As a higher ed professional, I don’t even want to count how many things have changed within student recruitment in the past year. However, of all the enrollment management related items that have morphed, events — as a general category — are arguably those which have transitioned the most. Events have, for many offices, been the steadfast and stalwart calendar mainstays; at times acting as the central poles of planning, budgeting, and conversion.
The 2020-2021 recruitment cycle led to the metamorphosis ofon-campus open houses, personal and group visits, admitted student days, and the like.
One thing that didn’t change was this: pulling off a successful event requires good marketing campaigns! Let’s take a look at what worked in our data set (AKA hundreds of graduate marketing campaigns).
Regardless of what type of college event you are marketing or hosting, there are several things you should implement in order to maximize audience engagement with your event marketing campaign and, ultimately, attract the largest possible crowd.
Trait # 1 — It’s Not Too Late to Diversify Channels
In the spring of 2020, many professionals in the undergraduate enrollment space were getting angst-ty about the cancellation or the “digitization” of admitted student events — for good reason. These events, normally hosted in the springtime, often accounted for some of the best conversions to student enrollment - thus, cancelling would be a big shock to potential yield. The contemporary world of higher ed enrollment relies heavily on understanding conversions and, likewise, having a single channel strategy for marketing isn’t enough for a big, conversion-centric event.
A few years ago, building a beautiful multi-message email drip campaign for an event might have been good enough. But if we’re being honest, putting all your eggs in the email basket isn’t enough to win in this uber-competitive market. You need a channel strategy that aligns with the value and the anticipated conversions of your event.
Here is what I mean: If you are hosting an Open House (either digital or in-person) that leads to the high number of applicant conversions in your system, then the event campaign should reflect this. I have already mentioned email (maybe this is a “no-brainer”), but you should also use these channels:
1. Your Website
Major campus events deserve a prominent space on the website. Clients of DD Agency who included their website in the outreach plan had 32% more landing page views along with 3X more submissions and RSVPs.
2. Social Promotion
Not every institution has loads of money to spend on digital; it can be a complicated short-term strategy. Overall, paid social media ads are more effective at generating new contacts compared to paid search or digital advertising.
3. Direct Mail
This will be expensive...so use postal mail for students who have persistently shown high engagement. Not sure how you can track engagement? Contact us to understand the “how-to” options!
4. Email Marketing
Maybe this isn't a no-brainer — I shouldn’t assume! Maximize the power of your CRM by leveraging a comm flow that is personalized, automated, and delivers a series of at least 4 invitations to the event (this is the sweet spot for event campaigns).
Trait # 2 — Calling All CTAs!
DD Agency has been promoting and tracking events for nearly a decade. We have seen thousands of messages, we have written many of them, and A/B testing is what we do — it’s in our company DNA. Within this testing, our clients have agreed to different CTA options [just in case, CTA stands for “Call To Action”] in order to see what gets the best results.
An important caveat here is that, while DD and our clients do care about open rates, the measure of performance that we care much more about is click rate. We also do tons of testing on subject lines in order to arrive at excellent open and read rates...but clicking on CTAs is what shows that students are engaged and ready to move forward in the enrollment process. Just an FYI, the event invitations that make up the data points in our report had an average open rate of about 36.5%!
Event invitations are obviously focused on an event or a slice of events for the semester. Hopefully, you are thinking that the primary CTA should be about “registering” or “submitting an RSVP” for this event because that is what works best. You need to make that the primary offering. But, event invitations should never be limited to just that. DD’s research has shown that event invitation emails that offer 3+ secondary calls-to-action generate the highest click rate, nearly 60% higher than the average.
My mother-in-law often uses the phrase, “Moderation in all things including moderation.” How does this apply, you might ask? If you are writing a 2-sentence invitation or are putting together a social media boosted campaign, having 4 CTAs will be overwhelming to the reader — so don’t do that.
However, if the enrollment/marketing team is designing (or redesigning) your entire student email comm flows or your institution's entire recruitment strategy (including emails, web assets, etc) for events as you head into the next cycle, make sure you include at least one primary CTA button and 3 or more secondary CTAs on the items that should be laced with more.
Interested in knowing more about this research project? Sign up here to access our 2021 Deep Dive digital guide.
Trait # 3 — Don’t Forget the Thank You
It’s tempting to think of event campaigns mostly as an invitation campaign — a one-way outreach mechanism. But outbound marketing is never just about pushing the message or alerting the audience, it’s about encouraging engagement and creating interest (which is demonstrated through interaction with the content — opening an email, viewing a social post, responding to a CTA, etc). With this in mind, effective event campaigns should never be void of ‘thank you’ messages - our appreciation that the reader interacted with our material!
Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “I never read the auto-reply messages that I get after I fill out a form.” I understand (and I appreciate your candor) but this is not the fault of the message. Perhaps you never read them because the sending company (or agency) did not provide a compelling reason to open or click through the content. On average, though, our clients achieve a seriously strong open rate of over 75% on ‘thank you’ trigger emails to event registrants. Even better, 1 in 4 of those opens will click through the CTAs within the message.
Not only is the message important to “confirming the activity” of the prospect, but the proliferation of primary and secondary CTAs in the ‘thank you’ message(s) will perpetuate the engagement and potentially speed up the conversion to the next stage of the enrollment process. Underestimating the value of these messages could, unknowingly, halt the engagement of a student who is actually ready for more.
Beyond Vision to Implementation
The year 2020 can be viewed as the critical pivot for many enrollment management practices - and, let’s face it, some of them really needed to be changed. Admittedly, while some of the transitions within the past 12 months have been hard to swallow, the process evaluation and product of the struggle have been rewarding. Hopefully, changes to your events and campaigns can be viewed the same way!
As you think about your event campaigns, including changes that you need to make for the upcoming cycle, the tactics described above can lead your team and your institution to better results...including more engagement, more attendees, and more transformed lives because of higher education, which is all of our goals at the end of the day, right?
Want to brainstorm together? Connect with me.
If you’re looking for ways you can splice up your content, analyze your data, or just need a sounding board, let’s chat!
Explore More Insights About Running Successful Event Campaigns
Download our free guide, DD’s Deep Dive: 2020 Enrollment Marketing Benchmarks Report to learn:
- Fresh benchmark data for event marketing, email marketing, digital advertising, and content marketing
- New behaviors of prospective grad students as they research and journey through the applicant funnel from initial interest to application completion
- Specific insights on which tactics are the most effective in engaging and converting prospects at all stages