3 Things EDU Marketers Can Learn From The Circus

Ok, I know what you are thinking…What can my institution learn from the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus?

While Higher Ed institutions and the circus have little in common on the surface, each has very specific audiences and, therefore, smart marketing strategies are required to reach your target audience.  Their audiences are also similar in that they’re on the go and on their devices.

#1 Understand your Target Audience

Understanding your target audience’s online behavior is the first step to a smart online marketing strategy. The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, aka RBBB, knew that their target audience of mothers with children was busy and on the go.

They have very active lifestyles, moving from school to extracurricular and family time.  RBBB’s Google analytics confirmed this, detailing that 65% of their site visitors were coming from mobile devices.  Building an online advertising campaign tailored to their target audiences online behavior meant building the campaign around mobile.

Many of our Higher Ed marketers are challenged with targeting several populations over the course of a fiscal year.  These various populations range dramatically by age group, behavior, and geo.  Data from Google Analytics shows a unifying factor across these audiences – mobile usage is up across the board.

We have found that institutions that have mobile responsive sites have experienced increased conversion lifts in applications, RFI’s and RSVPs specifically on mobile devices.  Institutions that have made the process of completing an application or form-fill seamless on mobile devices are reaping the rewards or “micro-moments.”

Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) experienced cross-device lifts as high as 300% for RFI’s, Applications and RSVPs by targeting mobile.

#2 Test Innovative Technologies and Strategies

To reach these on-the-go mothers with children, the RBBB deployed an innovative technology called GeoFencing that utilizes latitude and longitude location targeting.  The strategy was to target mothers with children, while they were physically inside children’s retailers like Abercrombie Kids, Kid’s Footlocker and Gap Kids.  While shopping with their children, moms often find themselves with these “micro-moments”, where they go online to check the news, Facebook or catch up on Words with Friends.  In these moments, the RBBB could target them with ads and videos promoting the circus.  Recognizing that it’s very difficult to purchase tickets at that moment, Cross Device Measurement was utilized to measure the ticket purchases made by these moms on TicketMaster, at a later date, and on a different device.  This type of cross-device purchase behavior is common due to the nature of collaborative decisions where moms need to check with dads, friends, and schedules before making the purchase. The purchase is most often made on a larger device like a desktop where making the online purchase is more convenient.

Geofencing has become a fundamental piece for Edu marketing strategies. We target community colleges for degree completion, business parks, and mass transit for graduate and for MBA and we can target malls and venues for undergraduate moms and prospective undergraduates. Seasonality also plays a role in Geofencing and we are mindful of where audiences aggregate during different times of the year.

#3 Measure What Matters

There is a lot to measure in online advertising.  For the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, measuring what matters meant measuring the ticket purchase of each customer correlated to the online advertising campaign.  This included revenue amount of each purchase, the number of tickets purchased, orderID, billing zip code and the venue of the event.

While Higher Ed is not e-commerce,  there are many more “buying signals” that Edu marketers can track throughout the lifecycle of campaigns. Each trackable stage is an indication that the needle is moving closer to an application submission. When we can track these stages or conversions (RFI, RSVP, Applications) the more we can optimize across devices, media channels, creative formats like banners, video, native and text ads.

In the end, a smart marketing approach of understanding your customers’ online behavior, using advanced online advertising technology, and measuring what matters the most to your organization are key components to any successful online marketing campaign for EDU marketers.

In fact, Google found the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey online marketing approach so innovative they created a two minute video highlighting the strategy and tactics.  Watch the video here.  Keep in mind, cross-device measurement applies to all industries because just about every one of your targets is now consuming media on more than one device.