearly. If your business needs help navigating the digital landscape in this new world, contact us. At True Interactive we are experienced and ready to help you at every turn.

Photo by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

Marketing

COVID-19 has affected businesses across every vertical in different ways. Some are finding it nearly impossible to keep up with the demand for staple goods such as toilet paper and health-related products such as hand sanitizers and face masks. Others, ranging from hotels to restaurants, are struggling to find ways to keep employees on the payroll. The higher education industry is being affected as well. Let’s take a closer look based on our observations and client work.

Challenges for Higher Education

This pandemic has created several challenges for the higher education industry – some for which many were prepared for, and others which have left colleges and universities scrambling to adapt. Many of our higher education clients have robust online class offerings. In fact, many offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are 100 percent online. Those clients have experienced minimal disruption to their class schedules.

With that said, when we dig deeper into the data and examine marketing trends closely, we see some revealing details, such as:

  • When it comes graduate-level healthcare related degrees, we have seen a steep drop in overall demand (impressions and clicks are down significantly in Google) as well as a reduction in the number of people completing lead forms seeking more information about a degree program. These results are not surprising. We have all witnessed the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers over the past weeks, devoting countless hours to the point of exhaustion. They understandably need to put the rest of their lives on hold.
  • Conversely, we have seen a 5 percent lift in conversion rates from February to April for master’s in education programs offered by our higher education clients. Those programs are for people who possess education degrees and are looking to earn an advanced degree such as a master’s in education or a master’s in early childhood education. As K-12 classrooms around the country have turned to an abbreviated school day utilizing virtual learning, teachers are reclaiming a few extra hours of their day, and appear to be spending time looking for opportunities to further their own education and advance their careers.

Because of the vast difference in conversion rates between higher education degree programs, it is important to tailor your marketing approach. Now may be a great time to ramp up pay-per-click (PPC) spend for graduate-level teaching degrees, while pulling back on PPC spend for healthcare degrees.

Why Higher Education Needs to Stay Engaged Online

Although higher education is in a unique position with many already offering online learning prior to the pandemic, clearly there is still much disruption in campus programs. Colleges are struggling to complete the 2019-20 year in a virtual format. Many are offering pass/fail options versus a standard letter grade. There are virtual graduation ceremonies in the works,  and some are choosing to delay graduation until a later date in hopes there can be an in-person ceremony.

And a bigger question looms: will campuses will open on schedule this fall, and if they do, how many students will feel comfortable returning? This USA Today article speaks to the conflict being reported widely throughout the news media: students and their parents are going to be tempted take the 2020-21 school year off rather than return to an online format, especially if colleges and universities charge normal tuition rates for an online experience.

In this uncertain climate, all higher education providers must use digital to stay closely connected to current and prospective students as well as their parents. Doing so is especially important now as colleges and universities try to attract students to an experience that is radically different than the one that students signed up for. Right now, many schools are wisely investing more dollars in social platforms to keep students in isolation engaged during the 2019-20 year. They will need to do even more as the uncertain 2020-21 year approaches.

Be Ready to Pivot

Amid uncertainty, we are sure to see online learning play an even bigger role in higher education. Colleges and universities need to be ready to tackle the challenge. Competition is already strong resulting in high cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Currently we have seen CPCs range as high as $90 or more. As more and more colleges enter the online market, we should expect to see those CPCs increase further, and smaller colleges with limited budgets may be forced out by bigger players.

Contact True Interactive

It will become increasingly important to take full advantage of targeting options including geographic, household income, age, and interests to help make the most of your advertising dollars. The one-size-fits-all approach will quickly lead to failure. At True Interactive, we have extensive experience in the higher education field. We are happy to review your current marketing plan and work with you to ensure you are on the path to success. Contact us to get started.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

How Bud Light Turned a World Series Moment into a Marketing Home Run

How Bud Light Turned a World Series Moment into a Marketing Home Run

Marketing

The Washington Nationals were not the only World Series winner. Bud Light also won big.

In the blink of an eye, Bud Light enjoyed $7.2 million in media value because of a baseball fan named Jeff Adams. If you followed the World Series, you might know something about his rapid rise to internet fame. You might have even replayed (several times) the moment that went viral on social media, when Adams took a home run ball to the chest in order to save two Bud Light beers he was holding. What happened next was nearly as impressive as Adams’s toughness: Bud Light moved with lightning speed to seize upon the marketing opportunity.

Within minutes, Bud Light turned footage of the moment into a marketing opportunity on Twitter, which is still pinned to Bud Light’s Twitter account as of this writing, earning more than 18,500 retweets, 2,300+ comments, and 107,000+ likes:

 

Bud Light didn’t stop there. Creating a win-win for Adams and Bud Light, the company paid for him to Attend Game 6 in Houston (where he was treated like a conquering hero) – and clothed him in a customized T-shirt emblazoned with an image of Adams during the moment of impact and the catch phrase “Always Save the Beers.”

As reported in USA Today, this marketing gesture garnered Bud Light more than $7.2 million in media value. In addition, Bud Light further maximized value from Adams’s moment of glory with a simple commercial that ran during the game, replaying the celebrated moment in slow motion with a simple text overlay reading, “Not all heroes wear capes.”

Bud Light’s marketing response to this unexpected viral moment was perfectly played. The brand’s actions were immediate and effective. Bud Light generated free advertising by ensuring the company’s “hero” attended Game 6 wearing a quickly mocked-up T-shirt seen worldwide and rolled out a simple ad, striking while the iron was hot – not to mention the opportunistic use of Twitter.

As marketers we can all learn from Bud Light: timing is everything. When an opportunity arises like this one, it’s more important to be agile than perfect. Don’t worry about creating the perfect ad or the perfect T-shirt. Settle on an approach that represents your brand well and get it in market – FAST!

You never know when your viral moment will hit. Do you have a strategy in place to take full advantage of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Is your marketing team empowered to act quickly when a fleeting, real-time branding opportunity arises? Based on the speed with which Bud Light acted, clearly the company prepares for moments like this. How about you?

Contact True Interactive

To build your brand with digital, contact True Interactive. We can help you hit a home run, too.

 

A Reckoning for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg?

A Reckoning for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg?

Facebook

One year ago, I predicted that Facebook could be facing a tough year due to the steady decline in users and the admission by former Facebook executives that the social media platform was designed to get its users addicted and was ripping apart the fabric of society. For those reasons, I cautioned Facebook advertisers to expect diminished performance from their Facebook ads. And as we enter 2019, we’re experiencing a serious case of Facebook déjà vu.

With the most recent revelation that Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies including Bing, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify more intrusive access to users’ personal data than previously disclosed, Facebook once again finds itself in hot water. Much of the negative publicity in 2018 focused on privacy concerns about Facebook. A few months back, news broke that Facebook could face a fine of $1.63 billion by the European Union for a massive data breach, and in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress over data privacy concerns. Two questions loom large:

  • Could 2019 be the year Mark Zuckerberg is forced to step aside? Zuckerberg accepting a diminished role is not out of the question given the reality that Facebook has failed to address its problems on its own. What Facebook does not want is tight government regulation, and the company may need to offer up a C-level sacrifice to avoid such an action.
  • Will advertisers scale back? Businesses have continued to advertise on Facebook despite its scandals, partly because Facebook is too big to ignore and partly because there’s nowhere else for Facebook’s users to go. But Facebook is vulnerable to another platform coming along and challenging its dominance – which could change things for users and advertisers.

Advertisers may want to think twice about associating their brands with a social media giant under such scrutiny. Given the current tumultuous state of Facebook, I once again recommend advertisers proceed with caution when it comes to their investment in Facebook marketing and also lower performance expectations.

Four Alternatives to Last-Click Attribution

Four Alternatives to Last-Click Attribution

Attribution Modeling

Advertisers have become accustomed to the belief that the final click that leads directly to the conversion is the most important click – hence the affinity for last-click attribution. But it’s important that businesses transition away from last-click attribution. That’s because last-click attribution fails to account for the value of the entire conversion path.

Most marketers would agree that their brand campaigns drive a large number of conversions and have very low costs per action (CPAs). Of course the cost per clicks (CPCs) in brand campaigns tend to be very low, but those campaigns are also benefiting from last-click attribution models.

Let’s think about a customer journey for a moment. With the holiday shopping season upon us, many of us will start our search for the perfect gifts with some online searching. Here’s how one of my searches might look:

Top electronic gifts 2018 -> Fitness Trackers -> Top Rated Fitness Trackers ->Apple Watch

In the example above, the brand campaign housing the keyword “Apple Watch” would get 100-percent of the conversion credit if you use the last-click model. Clearly, I did not start my search on a branded keyword, yet the brand campaign gets full credit. When marketers use last-click attribution, they generally see that non-brand keywords achieve low conversation rates and high CPAs, and brand keywords achieve high conversion rates and low CPAs. But is this approach really a fair way to evaluate our campaign and keyword performance?

Marketers have all seen non-brand keywords fail to work well in a campaign. They may be costly to run, and rarely do we see strong conversions. I have paused my fair share of non-brand keywords as I can’t justify their worth to my clients. Not surprisingly, I see search volume decline; and although my CPA often times improves, my overall number of conversions also begins to decline. What we have been missing is the ability to see the value of the entire conversion path.

Alternative Models

One of the main focuses for Google this year has been transitioning clients from last-click attribution into a model that gives credit to each paid click in the user journey. Currently, there several different attribution models available in Google Ads.

Let’s take a look at some of the choices:

Data-Driven Attribution

The model Google recommends most is data-driven attribution, which uses Google’s machine learning technology to determine how much credit to assign each click in the paid search journey. This attribution model is all based on an advertiser’s own data and continues to “learn” over time.

Data-driven attribution takes both converting and non-converting paths into account, and it’s powered by dynamic algorithms that assign credit to touch points based on fractional credit. Google recommends choosing data-driven attribution when available. Unfortunately, this attribution model is not always an option as it requires 15,000 clicks on Google search and 600 conversions over a 30-day period.  Although smaller advertisers will not have access to this attribution model, there are still some good options available.

Linear Model

The linear model distributes the credit for the conversion equally across all clicks on the conversion path. If it takes four clicks for a searcher to convert, each click receives an equal part of the total conversion credit.

Time Decay Model

The Time Decay Model gives more credit to clicks that happen closer in time to the actual conversion. For example, if the path to conversion takes five clicks, the time decay model would assign an increasing proportion of credit with each subsequent click, with the final click that led to the conversion receiving the most credit.

Position-Based Model

The Position Based Model gives 40 percent of the conversion credit to the first click, 40 percent to the last click in the conversion path, and the remaining 20 percent across the other clicks on the path.

A Recommended Approach

As mentioned above, if the data-driven attribution model is an option for your campaigns, always choose that. But if you don’t have enough data available for that option, how do you go about choosing among the other options? Google offers a few suggestions:

  • Choose a time decay model if your client has a conservative growth strategy, is a market leader, and has little competition. In this scenario, the final clicks in the conversion path will get more credit.
  • If your client is growth oriented, new to the market, and is facing a lot of competition, choose a position-based model where the first and last clicks in the conversion path will get the most credit while the clicks in between will receive a smaller portion.
  • If your client falls somewhere in between, you may opt for a linear model, giving equal credit to all the clicks on the conversion path.

There is no absolute right or wrong choice, and any of the models you choose will give you better insight into the complete conversion path more than the last-click model can. Google also offers an attribution modeling tool in Google Ads that allows you to change attribution models and compare results among the different model types.

Outcomes of Different Models

No matter what attribution model you choose, you should anticipate a decline in brand conversions and an increase in non-brand conversions. The actual number of conversions will remain the same regardless of the model you choose. But you will see fractional conversions reported, indicating each campaign/ad group/keyword that played a role on the conversion path.

So let’s revisit my holiday shopping search from above:

Top electronic gifts 2018 -> Fitness Trackers -> Top Rated Fitness Trackers -> Apple Watch

If I used a position-based attribution model, here would be the new breakdown for conversion credit:

  • 40 percent of the credit would be given to “top electronic gifts 2018.”
  • 10 percent of the credit would be given to “fitness trackers.”
  • 10 percent of the credit would be given to “top rated fitness trackers.”
  • 40 percent of the credit would be given to “Apple Watch.”

Using last-click attribution, I would see keywords “top electronic gifts 2018,” “fitness trackers,” and “top rated fitness trackers” appear to be poor performers, as all of the conversion credit would have gone to “Apple Watch.” Conversely, if I were to use the position-based model, I would see that all of those keywords together played a role in the conversion path — and I would have a better understanding of the value of my non-brand keywords. This insight would allow me to make smarter decisions when optimizing.

Without question, we are able to make smarter decisions when we have a better understanding of the full conversion path. I suggest taking some time to experiment with the various attribution models using the attribution modeling tool in Google Ads. Based on your findings, select the attribution model that best suits your goals. I have found the additional conversion path insight to be valuable.

For more insight into how to improve the performance of your online advertising, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

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Why Facebook’s Woes May Have a Silver Lining

Why Facebook’s Woes May Have a Silver Lining

Social media

Last week I was surprised to receive both an email and phone call from a dedicated Facebook Ads representative interested in setting up a meeting to discuss my current Facebook Campaigns as well as future opportunities. On the surface, a call from a salesperson might not seem newsworthy. But for those of us who have been advertising on Facebook for the past few years, that level of customer service is a sharp contrast from what we have grown to expect from the social media giant. Is it possible that Facebook’s woes, including a steep decline in its stock value, are making Facebook pay a little more attention to customer service?

I sure hope so.

Then and Now

Let’s go back four ago when I first began testing Facebook ads for some of my clients. If I ran into an issue setting up a campaign, had a question about targeting features, or was interested in tips for better results, the chances of finding a way to connect with someone from the Facebook team were slim. There was no chat feature, no easy-to-find customer service phone number, and no email address. Among my agency teammates, it was common to hear, “Hey, does anyone know how to get a hold of someone from Facebook?”

So what’s changed? Frankly, a lot. Do a quick search of recent news stories, and you’ll see that Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth fell more than $16 billion in one day after the company’s stock plunged 20 percent and issued guidance that the financial future of the company isn’t quite as rosy as some investors thought it might be. This news, coupled with Facebook’s privacy issues and recent discovery of inauthentic social media campaigns ahead of the mid-term elections, has proven to be a PR and financial nightmare. Earlier in the year I, predicted that it would be tough sledding in 2018 for Facebook. It’s possible that the company’s woes will turn into improved customer service for advertisers.

Facebook Has an Opportunity

Despite negative press surrounding Facebook, I still believe the platform can be an effective marketing channel, especially when used as a brand awareness tool.  Advertising costs on Facebook are a fraction of those on Google, and there is still an impressively large number of active users to engage. My advice is to take full advantage of the more robust customer support at Facebook.

And Facebook’s customer service can help you, too. A recent call with a Facebook expert led to me testing some new targeting methods as well as adjusting my campaign structure. While it is still early in the test, I am seeing improved engagement and more conversions.  This is a critical time for Facebook as they work to rebuild the integrity of their brand. It is in Facebook’s best interest to help ensure advertisers enjoy as much success as possible using their platform.

Are you seeing better customer service from Facebook? Let me know!