Building a better campaign


By Chris Woodhouse

We’ve been working on a project with Birmingham City University (BCU) that we really wanted to share. It’s a great example of the many ways in which data can be used, and what a massive difference it can make. And here it is.

Attracting and recruiting students is hard, particularly in a sector where the competition is growing ever more intense. Birmingham City University (BCU) is no exception to this challenge and, if anything, faced additional pressures. For instance, increased numbers of rival institutions have landed in the West Midlands, seeking out its highly populous and youthful demographic, with varying brands of aggressive marketing.

Equally, BCU had its own ambitions, wanting to grow its student numbers despite a host of obvious challenges including the removal of the cap on student numbers, the decline in 18 year olds (even in Birmingham where the problem is that bit less acute) and the aforementioned growth in rival incursions into its core market.

A relatively new BCU team, put together in late 2016 was tasked to deliver a more integrated approach across channels. They knew they needed to deliver ROI as well as headcount, so this required more than mere tactical trifling – this called for a complete strategic rethink. We needed to develop a deeper understanding of BCU’s audiences and their application journeys. And this called for data.

Working closely with the BCU team, we got stuck straight into all the data they had, and added some of our own. We modelled it. Scrutinised it. Put it under the microscope, and teased out some serious insights on everything from market awareness to deciding factors.

And then we put everything we’d found into action, in a range of projects all aimed at taking BCU’s 18/19 and 19/20 undergraduate campaigns to the next level.

There’s not enough room here to go into everything we did, but here are a few highlights.

We broke things up – carrying out a segmentation project to identify priority markets across each faculty. We also focused on each faculty’s ’ideal’ students, to get a more meaningful understanding of who they are, as well as their motivations.

We looked closely at the student journey – monitoring the candidate throughout the campaign, to understand exactly what people were doing and when. Understanding this meant that we could identify and learn from behaviours, and spot opportunities to make things better.

We optimised pretty much everything – measuring and tweaking things to drive improvements in campaign performance, open day attendances and overall conversions. We worked closely with BCU’s strategic leadership and creative teams too, ensuring the campaign identity and narrative was reflected coherently across everything we did.

How well did it work? As this was a data driven campaign, it’s only fair to let statistics tell that story. Paid digital drove 50% of all open day registrations last November – up 25% on the previous June – with costs for registrations and UCAS Exits down 50% and 54% respectively. Traffic from paid media was up an amazing 92% YoY to over 188,000 sessions, with average session duration up 42%.

We know that the challenges facing BCU – like every other university – aren’t going to diminish any time soon and we know too that metrics like these need to form just the start of an ongoing process of tracking and evolving campaign work to maximise that return on investment. But these stats do provide crucial early evidence of how BCU is becoming much more aware of its audiences, including who they are, where they come from and what they might go on to do next. And that, after all, is what campaign marketing is all about.