10th October 2019
At this time of the year, higher education marketers are generally focused on maximising the number of sign-ups for university autumn open days, as well as raising awareness of their institution in the lead up to the January UCAS deadline. There’s probably not many who are thinking ahead to Clearing 2020 yet… but it’s never too early to start planning!
Here are five things you can do now to ensure your institution is in the best possible position come next summer. For more top tips, request your copy of our free, downloadable Clearing Insights Guide. Starting on page 13, you’ll find 16 pieces of advice for Clearing 2020.
1. Think About the Channels You Will Use
In order to be confident in where to invest your resources next year, you need to know which channels have worked well for you previously. If you’ve put together a report for your 2019 campaign then that’s a brilliant first step; it will be a valuable tool to use in your Clearing 2020 planning.
However, it’s important to think carefully about how you define success. For example, when it comes to paid advertising, it may look good on the surface if a platform generated a high number of impressions and clicks. But, throughout Clearing, generating impressions and clicks is unlikely to be your main goal. Typically, you want to receive phone calls from prospective Clearing students, and even generate applications. So, think very carefully about the end goal when measuring the performance of your activities.
Another key consideration is that, although a channel has worked well for you in the past, it won’t necessarily prove effective again. A fresh cohort of students can bring new online behaviours and preferences. For instance, perhaps Clearing 2019 students engaged with content you shared on Snapchat, but Clearing 2020 students may favour Instagram.
You’ve also got to take into account the incredibly fast pace of change within the marketing industry. A lot can happen in just a year. We’re talking numerous technology developments, the creation of new advert formats, and even entirely new social networks!
The 80/15/5 Approach
You don’t want to miss out on potentially improving your results with the use of alternative channels. Additionally, it’s important not to let your marketing stagnate by doing the same thing you always do, year after year.
You can avoid both of these scenarios by adopting the 80/15/5 approach to allocating your marketing and advertising budgets:
- Focus 80% of your budget on channels that have performed well for you in the past (in terms of contributing to your end goal). Make sure your selection of these channels is informed by reliable data.
- Spend 15% on channels that you haven’t used heavily in the past. Perhaps you’ve tried them once or twice before with inconclusive results, or maybe you’ve seen others using them. You don’t have data to support you here, but you do have your marketer’s intuition and experience to help you make an educated decision.
- The final 5% of your budget should be reserved for channel(s) that are completely new to you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know!
2. Get All of Your Tracking Up and Running
Maybe you read the first piece of advice nodding in agreement and thinking of the findings in your Clearing 2019 report. Or, perhaps it highlighted gaps in your ability to:
- Track the performance of all your marketing and advertising channels
- Attribute key conversions to channels – can you see the number of phone calls and applications generated by each?
- Compare the effectiveness of channels against one another and look at their holistic performance
If so, now is a good time to take steps towards improving your tracking and reporting set-up ahead of Clearing 2020. Why now? Well, because establishing complete, end-to-end tracking of all of your marketing and advertising activities can take some time. Particularly as it’s important to do so according to a framework that works for you and what you need to know. For instance, you must ensure that you can track all of your key conversions. This way, you won’t have to rely on early metrics like impressions and clicks as indicators of overall performance.
The best way to get started is to do a thorough audit of your current tracking and reporting set-up. This will allow you to identify gaps and make a list of what needs to be done. After this, it’s a case of assessing whether you have the skills and knowledge in-house, or whether you need to outsource your analytics to someone with external expertise.
3. Talk to Stakeholders about Budget
Year after year on A-level results day, a common occurrence is for universities to sign off additional advertising budget. This happens because, as the day goes on, institutions gain a clear picture of which courses still have places to fill. As a consequence, extra budget is frantically signed off to be focused on the courses identified as struggling.
Although it’s understandable, there are two problems with this reactive approach:
- By this point, the pool of potential students has diminished as a large number of Clearing students have already been placed elsewhere
- A sudden influx of budget results in increased costs for everyone targeting the same audience, meaning you have to spend more to see results from your advertising
The best thing to do is to have frank conversations with budget holders about the true cost of advertising on results day. And ideally, you should start having these conversations as early as possible. This way, stakeholders will be better prepared and you can go into the day with enough budget to stay consistently competitive, avoiding missing out on potential students.
4. Get Everyone On Board
Commonly, Clearing campaigns require input from multiple teams within a university. So, not only is it important to get buy in from stakeholders as soon as possible, but also from everyone else who will be involved.
Working together is generally an easier process if all parties have had warning about what is expected of them. In most cases, ensuring awareness of deadlines and ideal turnaround times minimises the likelihood of friction. It also reduces the chance of unmanageable workloads and missed delivery dates.
Autumn is the perfect time to get thinking about the teams and individuals that you’re going to need help from. Take landing pages, for example. Will it be you and your team that are responsible for these? Or is your website managed by an entirely different team or department? If so, give them a head’s up on what will need to be done for Clearing 2020. Even if there’s nothing to action right away, keep them in the loop so that it’s not a surprise when the time comes. You could even put together an initial timeline to share with others.
5. Take an “Always On” Approach to Advertising
You should never set a new advertising campaign live on results day. This is because an initial learning period is essential to the effectiveness of the advertising platforms’ algorithms. Throughout the learning period, the algorithms gather early performance data, which is then used to optimise your campaign and achieve the best results. For Google, this usually lasts around 7 days, but it can vary from platform to platform.
Typically during the learning period, you’ll see fewer numbers of impressions, clicks and conversions, and a lower click-through-rate (CTR). Yet, you’ll be paying higher cost-per-acquisitions (CPAs). Of course, these aren’t the results you want, but they’re temporarily necessary so that your campaign can be as successful as possible for the remainder of its duration.
Now, the last thing you want is this learning period to be ongoing during results day and hampering your performance. This means your advertising campaigns must all be up and running well in advance. Taking an “always on” approach to advertising throughout the year is the best way to ensure the algorithms perform as best they can come Clearing.
Although it’s ideal if your advertising campaign is live continuously, don’t panic if your resources are limited. You can pause your campaign for weeks or months if you need to, saving your budget for key times throughout the year.
You can a so make changes to copy and creative when required. Just don’t forget that a new learning period will take place for significant amends to live campaigns. For more info on this, it’s best to check the help guides for the platform you’re using.
Get Further Advice for Clearing 2020
These five tips are all things that you can start doing now to get ahead of the competition in time for next year. We know autumn is a busy time for higher education marketers as it is, but we do recommend thinking about each of these points as early as possible.
If you really want to ensure a successful Clearing 2020, request your copy of our free Clearing Insights Guide. It’s packed with a summary of Clearing 2019, includes our predictions for Clearing 2020, and features 16 pieces of advice for your Clearing 2020 strategy.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss your social advertising strategy, or any other aspect of your marketing, then don’t hesitate to contact one of our friendly experts.