In Search of a New Model
As our industry’s marketplace constricts and demographics shift, enrollment marketers are faced with the need to make our efforts more effective. No matter the type of institution, we face more competition, increasingly fragmented media environment and continued pressure to “fill the funnel.”
As the current “search” model continues to be questioned, the move from finding the most efficient way to distribute communications to managing effective marketing outcomes can seem daunting (even with the rise of ghost/stealth applicants). In either case, there are frameworks that remain consistent across industries that can provide a guiding light for those questioning this method and needing some certainty in this sea of complexity.
While advertising may be a small part of your job, it’s a major part of the search model. For those wrestling with where to start, here are four frameworks to help enrollment marketers make better and more effective decisions about this marketing activity.
Buy high-impact, high quality ad units
The media environment, or context that ads are placed, is vital to capturing attention and being remembered. No matter if your objective is brand awareness or to drive inquiry, attention is a scarce resource and media plans must account for clutter and message comprehension. As Harvard Business School professor Thales Tiexera wrote, “Marketers can best start their media buying strategy by understanding the attention potential of each media and context.” Look for ad units that get you the most screen coverage, have high visibility and are consumed with sound on (if using video).
Focus on outcomes, not outputs
Search is often produced to serve two masters: the funnel and the company. Both lead to an over-obsession with intermediate metrics that focus, as Young and Aitken cover in Profitable Marketing Communications, on communication output not outcomes related to the brand. In many cases, these metrics influence the evolution of a campaign as well as form the center piece for campaign analysis.
Unfortunately, there has been little evidence to suggest that engagement metrics on social media increase advertising effectiveness. Similarly, Nielsen continues to examine global social media campaigns and continue to find that click-through rates do not correlate with campaign performance (ad recall, brand awareness, purchase intent). Nielsen also found similar results when examining banner CTRs and business impact. We are being influenced to optimize for efficiency and not effectiveness, and in most cases the link between intermediate metrics and business objectives is loose.
Develop creative that is well-branded, consistent and complements the entire campaign
I have seen far too many search campaigns that fail to remain consistent across all creative. First, brand prominence within a channel is important. Ads that featured a more prominent logo, have been shown to be more effective.
Second, aim to carry-through distinct brand assets across all marketing activities. “We are pattern recognition machines and System One is constantly scanning the environment for regularities.” Psychologists call the ability to process information quickly while retaining key codes fluency, or the Processing Fluency Heuristic. To be effective, ads should include a direct link to the brand via always-present branding (logo or name). A brand’s logo is a distinctive asset that helps to maintain mental networks, improve saliency and linkage within the communication in the split-second consumers give to an ad. Outside of logo, advertisers can also incorporate colors, textures, and environment as distinctive assets to aid in recall.
Finally, marketing activities should consider synergies across all channels. Most search campaigns use a mix of digital ads, email and print to drive conversions. I have seen few that seek to create a consistent narrative or evolve a brand’s message through the campaign. Integrated campaigns produce better business results. As UK Head of Brand and Marketing Communications at 02 said, “It only works if it all works.” The more our marketing messages reinforce one another, through consistency, the better the chance of it making an impact.
Evolve the message throughout both ad campaign and search campaign
No matter the channel, reach and frequency are both important to producing advertising effects. New research indicates that to maximize purchase intention, marketers should strive for an average frequency beyond 10 exposures. This is well beyond the frequently-cited three-to-10 rule found in most marketing textbooks. The effect is more prominent in high-involvement categories and categories that require frequent information-seeking behavior.
Outside of providing frequency direction, this stream of literature seeks new ways to link the number of exposures to consumers “underlying purchase motivations, on the basis of their stage in the hierarchy of advertising effects or the consumer decision-making process.”
Instead of focusing on multiple ads with similarly framed messages, evolving the message throughout the entire path to purchase can be more effective (not just switching out “learn more” for “apply now”). In “Revisiting the Relationship between Ad Frequency and Purchase Intention,” the authors proposed a planning model that provides a framework for planning:
Phase One: Attention
· 1–2 Ad Exposures: Seek to gain attention through emotional drivers using category benefits.
Phase Two: Purchase Consideration and Evaluation
· 3–10 Ad Exposures: Focus messages on benefits of brand, position of brand or reasons to believe brand claims.
Phase Three: Action
· 10+ Ad Exposures: Use emotional benefits to reinforce consumers’ belief about brand or help rationalize attitudes/behaviors toward brand.
Not only does this research provide a road map for message development, but could act as a way to build an integrated approach for communications planning.
As media and platforms continue to expand, along with increased audience multitasking and marketing clutter, understanding the antecedents to marketing effectiveness is important. For many, digital advertising provides the foundation for search campaigns. It can work well in isolation or it can work more effectively as part of a consistent and cohesive campaign that evolves across multiple channels.