Joined up media buying


UWE Bristol

SMRS has worked with University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) since 2014 and, with an annual student marketing spend of over £1million, we are heavily involved in helping them both to achieve their growth in numbers to hit key 2020 targets, and grow their reputation regionally and globally in key markets.

We work across Undergraduate, Postgraduate and International marketing campaigns, breaking down annualised budgets into awareness-led and engagement-led activity, in support of their final stage conversion marketing.

UWE were keen to diversify their media use, but also to understand how data could be used to drive applications and raise awareness.

As well as important work around global student attraction, we were also tasked with looking at the wider context, to propose initiatives as to how they could raise their profile as a regional provider of quality graduates to businesses, armed with real skills obtained from practical learning in an entrepreneurial learning environment.

In short, how to become known as a regional supporter of talent.

By working with them to understand their audience both in-region and across the globe, we were able to implement media planning, buying and delivery that moved from a media-centric approach to an audience-focused basis, letting the data do the talking.

The overwhelming majority of UWE’s spend is on Undergraduate campaigns, and thanks to our strategic approach to planning the time we invested in understanding their priorities, competitors, audiences and their behaviour enabled us to move the media spend with confidence. Over the course of the 4 recruitment cycles, we have shifted the majority of budget from predominantly ‘traditional online channels’ – which rely on already engaged proactive seekers (only a small proportion of the audience) to ‘platform-agnostic’, audience driven channels, such as the Google Display Network, Programmatic and The Student Room, where we can use data to segment our audiences by their motivations and drivers, as well as where they are in the world.

In particular, we have invested successfully in video-serving advertising on YouTube that has not only proved popular, but has also allowed us to track people who have engaged with the UWE website as a result, but not performed a ‘conversion action’ (downloading a prospectus, applying for a course or registering for an Open Event). Later in the application cycle, we used this information, gleaned from tracking cookies, to retarget specific ‘completion messages’ at these individuals.

This approach highlights the way we developed the planning process of Undergraduate media planning and buying at UWE, from uniform actions across the months they are open for applications to one based upon the different phases of the cycle – with activity, assets and messages for awareness-raising separated out from those dedicated to engaging candidates.

Our work also enabled us to try new, innovative approaches to audience attraction for UWE – working with us they were the first university to invest in Google’s “Brand Uplift” product, which combines intense audience targeting with follow-up surveying to understand changes in brand awareness and perception.

Thanks to our audience mapping tools, we were also able to bring greater insight into the extensive Out Of Home advertising UWE buy; less ‘spray-and-pray’ and more targeted sites around not only traditional ‘feeder locations’ but high density areas for ‘lookalike’ candidates.

The impact of this process of moving from tactical to strategic, insight-led campaigns has been impressive.

Costs per conversion have also yielded a massive saving. In 2018, we were set a target of reducing CPC by over 70%; we actually reduced this cost by 76%, delivering a substantial saving back into the budget that could be used to drive even more conversions.

We are now working with the UWE Undergraduate Marketing team looking more deeply at the whole undergraduate journey, ensuring we measure through multiple attribution models to allow a holistic view of campaign performance and an intent led strategy

Beyond Undergraduate campaigns, we also brought our data-led, insight-based, audience-centric approach to deliver greater value. Because International and Postgraduate student recruitment has considerably smaller budgets than those for Undergraduate activity, it became more important to focus the investment on the most likely sources of candidates in priority markets. Thanks to our in-depth country research and market analysis, we have enabled UWE to make reasoned decisions about a smaller number of specific locations and media channels in target countries.

Although the majority of investment has been with Google Search and Digital Display, this has also allowed us to invest in additional innovative, high-performing in-country media – from Spotify in Malaysia to Education+ and MoSocial in China. In the UK, for Postgraduate audiences, our data directed us to invest in core education channels such as Prospects and DAX, which have both proved effective, if not necessarily obvious, channels for Open Event registration.

Beyond the UK, we have worked closely with UWE to understand their international audiences and target them effectively, enabling them to maximise budget in territories with the best prospects. After analysing their campaign data, we recommended and built campaigns targeting their key international target markets of China, Vietnam, Thailand, Nigeria and India.

In each country we had target cities and courses where the data told us our best chances of conversion were. Our research provided insight into the campaign cycles in each country and, using this, we created targeted messaging for each phase of the campaign and the stages of the UK enrolment cycle, using our See, Think, Do model that targets audiences by their level of engagement with the UWE brand.

Moving the candidate through the phases of engagement from Consideration to Application, following up warm interactions through social, PPC and sector-specifi c key media platforms with remarketing, we moved with candidates across media channels and successfully delivered against carefully weighted objectives in terms of clicks, conversions and applications.

To date we have already exceeded our performance objectives delivering candidates to UWE’s course pages, optimising the best performance content and channels to continue to drive conversions.

At a time when many competitor institutions have seen double-digit declines, year-on-year, in the number of students applying for degree courses, UWE has been happy to buck the trend, thanks in part to the strategic planning and delivery we have done in partnership together.

  • +4.2% increase in Undergraduate applications for 2018 entry (sector down 2%)
  • 20% increase in Postgraduate applications (2018 campaign)
  • 103% of International student recruitment target achieved by campaign mid-point (2018 campaign)
  • 50% increase in open day registrations (2019 vs 2018 campaign)
  • 40% increase in goal conversions (2019 vs 2018)