Reach Your Peak
2021-2022 Academic Year Campaign
Like most other private universities in the United States, Piedmont University has held a close watch on enrollment. According to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center, in Spring 2021, overall postsecondary enrollment dropped by 3.5%, equating to a loss of 603,000 students. This decline represented a decrease seven times larger than the rate of decline in spring 2020. While Piedmont saw success in driving new student enrollment from our partnership the prior year, ongoing issues COVID caused trepidation. In addition, Piedmont also is seeking to increase not just total enrollment, but also the number of on-campus residential students. Over the past 2 years, on-campus residential students in a number of universities had declined due to easily accessed online programming and the fear driven by COVID.
So, how do we maintain momentum in new enrollment and drive on-campus resident enrollment in an uncertain health environment?
HOW WE HELPED
Our Forum Communications team spent a significant part of the second quarter of 2021 in planning with Piedmont University’s marketing and enrollment teams. Traditionally, universities take a “shotgun” approach to their brand awareness efforts – promoting the university as a whole while leveraging enrollment agencies to purchase student lists and to drive enrollment. However, we at Forum believed that we could take this same approach in branding but instead of two different efforts, we could utilize market research and data from Piedmont’s admissions departments to develop a targeted promotional effort reaching prospective students across media types. We looked specifically at markets where Piedmont admissions staff had relationships as well as the hometowns of recently enrolled Piedmont students. This would allow us to better manage financial resources without overextending the budget on “big bang” campaign efforts that may not be immediately fruitful. We also believed (and continue to believe) there was value in consistent brand messaging – but executing the messaging in a highly targeted way could accomplish both driving brand awareness and consideration all in one. Instead of relying on messaging to differentiate awareness and consideration steps, we would use the channels themselves.
Piedmont provided 19 strategic undergraduate and graduate programs that could benefit from additional promotional lift that we would promote. We all believed these programs were high growth opportunities and worth pursuing.
ALL IN THE DETAILS
In July and early August 2021, we partnered with photographers, videographers, and Piedmont faculty and staff to develop creative assets to be able to promote each of these programs.
Forum’s marketing plan centered on reaching prospective students “where they are” while also working to provide parents messaging through both digital and traditional marketing channels. Prospective students were targeted across platforms including TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube while parents were targeted across Facebook, programmatic ad placements, and cable television. Direct mail was also sent to homes of prospective students based on interest. Other marketing channels were also considered and used ranging from billboard, over the top / connected television, and geo-targeted mobile advertising.
Each degree program had a custom marketing mix based on research and results from the 2021-2022 academic year, industry research, data from the Piedmont staff, and psychographic data found and merged into the data set by the Forum team.
Our KPIs for this year were centered on increasing website traffic and driving leads for admissions.
The campaign resulted in over 13 million media impressions, roughly 3.5x the prior year’s campaign efforts, and a 31.6% increase in website traffic. We also tracked over 900 leads to the website across just the promoted programs (of note – Piedmont’s total enrollment was just over 2,100 students in Fall 2021).
So while the campaign met our target of increased brand awareness, Piedmont also saw incredible enrollment growth.
The Fall 2022 incoming class of students represents the largest freshman class in the history of Piedmont University! This represented 18% YoY growth from the prior year’s class and a 26% increase in first year housing over the prior year.
While the results from the campaign exceeded both the client’s and our expectations, we also learned quite a bit. With such large data sets from over 13 million impressions, A/B testing was readily available for many of our campaigns. This led to data and learnings regarding imagery and who prospective students want to see and hear from in video content. We also gained quite a bit of knowledge regarding language and messages preferred by prospective students. While this should have been expected, we also found that programs that were promoted year over year (from last year’s campaign) resulted in higher returns, click through rates and lead volumes.
Data by program was analyzed and is actively being used to execute 2022-2023 marketing efforts. We’re excited for what’s to come in our future campaigns with Piedmont and for the next academic year.
Forum’s relationship with Piedmont University has never been stronger.