COVID-19 and the EDU Digital Media Landscape

As a result of pandemic-induced alarm surrounding quarantine orders, global media consumption rates are surging over the volatile and novel patterns of consumer behavior. CPMs (cost-per-thousand-impressions) are plummeting as demand and reach soar. Faced with an opportunity to keep your cards on the table or perhaps even increase your presence in the EDU marketing space, how are you working to maximize the efficacy of your marketing dollars? We’ve outlined some observations and adjustments that we find paramount to properly equip yourself for traversing the adversity that surely lies ahead.

Channel-Mix

Across all channels of paid media, CPC and CPMs are falling as activity skyrockets. In some cases, competition also decreases as schools find themselves ill-equipped or unable to complete the transition to all-digital learning environments. With limited opportunity to carry out our normal lives, every demographic is spending more time consuming media than doing anything else. We’re even seeing display CPLs cut in half as brand-awareness tactics drive more action than ever before. This requires you to reevaluate your budget and goals in a larger effort to optimize (and/or supplement) your channel-mix accordingly.

If you’re not already running paid social campaigns, you should be. Social platforms are experiencing the largest increase in demand out of all media channels. In many situations, we recommend reallocating budget from other tactics and directing them toward this channel, so if you are active on social ad networks, now is a good time to consider adding supplemental budget. Additionally, explore other channels you haven’t previously tested (i.e. video retargeting, OTT, digital radio, etc.). With the majority of our target audience already using video streaming services heavily before the pandemic, our opportunity to hit that specific demographic through retargeting tactics is as high as ever. To take that a step further, revisit your higher-funnel leads from the past 90-120 days as the dependent variables surrounding their enrollment have likely changed.

Messaging

Now that you’ve decided where to put your dollars, let’s take a closer look at what exactly you’re putting your budget behind. Messaging is paramount in any marketing effort and exponentially more so in difficult times. When you think about it, your messaging, in some form or another, is everywhere, in every piece of your paid and organic media. From ad content to site copy to CRM and sales language, a thorough audit of all creative elements will uncover any areas that might need attention. With the extent to which many of these campaigns mature into massive archives of fluctuating active/paused material, you won’t know what messaging needs revision until every occurrence has been reviewed through the lens of the hyper-current socioeconomic climate. Furthermore, look into any effort you might not consider a “campaign”, like your local listings or automated phone services.

An easily overlooked element in this content audit is your automated messages. Be sure to check all Thank You pages, CRM responses, nurturing strategies and other features that have come with the luxury of a “set-and-forget” quality; confirming you aren’t still advising prospective students to “drop by the Admissions office” or “schedule an on-campus tour”. Often top of mind, your ads will be the obvious priority on the paid side as these are the messages you’re actively projecting upon the consumers, and your website will be that of the organic side as this is where you’re directing all of your traffic and marketing dollars. In an ancillary fashion, supplement your organic and paid content to address and account for the current situation – you’ll want to publish an update on places like your homepage, informing everyone of your status, while also adjusting ad copy and imagery accordingly (adjustments based on individual program).

Moving Forward

The road ahead is filled with uncertainty; it’s hard to say what net effect COVID-19 will ultimately have on the EDU digital media landscape and prospective students’ intent. It will be paramount that we adapt to the rapidly evolving climate in real-time. With a firm grasp on consumer behavior and a nimble ability to adjust channel-mix and messaging, you’ll be armed with the knowledge and overarching strategy necessary to maintain a strong, active marketing approach through even the most difficult of times.

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