How Higher Education Programs Use Display Ads to Drive Awareness, Applications, and Enrollment

August 27, 2013

Whether you’re marketing an MBA program, four-year university, technical institute, or other type of higher education program, you have classroom seats to fill—and fill fast.

CUnet’s 2012 Higher Education Marketing Benchmarking Report found that the top challenges for marketers of higher education programs are increasing enrollment and admissions, creating better program-brand awareness, and finding higher quality students.

Said another way, the top challenges facing these marketers are: increasing brand awareness and generating leads, with a big focus on lead quality. The benchmark report also found that 38% of higher education marketers planned to increase their budget spending in “targeted display advertising,” among other channels, to tackle these challenges.

The extensive reach and precision audience targeting available through targeted display advertising makes it a uniquely powerful tool for higher education marketers to achieve each one of these high-priority objectives, and more:

  • Brand awareness: custom brand studies reveal display advertising’s effect on brand recall by surveying audiences who were exposed to the brand’s display ads as well as those who weren’t.
  • Lead generation: analytics and reporting show how display advertising drives clicks to direct conversions, as well as post-view conversions by audiences who are served display ads, do not click, yet convert later.
  • Lead quality: precisely targeting audiences based on business demographic criteria such as job function, seniority, industry, company size, location, and more, marketers guarantee that the audiences that matter most are seeing their display ads.

Use full-funnel marketing to get to the right people before they’re actively searching for programs

While lower funnel channels such as paid search, SEO, email, etc. are effective for converting the small population of your target audience who are already searching for related programs, display advertising enables you to get to the right people before they’re looking and ensure that as soon as they are ready, your higher-ed program will be top of mind and make them more likely to convert through search, email, display, or other channels.

More marketers of higher education programs are turning to targeted display advertising to extend their reach and make an impact at every stage of the marketing funnel, from building brand awareness, increasing audience engagement, to driving applications and conversions. Consider some examples:

Top-funnel: SMU Cox

This branding ad establishes SMU Cox as a top tier MBA school while gently inviting the audience to learn more about their programs, instead of directly calling for an application.

Mid-funnel: University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management


This display ad and landing page (click to enlarge) combination is a great example of a mid-funnel strategy, aimed at further engaging and educating their target audience about the program offerings, highlights, costs, and more.

Bottom-funnel: Harvard Business School

This bottom-funnel ad calls out specific Harvard Business School programs using a direct-response call to action of “Apply Online.”

Using distinct targeted display advertising strategies and messaging at each stage of the marketing funnel, higher education marketers not only reach the exact audiences they care about anywhere online, but reach more of them, while boosting the effectiveness and ROI of lower funnel channels like paid search and email.

This post was originally published on the Bizo blog. In July 2014, LinkedIn + Bizo joined forces to build the most robust B2B marketing platform available to marketers. To learn more, check out David Thacker, VP of Product at LinkedIn’s announcement blog post.

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